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Benefits of Natural Light in Architecture

Updated: Aug 10, 2023


Benefits of Natural Light in Architecture

The first thing Shore Architects look for when visiting a site is not the brief, the panoramic water views or the topography; it is the sun path. Why?


light in architecture


If you can master the influx of natural light in architecture, the design is undoubtedly improved and even very simple parings of materiality and texture will look amazing compared to an expertly designed, yet dim and dark room. There’s always artificial lighting to bring the dark spaces up to scratch, but there is no substitute for being within a well-lit space where the natural elements provide the light.


Our focus is primarily natural light and it forms the backbone of all design decisions made within. There are several reasons why natural light is beneficial, and it’s not just aesthetics. In this blog post we will discuss some major points of natural light in architecture and its' benefits for mood, performance, sleep cycles, real estate values and energy reduction.


Mood, Productivity and Circadian Rhythm


Exposure to natural light is important beyond aesthetics in that it improves our mental health and outlook. Like looking out to a bright, shiny day compared to a grey, wet day, many studies have accurately depicted that natural light significantly improves mood and general positivity. Further studies have shown that when sunlight enters the eye, the brain releases serotonin, the chemical playing a significant part in your mood, healing, digestion and emotions. With general increases in overall positivity, a reduction in depression, anxiety and stress can also follow.


In addition to simply feeling better throughout the day, exposure to natural light is shown to maintain the body’s synchronisation with the circadian rhythm, the body’s physical and mental cycle within the 24 hour day. This makes us brighter during the day, more focused during the day but also importantly, winds us down for a better night's sleep, which we’re sure everyone would love.

natural light in architecture


Connection to Nature


We weren’t designed to live indoors. In a surprising fact, some of us spend up to 90% of our days within homes, transport and buildings. Instead of living within heavily constructed environments, all architectural homes, offices and buildings should provide a connection to nature and the outside world to maintain our connection with the natural elements. This does not necessarily mean windows and glass to every wall, as the energy performance suffers too much, but the correct placement and number of openings will make spaces feel more open and akin to being within an outdoor space whilst still within the comfort of the indoor environment. The proximity of sunlit landscaping and flora from these windows and other openings will contribute to a greater connection to nature and generally allow more sunlight to penetrate into the internal spaces. This connection to nature via well-lit areas will reduce stress and promote calm, relaxing mental states.


light in architecture inspiration


Energy Reduction


As always, we want to limit our energy consumption and a very easy way to do this is provide natural light in architecture. Although low-energy LEDs power most artificial lighting, natural light can significantly reduce energy requirements for heating and cooling as well. The effective placement of thermal masses within the buildings can absorb direct sunlight and dissipate it when it’s required. For example, In winter, the correct design and placement of eaves and window coverings will allow the lower sun to hit polished/honed concrete floors and/or internal masonry walls that can act as thermal masses throughout the day and slowly release this heat into the night. The great buildings require hardly any artificial lighting during the day, at worst, maybe some task lighting for the stove or workbenches. Again, the reduction in artificial lighting in architecture promotes a greater connection to the body’s natural rhythm compared to artificially lit rooms so whilst you save further on energy costs you continue to reap psychological benefits from the natural light.


Air Quality and Healthy Buildings


Whilst we love natural light in architecture, mould hates it. The more natural light we can get into the space the healthier these spaces will be. Coupled with healthy homes and Passive House principles, we endeavour to make each and every space as well lit as possible. With less mould around you are likely using less products (likely chemical based) used for cleaning and further promoting a healthy body connected to nature. This significant improvement of air quality will keep the body functioning at a higher performance than within damp, dark spaces. The increased air quality will also limit sicknesses from mould and other harmful bacteria. Whilst keeping the focus on damp and mould, this reduction will also protect your building envelope by keeping insulation dry, timbers strong and healthy and limit undesired swelling of structures.


Aesthetics


Natural light simply makes the space look better. The colours ‘pop’ more, the timber grains are more refined, the stones shimmer and the spaces feel significantly larger without spending any additional money. There is a distinct difference when exploring well lit spaces compared to dark spaces and all it takes is to look at the site’s parameters, work out the sun path and design accordingly. On an urban scale, a well lit park or public forum provides more security and relaxation and encourages people to explore. On a domestic scale a well-lit home promotes relaxation, comfort and increased energy. “North-facing”, “well-lit”, and “bathed in sunlight” are terms you’ll find on real estate ads that can add a 6 figure sum to a sale price. For each of the reasons mentioned throughout this blog post, people are looking for natural light to be flooding in to their homes. You are buying a superior product if the light can come flooding in, and an even more superior product if the envelope is designed expertly to keep the ambient light in summer whilst keeping the direct sunlight out.


real light in architecture

Overall, each of the items discussed above is individually very powerful and should be considered on all projects. The fact that if you can correctly design the natural light into the building/home you get every one of these benefits makes it a no-brainer in terms of priorities within early schematic designs. You would never turn your back on a panoramic water or city view, but if you can utilise courtyards, envelope manipulations and smart roof forms you can make the multi-million-dollar view that much better with natural light. Further coupled with healthy homes and Passive House principles you can achieve a premium, high-performance home in any location and Shore Architects can assist in your design development journey.

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