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The incredible impact of light in the office.

green-plant-in-lightYou’ve probably seen the impact that lack of light can have on life.  If you’ve ever had a houseplant that was light deprived, you will have seen how quickly the leaves begin to yellow and how rapidly it will die.  In fact, even cut branches or flowers that are light deprived tend to wither quickly. But, it’s not just plants that are terribly affected by light deprivation. Humans are equally susceptible.

A recent study by Northwestern University Chicago’s Neuroscience program compared the effect of light on a group of workers.  They found that those who were exposed to light more, were more productive and had a better quality of life.

Lack of light disrupts our circadian rhythm which can lead to all kinds of issues, including sleep deprivation and increased risks for various cancers.

Conversely, when we’re exposed to adequate daylight, we experience many benefits.

According to “A Literature Review of the Effects of Natural Light on Building Occupants”  studies show that:

“ Occupants in daylight and full-spectrum office buildings reported an increase in general well being. Specific benefits in these types of office environments include better health, reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, financial savings, and performance of workers. Benefits to the office worker are so great that many countries in Europe require that workers be within 27 feet of a window (Franta and Anstead 1994).

In buildings where daylighting is not or cannot be integrated, using full-spectrum bright lights has been shown to positively affect the workers in the buildings. Full-spectrum bright lights allow day and night workers to adjust their internal clocks or circadian cycles (see section: Affects of Light on the Body) to match their work cycles. Improvements in productivity, a decrease in accidents, an increased level of mental performance, improvements in sleep quality, and an increase in morale among night shift workers have also been attributed to better lighting (Luo 1998)”

The report goes on to say that with proper levels of daylight, subjects reported a decrease in headaches, the effects of seasonal affective disorder syndrome, eyestrain and stress.

While science is once again proving the importance of access to adequate light at work, it’s something that has been part of architecture and space design in Nordic countries for some time.  Architects in these extreme Northern latitudes often use white in their interior space designs and pay a great deal of attention to window placement.  The further north you go, the shorter the days are during winter and the longer they are in summer.  However, even during summer, light is softer as the sun is lower on the horizon, causing light to enter into buildings from a side angle rather than from above as it does in more southerly locations.  Allsteel Beyond

Scandinavian architects are careful to place windows in ways that maximizes light ingress. They then maximize the effect of the light by using reflective white surfaces and high ceilings. These carefully designed interiors help to make the most of this most precious resource and ensure that occupants in the space are bathed in an even luminosity.  You’ll see some amazing examples of this type of architecture and interior design here:

Although adequate daylight is good for us, it’s not the only reason that we should pay close attention to making the most of daylight in our building and office space designs.  It’s also a very easy and cost effective way to save money on energy costs and to create a higher level of sustainability.

You’ll have seen an example of how this was done in the recent article “A Case for Net Zero Energy” published recently on our blog.  In this example, Sharp Development was able to combine use of natural daylight with other sustainable design features to achieve,

  • Net zero energy cost
  • Carbon zero (no gas line to the building)
  • 100% naturally day-lit from an hour after sunrise to an hour before sunset

It’s clear that building design, interior design, even furniture design and wall color all have a role to play in harnessing the benefits of natural daylight in our work spaces. If you’d like to find out more about how to do this in your office space, please email us at

To read more about this fascinating subject, follow the links below:

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