Style is a state of mind.
Walk into a room and you will almost always find your gaze drawn to the window. You’ll look up at the skylights and notice the patterns of light dancing on the walls. There’s something enchanting about natural light washing a wall.
It’s no surprise that psychologists have found light has a huge impact on our productivity levels, our health and our mental well being.
Le Corbusier, the Swiss architect said that: “Architecture is the wise, correct and magnificent play of volumes collected together under the light”. Like the divine and protective light that encouraged meditation in Romanic architecture or the Gothic stained glass windows that created supernatural light, or consider the humanised light of the Renaissance and the sublime light of the Baroque.
The point is… People like daylight.
In some countries like the Netherlands and Germany there are even regulations that company staff must not be located further than six metres from a window because artificial lighting conditions are liable to lead to ill health and absenteeism.
So there is an umbilic relationship between humans and natural light. This close connection can be seen in two health related phenoma – SAD, and biological rhythms like sleep cycles.
SAD or seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that is due to a lack of exposure to light, begins in the autumn (usually October or November) and subsides in the spring (usually March or April) and can be severe enough to affect your ability to function from day to day. It is said to affect women more than men and occurs most often during people’s twenties through to their forties. What are the symptoms?
Decreased energy and activity
Sadness and anxiety
Appetite changes (usually increased appetite and carbohydrate craving)
Loss of interest in sex
Withdrawal from friends and family
Difficulty concentrating and accomplishing tasks
Premenstrual syndrome (worsens or occurs only in winter)
Why does the absence of light affect us like this? The suspected cause is an abnormality in one or more neurotransmitters and our hormones. Lack of light makes neurotransmitters (the chemicals that carry messages between nerve cells) such as serotonin see a decrease in concentration in the brain. Studies show concentration levels vary with the seasons, the smallest amount occurring during the winter, and this may explain the lack of motivation we feel on an overcast day.
Light also affects your sleep cycle. Our bodies are naturally encoded to fall asleep soon after dark and to wake with the appearance of sunlight dawn. But artificial light has changed the way we schedule our day-to-day lives, and most of us now sleep on average for five to seven hours at a stretch which can impact our output during the “productive waking hours” of our regular working week.
In the absence of natural light our body clocks lose or gain a little time. This can cause resynchronization of the body’s intricate rhythms and is suspected to trigger problems: hormonal imbalances, sleep disorders and mood disturbances. So prepare for a bad mood on Monday morning in October 28th as a result of a forced resynchronisation by the economic introduction of Daylight Savings Time.
An alternative to Natural Light is to use an alarm clock designed for the purpose. Philips developed a lamp combined with an alarm clock that gradually increases the intensity of light in the morning. Daylighting (introducing articificial light to trigger wakefulness and productivity) is key to keeping our mental states balanced when we’re indoors, but sometimes it’s impossible to bring sunlight into interior places.
One innovative designer is experimenting with LED lights to create fake sunlight reflections on interior walls. Using over 3,000 LED lights, which give off the natural color of sunlight, Daniel Rybakken has designed lighting fixtures in the shapes of parallelograms which give the impression of sunlight coming in through a window and reflecting off a surface. This light trickery, although totally artificial, might be just the thing to bring outdoor cheer into a gloomy indoor space. And if you’re ever stuck waiting for the Hammersmith & City line at Baker Street in London on a dark winter evening but find yourself feeling surprisingly uplifted, it’s probably because of the cleverly uplit alcoves overhead which give the impression of natural light soaking through cracks of windows.
The positive impact of light is biological, and we shouldn’t underestimate its importance in our daily lives. Science says that the way the eye (and our neurological mechanisms) interpret a space (like or dislike it) is based on the way that we are affected by sharpness and softness of lines and textures in that space. The clearer each form, the less our brains need to work to interpret the space and the calmer and more serene the place feels. Some people explain the attraction to minimalist decor in this way.
But it’s a mistake to think that all you need for a space to be your solace is to flood it with light. The beauty is in the contrasts of light spaces and dark spaces and the sharpness and softness they afford. It’s just like the way we appreciate photographs.
We also have another reason for not taking sunlight for granted. According to Vince Lewis, daylight Tax was introduced in 1696 and was officially called Window or Glass Tax. Why? Because a property owner or occupier was taxed on the number of windows in their building. It may seam very unfair but it was really a tax on the rich. The larger the property, the more windows, and the more Tax you were levied. So the solution for many property owners and occupiers at that time was to brick up their windows to save money. Many of these building can still be seen in the UK today (my block of flats in Ladbroke Grove included).
So, there’s more to light than meets the eye. Large windows and well lit (and shaded) loft spaces are not just an aesthetic choice. They can actually impact who you are and why you feel the way you do.
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