Design & Make

Designing with Daylight

by Laura Palmer Peach June 20, 2018
ReadDesigning with Daylight

Twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness. At this moment, the spring equinox, the earth is in an equal balance of light. It is an ideal time to begin charting and noticing how light moves in your home and work space, and considering the ways that you can design around natural light. We asked some of the world’s leading architects and lighting designers to be our guides.

Light Upon Light

Architect Todd Saunders is renowned for designing spaces that create near-sculptural forms with natural light as it moves across the horizon. Saunders works with Nordic light: originally from the northern reaches of Canada’s Newfoundland, his practice is currently based in Norway. Saunders designs spaces that capture light during the long winter nights, when the sun is out for only three or four hours a day, and also shield the summer sun from sweeping through bedrooms at the 3 a.m. dawn. His buildings allow natural light to come in from many angles, so that the rays interact with one another to form complex textures. “When two lights come into a space from different directions, they creates a softer, gentler light,” explains Saunders. “When lights meet each other, they create a very rich feeling in that space, one that is not so predictable. Being in a place where light was coming from two or three sides of the building, and spending time in that space, I realized that the building is actually more alive, more active, and less static.”

Studies from Nature

Lighting design firm Speirs & Major creates environments where artificial light reflects the movements of natural light, mimicking and interacting with it. Principal Keith Bradshaw describes the studio’s relationship with light as “non-passive,” noting that “most people accept naturally that daylight changes, but they don’t expect the same from artificial light.” The creatives at Speirs & Major study the way that daylight affects people and spaces and design around that. “We like to think about the quality of the light and the character brought with it. We interpret what it feels like to be in a room at 3:00 in the afternoon.” This means they are especially attuned to how daylight shifts within their own work space. “In our London office, we get this dramatic low sun; an empty lot nearby allows for an unobstructed view of the sky,” recounts Bradshaw. “The light coming in from these western-facing windows was so extraordinary, you almost can’t help but be distracted because all the materials and textures in the room change color.”

Shadow Realm

“In order to know dark, you have to know light…together, they form the yin-yang of how we see the world,” says Tom Kundig, partner in the award-winning architecture firm Olson Kundig. Known for creating modernist structures with low environmental impact, the firm has designed buildings that bridge the boundaries between the natural and the constructed world, where shelter and landscape meld into one another. “I’ve long been a fan of Jun’ichero Tanizaki’s book, In Praise of Shadows,” Kundig relates. “He suggests that shadows are more important than objects because they enter the realm of the mysterious. Of course this is only possible because of light. Shadows are the silent reason that objects are recognized; they give them shape, and represent the soul of a place or object.”

Chasing the Light

Here are some ideas for how to design for daylight within your own home:

– Search for window coverings that let light in, such as sheer panels.
– Consider replacing conventional window shades with top down/bottom up shades. (The design allows you to let in light from the top portion of a window and maintain privacy, as well as adjust for where the rays fall throughout the day.)
– Incorporate doors that have windows or paned glass where possible.
– Wall paint colors should be light, as dark colors absorb instead of reflect the light. Choose flooring such as polished hardwoods or tiles in light and reflective textures.
– Find decorative elements that reflect light, such as mirrors or window charms of stained glass, which can throw colors of light about a room.
– Control the outside environment where possible: look outside your windows. Consider what might be blocking the natural light that you can change. Can you trim a tree or cut back a hedge to let in more light?
– If you’re able to do more substantial revisions to your home, consider adding a skylight or windows along the baseboard.

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