Embracing Natural Light: Illuminating Spaces

Let’s be honest, who’s not a sucker for movies with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan? We’re not talking about “You’ve Got Mail” or “Sleepless in Seattle” – we’re going waaaay back to the 1990 classic “Joe Versus the Volcano.” Poor Joe Banks, played by Tom, develops a terminal “brain cloud” from years of slaving away in a windowless work place – the flickering fluorescent lights casting a sickly blue-green hue as the electric ballasts hum and buzz. Well, hopefully we don’t have those kinds of environments anymore. Large buildings are typically designed with broad spans of exterior windows, high ceilings and open workspaces – and that’s great! We’ve all heard about the benefits of natural light by now; increased employee productivity, shortened patient recovery times, boosts in retail sales and decreased rate of absenteeism. A recent study by Northwestern University School of Medicine was reported in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine indicating people exposed to natural daylight in the workplace also get more sleep, are more active, and overall have a higher quality of life. “There is increasing evidence that exposure to light, during the day – particularly in the morning – is beneficial to your health via its effects on mood, alertness and metabolism,” says senior study author Phyllis Zee, Northwestern Medicine neurologist and sleep specialist. The study also showed that people need to be within 20-25 feet of the windows or else you might as well not have windows. With advantages can come disadvantages – natural light also brings with it intense heat and blinding glare, often resulting in blinds being drawn by those near the window, robbing all other occupants of the light’s benefits. Recently, 3M introduced a product to solve the dilemma; a light redirecting film that is placed in the upper portion of exterior windows. To most it looks like frosted glass. Instead the film has a series of micro-prisms that optically diffuse and redirect 80% of the daylight upward, washing across the ceiling and throwing natural light deep into the building for the benefit of all. Maybe, just maybe, if Joe’s office environment would have been better, he wouldn’t have jumped into that volcano!

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