On this bright and sunny Saturday morning, the sunlight is at a typically acute angle for the time of year, stretching shadows down the street and catching the form and details of the buildings beautifully. Unfortunately, from Monday to Friday, most of us arrive and leave for work in dim light and are then tucked away in our offices during the day, missing out almost completely on Nature’s light display.
Exposure to sunlight regulates many of our biological functions, including mood, sleep and energy levels. Just as light is crucial to our wellbeing, it is of course a crucial element for every interior. We can thank the Romans for popping glass into window-shaped holes, to create the first sunlit and weather-proof interiors. Pretty innovative stuff when the precursors included animal hides.
Fortunately, designers continue to push things forward, whilst respecting the past. In Istanbul, Turkish studio Alatas Architecture & Consulting converted a dark, narrow nineteenth-century house into a light and airy office space. But in order to preserve the original façade, which had tiny windows that made central parts of the building completely dark, a second skin was created in glass. This allowed the historic wooden doors to remain open and bathe the front of the building in natural light. More measurable modifications included adding floor-to-ceiling windows and a glass-roofed extension, allowing even more daylight to pass into the office. This is balanced with florescent feature accents running the length of the building, diffused through the ceiling rafts. Reflective walls, mirrored or with a bright white finish, help to maximise illumination – making the workers feel like they are in a bigger environment. This sensitive approach to the restoration led to an 2013 Inside Award in the ‘Creative Re-use’ category.
Spatial limitations, especially in cities, can inhibit the use of traditional windows. A recent house project, incorporating a home office, by Japanese studio mA-style Architects, is located in a shady plot between two neighbouring buildings in Aichi, Japan. A healthy distribution of natural light was achieved with perimeter sky lights that throw sunlight across a grid of exposed wooden ceiling beams. These allow natural light to flood the space, whilst creating beautiful shadow patterns in the process.
What can we do when there is no chance of adding natural light to our offices? Daniel Rybakken, winner of the 2013 Swarovski Emerging Talent Award, looks to explore both natural and artificial light, aiming to 'imitate the aura of natural sunlight and its effect on our subconscious.' This approach led to a commission to transform a dark and dingy entrance in an office building in Stockholm. Daniel’s response was to clad the walls with a solid surface material (such as Corian or Staron), milling down the depth of the material before backlighting it with LEDs, in order to replicate the positive sensation of sunlight hitting the wall.
The Light Fusion Lab at Germany’s Fraunhofer IAO Institute has gone one step further, creating luminous LED ceiling panel prototypes, which simulate the lighting conditions produced by passing clouds, giving workers the impression that they are sitting outdoors. The researchers - who no doubt spent far too much time inside - used a combination of red, blue, green and white LEDs to replicate the full light spectrum. This combination made it possible to generate more than 16 million hues and allowed them to simulate natural light changes that are not obvious to the naked eye.
The primary role for lighting in an office is of course illumination, but light can also help to enliven an environment and provide a more engaging experience. Happy workers are more productive workers, as we all know.
An enlivening office entrance by AIM Architecture for Soho China, the property developers behind Zaha Hadid's Galaxy Soho, features a white gloss cladded corridor, where strips of light are reflected to give the illusion of a never-ending grid – although this club like cladding could be a bit too much for some on a Monday morning…
A more calming cladding application can be round in the office restaurant of the Phillips HQ in Amsterdam. Here, the cladding changes in colour and content to provide a more relaxing and inspirational atmosphere for the staff. A more artistic example of dynamic cladding is the 'Lightweeds' installation by Simon Heijdens. Simon uses light projection technology to create a digital organism that ‘grows’ onto the walls. Each digital plant moves and behaves in a directly dependent relationship, according to actual sunshine, rainfall and wind, as measured in real time by sensors placed outside the building.
Technology is of course a key driver for interior innovation and the start of 2014 saw the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas: an exhibition that gives us a glimpse of emerging technologies and future project concepts. This January was no exception, with the notable launch of Sony’s Life Space UX project Kaz Hirai, Sony’s CEO, announced his ambitious vision to ‘transform traditional boundaries’ and take interaction and content delivery away from screens and out onto interior surfaces via projection technology.
As projection technology advances, designers will be able to develop more engaging and immersive experiences for our office environments and work gadgetry. Microsoft’s ‘Future Vision’ concepts demonstrate how projection technology will enable more off-screen interaction, for example, by reducing time spent stroking touchscreens and tapping keys. Their film on the subject illustrates how keyboards and tablets could incorporate projection technology, enabling furniture and interior surfaces to become part of the GUI (graphic user interface). Off-screen innovations like this could make work more fluid and break up the monotony of tapping on a fixed area, possibly reducing RSI (repetitive strain injury) as a result.
Back to today; it’s January and our daylight hours are finally increasing with each new day. The joy of seeing sunlight as we leave our offices is just around the corner. As the rate of technological development increases and our consideration for light amplifies, it looks as if more remarkable office lighting solutions are just around the corner too.