Biophilia Explained: The Case for Bringing Nature Inside
What a science term has to do with some of the most fundamental aspects of good design.
Exposure to natural light has a significant impact on well-being. We delved into the science to better understand how to enhance your home with natural light to achieve happier, healthier living.
March 5, 2021
Our original light source always has been the sun. As such, our relationship to it is hardwired into a body’s healthy functionality. The sleep-and-wake cycles we establish, for example, are rooted in circadian rhythms with the sun guiding natural flow. Our healthy connection to the sun isn’t by any means news, but what is relatively new information is that the average person today lives out their life almost entirely indoors. In fact, we spend a whopping 90 percent of our time inside, which puts a heightened importance on designing spaces that best serve our well-being.
Fortunately, there have been significant advancements to the environments we reside in that amplify access to the natural light we innately need. Two recently launched products, Marvin Skycove and the Marvin Awaken Skylight, were designed to harness light, air, and views in new ways.
Skycove offers a much more immersive experience than a traditional window. It is a glass structure that projects into the open air, creating a smart extension of usable space, opening a room to panoramic views, and ushering in restorative light from four directions.
The Awaken Skylight is a smart skylight, offering the first-of-its-kind tunable lighting to mimic natural light to help support circadian rhythms and ease transitions from day to night.
Why does it matter that innovative windows serve up more natural light into homes and other spaces? To understand the science behind natural light and its effect on our well-being, we spoke with Gayathri Unnikrishnan, vice president of Standard Development Concept Lead for Light at the International WELL Building Institute.
“We would be remiss to talk about light if we don't talk about windows and views. There has been so much research connecting the impact of windows and views to people's health and well-being,” Unnikrishnan says.
According to “Designing for Happiness at Home” a survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Marvin, nearly 70 percent of homeowners and more than 80 percent of trade professionals agree that access to natural light is a top contributor to one’s feeling of well-being in the home. Further, 73 percent of architects and designers say clients have asked to increase natural light in their homes. Case in point, this family made sunshine a priority for a few very important reasons.
“We’re asking our spaces to do much more for us than we ever have,” Unnikrishnan says. This falls in line with the tremendous increase in time people now spend indoors. With more time inside, it stands to reason that expectations for the spaces where we live our lives are held to higher standards. In addition to maximizing access to natural light, spaces can and should maximize access to fresh air and ample views, as well.
Knowing this information, savvy builders and architects put their occupant at the center of their design and strive to harness the power of light. The built environment is shaped around a new set of needs, with well-being at the core. We’re starting to see innovative new products to satisfy this shift. Skycove was designed to bring the experience of being outdoors inside. This glass structure projects outward and offers a unique, panoramic way to enjoy the benefits of natural light and outdoor views at home.
“There is a fundamental positive impact of the presence of daylight on people's health as well as a general feeling of satisfaction,” Unnikrishnan says.
She goes on to say that builders and architects should think about three things when designing spaces, whether it’s space at home, an office, or another commercial structure:
To fully benefit from the positive psychological impacts of natural light, like feeling healthy and enjoying more positive moods, we must build light exposure into our day-to-day routines. It’s not enough to have one great Saturday spent outside, only to spend an entire work week without healthy light exposure. The conversation is shifting to one of sustainability: How can we reap all the benefits of natural light exposure while still maintaining lifestyles we’ve established?
It’s not an easy question to navigate, Unnikrishnan says. Access to light is different for everyone. Some may not have control over their work environment and its lack of natural light sources. Others may work night shifts and be forced to adapt to a flipped schedule. But a more positive, equitable future certainly entails asking questions about expanding access to light, and avoiding retrofitted solutions that feel like afterthoughts.
In some cases, artificial light can mimic the positive effects of natural light. Technology is getting better at this. The Awaken Skylight, for example, features dimmable LED lights tunable from 2200k (comparable to light at sunrise/sunset) to 5500k (comparable to the sun at noon).
“There are areas where electric light is helpful, even in places that have great daylight,” Unnikrishnan says. “For example, think about northern latitudes where seasonal affective disorder is a major issue. Electric light can fill the gap during the long, dark winter months when the sun rises late and sets early.”
It’s important to recognize the intricate relationship between exposure to light and well-being. The luminescence experienced day after day, compounded over time, adds up to a way of living, a way of seeing, and an overall frame of mind that’s difficult to quantify and impossible to understate. Investing in the benefits of natural light through beautiful windows in your home not only pays back in value-add design, but it also promotes healthier, happier living.