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Natural light improves indoor spaces

Naturally lit sports facility

Daylighting boosts health and productivity

The scientific evidence that environmental factors impact our internal wellbeing is fast becoming undeniable. Where healthy living once meant diet and exercise, it now extends to cover homes, workplaces, and leisure spaces. By natural extension, construction methods are evolving to reflect increasing awareness of just how important physical space can be to our everyday lives.

Importance of light

In 2015, biological researchers identified a stunning fact: almost every cell in the human body contains a tiny metaphorical clock. These tiny protein timepieces regulate internal rhythms you may know as circadian rhythms, or the light/dark cycle.

It has become increasingly apparent that humans need exposure to natural light almost as much as certain nutrients and minerals. Natural light is the mechanism by which circadian clocks are wound, and without it, we suffer detrimental effects such as disturbed sleep, a lack of alertness, and slowed metabolism.

Prism in water droplets 

The difference between day and evening light quality comes down to colour. In the evening, we’re exposed to inoffensive red and orange light waves. Where cooler hued waves have the capacity to suppress sleep hormones and effectively ‘wire’ the body for action, these warmer coloured light waves have a limited effect on circadian rhythms, allowing our bodies to enter a rest state.

In daylight, our primary exposure is to blue light waves. Blue light is high energy, helping to boost alertness and speed reaction times. It also increases feelings of contentment. It’s unsurprising, then, that sunny days are commonly associated with elevated mood, while the colour blue is seen as calming. 

The issue comes from 21st century overexposure to artificial lighting. Flat-rate fluorescence doesn’t cater for the subtle lighting shifts that occur throughout the day, and which our bodies need to regulate themselves.

Daylighting: Sympathetic structure design

The key? Structures that optimise ‘daylighting’, the practice of utilising natural light in place of electric.

Tensile framework 

Evolutionary psychologists believe the human brain has undergone minimal fundamental evolution since the Pleistocene era. Effectively, according to experts, we’re functioning with stone-age brains predisposed to spend the majority of time outdoors. It’s essential that the spaces in which we spend time reflect the associated requirements, whether that be in the gym, workplace, or classroom.

Although specialist lighting has been developed, attuned to spectral shifts and programmable to mimic daylight fluctuations, these seem a complex solution to a simple issue. While such measures may be suited to an office or home, in larger leisure or work spaces such as a gym or warehouse there’s no reason why it wouldn’t be possible to simply increase habitants’ exposure to natural light. Where nature has provided a solution, implementation of sympathetic design seems intuitive. Better still: natural light costs nothing.

Fabric first

In practice, tensile fabric structures bring a new definition to the phrase ‘fabric first’. Constructed using solid steel framework and enveloped with architectural membrane, tensile allows permeation of natural light to create internal space that is naturally lit. 

Naturally lit tennis hall

Natural light exposure increases likelihood of engagement in physical activity, encouraging gym visits, improving overall health, and reducing health-related absences from the workplace.

The effects can be more subtle, too; present an individual with an image of a one-window, gloomy space, and another of a clear span, sunlit facility. The natural inclination would be toward the well-lit image. Such environments increase our feelings of positivity and energy. 

Whilst it’s imperative that sustainable and futureproof design account for these biophilic requirements—being the balance between biology, nature and design, and its impact on human experience in the built environment—budgetary concerns are often a constraint. Structural costs can easily spiral, rendering the best of intentions moot in the face of cost efficiency.

One could easily cite the costs of an inefficient environment insofar as absent workers or patrons, and reduced motivation, but these are not so easily quantifiable as the immediate expense of a new building development.

It’s for these reasons and more that tensile construction is becoming the bottom line in sporting facilities. Put simply, tensile is a cost effective construction method compliant with the three ‘R’s. Not reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, but reduced materials, reduced site disturbance, and reduced lifecycle running costs.

Take, for example, our recent development at St Neot’s Preparatory School, or Clickimin Sports Complex in the Shetland Isles.

When combined with the beneficial natural light exposure, it’s apparent that health-conscious structures are not beyond the scope of those with more limited budgets. One just needs to know where to look.

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