To many people, daylighting is a modern phenomenon. Although skylights and other daylighting systems have certainly become more popular – as well as more efficient – over the past two decades, they are by no means reserved to new buildings.
From home conservatories to large windows used for illumination, natural light has been an important part of building design and architecture for centuries. Read on as we look at how daylighting has evolved as an architectural element over the years.
Daylighting and architecture throughout history
Daylighting has played an important role in architecture for centuries. From ancient buildings in Persia designed to keep perishable goods cool to the large glass window displays in neo-Gothic churches, windows and natural light has always played a role in building design and architecture.
Even the earliest shelters of Native Americans made use of daylighting. In a fantastic presentation called Daylighting as Basis for Design, the Boston Society of Architects observes the use of daylighting from the earliest shelters of the Native Americans to the incredible churches of Europe.
Daylighting’s importance in the pre-electrical era
In many ways, older buildings were often more aware of the importance of daylight than their modern counterparts. As electrical lighting is a relatively new invention, many of the great churches and other important buildings of previous eras placed a far greater level of value on natural light than the buildings of the 20th century.
The technological limitations of older buildings often led to unique solutions to the lighting problem. Many old buildings often showcase greater focus on daylighting than homes and office buildings constructed during the era of inexpensive lighting and endless energy.
Many buildings utilized mirrors designed to increase perceived space and reflect limited natural light sources throughout their interior. Daylight defined design in many cases, with large marketplaces making use of skylights and large windows designed to maximize available light during the limited hours of daytime.
Daylighting during the Industrial Revolution
As industry rose to prominence and machines aided the manufacturing process, the role of daylight changed. Rather than simple illuminating buildings for accessibility, daylighting had to play a role in lighting the environments used by workers for the highest possible levels of productivity.
Windows and skylights changed from being decorative additions to churches and other religious buildings to being utilitarian. Nonetheless, they still provided great amounts of natural light – one reason for the demand for Industrial Era buildings in many Western cities today.
Throughout the 20th century, daylighting continued to play an important role in the design of many modern buildings. The Larkin Building in Buffalo (image shown), itself a monument to commerce and administration, was designed to maximise natural light exposure in order to create a comfortable, productive workspace.
The “international style” and the rise of artificial lighting
As the ‘international style’ of architecture began to take over, the small floor plans and focus on natural light that had defined commercial buildings during the early 20th century began to disappear. With large floor plans and millions of square feet, lighting these large buildings became too demanding for natural light alone.
Because of this, we saw the massive increase in artificial light usage that occurred during the 20th century. Architects generally agree that the dependence on artificial light, and the over-illumination problems that it led to, continued until daylighting once again became a major focus of architects in 1995.
The return of daylighting and energy efficiency
Over the past two decades, daylighting has returned to its position of importance in architecture. The artificially lit workplaces of the 20th century have largely been left in the dust, with energy efficient design and daylighting replacing the artificial light that defined the late 20th century.
This time, there’s logic behind the change back to natural light. From the savings in energy made possible by daylighting to its immense health benefits, daylight isn’t an architectural phase that will soon come to an end, but a logical change that offers a wide range of benefits for architects and inhabitants alike.
“Image courtesy of StudyBlue”