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  • Olivier Jauniaux

The importance of Designing with Light in Architecture

When it comes to designing buildings, there are countless factors to consider: materials, shapes, colours, and much more. But there's one aspect that often goes overlooked: good quality natural light. Yet, the experience of natural light can greatly impact the overall feel and function of a space.

Think about it: when you step into a room with abundant natural light, you feel uplifted, energised, and invigorated. In contrast, a space that is dimly lit or relies solely on artificial lighting has a completely different effect. Playing with how to control natural light in spaces is a fundamental element in creating exciting and unique architecture and is one of Open Volume Studio’s primary research interests.

We believe that natural light should be a key consideration in every project we undertake. From the earliest stages of design, we work to understand the path of the sun and the impact it will have on the building. We consider the orientation of the building, the placement of windows and skylights, and the use of shading devices to control the amount of light entering the space. By carefully considering the use of natural light, we can create spaces that are comfortable, inviting, and inspiring.

Before we get into specifics, why is natural light so important?

For starters, natural light has been shown to have a positive impact on our mental and physical health. Exposure to sunlight can help regulate our circadian rhythms, improving our sleep and energy levels. It can also boost our mood, reduce stress, and even improve our cognitive function. In fact, studies have found that classrooms with more natural light can lead to higher test scores and lower absenteeism rates.

But the benefits of natural light go beyond our health. It can also enhance the aesthetic appeal of a space. Sunlight can highlight the colors and textures of materials, creating a dynamic interplay of light and shadow. It can also create a sense of depth and dimension, making a space feel more expansive and open. Indeed the darkness of shadow is key to light. Too often you see projects where spaces are washed out by excessive glazing and light, but the ones we save on our Pinterest and Instagram boards are the playful shadow spaces. This is because in order for our bodies to feel calm and relaxed, it helps us if our eyes have something to rest on. Shadows create these forms in our spaces that change subtlety but wash out any chaos that may lie below them into a simple rhythm of light and dark.

So how do we consider using natural light at Open Volume Studio? Here are a few of our top tips:

  • We always consider the orientation of a building. By orienting a building towards the south, you can maximise the amount of sunlight that enters the space. However, this comes at a cost of excessive solar gain. We need to be careful about over heating: sometimes “less is more” as the saying goes…

  • We use windows strategically. Windows are normally simply placed in areas where they can bring in the most light. However, we like to play with this by creating cuts, framing views and sometimes destabilising the hierarchy of a space. Of course, primary windows should also be large enough to allow plenty of sunlight to enter the space.

  • We almost always incorporate skylights. Skylights can bring in additional natural light from above, creating a bright and airy atmosphere. This doesn’t mean your box standard Velux though… there are plenty of ways to have fun with light from above!

  • We love mirrors! Using mirrors in unique and original ways can really play with the perception and scale of a space.

  • We carefully choose materials. Materials like polished concrete or white walls can reflect natural light, amplifying its effects throughout the space. However, sometimes you want to absorb light to create depth and texture. Materials such as charred wood, brickwork and dark ceilings can change the way the light feels in a space.

Carefully controlled natural light really is an essential element in architecture and design, particularly at Open Volume Studio. By prioritising it in our work, we can create spaces that are not only beautiful and inviting but also promote our health and wellbeing.

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