Light + Tech
Jill Entwistle takes us through some of this year’s award-winning lighting installations
THE 2022 DAYLIGHT AWARDS highlight the two major preoccupations in the use of natural light: its importance as an intrinsic ingredient of architecture, and its crucial role in in human health and wellbeing. The first, of course, informing the second.
This year the Daylight Award for Architecture went to Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Dublin-based Grafton Architects, while the Daylight Award for Research was given to Anna Wirz-Justice, emeritus professor of psychiatric neurobiology at Basel University, and former head of the Centre for Chronobiology at the Psychiatric University Clinic in Basel.
While Wirz-Justice is working more academically and directly on the relationship between lighting and people, what ultimately unites both laureates is the fundamental effect – physiological and psychological – of daylight on human beings.
‘The laureates exemplify common themes,’ said the jury, which included Danish architect Dorte Mandrup and 2020 Daylight Award laureate Professor Russell Foster, head of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at Oxford University.
View of the central space in Dublin City Library in the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter. Image Credit: GRAFTON ARCHITECTS
‘Not only do they represent international excellence in daylight research and practice, but they also embody a generous and humanistic spirit regarding the celebration of daylight. The contribution of daylight to enhance quality of life – even to celebrate life – is an intrinsic quality of their work.’
THE DAYLIGHT AWARD FOR ARCHITECTURE
Grafton Architects has ‘mastered the use of daylight throughout their wide and exceptionally varied design production,’ said the jury. ‘It is clear that daylight is particularly important in their architecture. It is not an accessory. It is a major constituent element of the architecture.’
The practice was founded in 1978 by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, who both graduated from the School of Architecture at University College Dublin in 1974, subsequently teaching there from 1976-2002. Grafton Achitects has won numerous architectural awards including the RIBA’s International Prize, Stirling Prize and Gold Medal. In 2020, Farrell and McNamara were selected as the Pritzker Prize Laureates.
Internal view of UTEC’s University Campus building in Lima, Peru. Image Credit: GRAFTON ARCHITECTS
What is distinctive about their approach, observed the jury, is that they use natural light to create hierarchy and denote purpose. ‘They differentiate and articulate spaces of different importance, functional purpose and experiential atmosphere. Daylight is employed in their design process as an integrated and irreplaceable quality, along with the spatial arrangement, structural frame and technical systems.’
The judges also noted their ‘remarkable’ skill in directing daylight both vertically and horizontally into what are often deep-plan and layered building volumes, investing spaces with a particular atmosphere. They ‘bring the light where it is wanted, necessary and comfortable: to work, to read, to stay,’ said the judges. ‘It allows them to create a complex and rich interior architecture, spatially dense, which nevertheless achieves a human scale and intimate environments within tall and large buildings.’
Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara founded Grafton Architects in 1978. Image Credit: GRAFTON ARCHITECTS
Rather than being merely an element of composition or aesthetic addition, ‘natural illumination heightens the working conditions and sensory qualities of the spaces,’ they commented. ‘Daylight emphasises and celebrates the main spaces in their buildings.’
The sense of integration with the architecture and the resultant ‘comfortable and warm atmosphere in service of the users’ are intertwined in their approach. ‘The daylight does not create monumentality, and it is not a religious or scenographic light. It is a beautiful, soft and humanistic light, perfectly merged with the architecture. This is a light that integrates and creates a unique spatial experience without being demonstrative or imposing.’
The design of the Toulouse School of Economics incorporates apertures to allow for the maximisation of natural light. Image Credit: GRAFTON ARCHITECTS
Another chararacteristic of the practice’s work is the exploitation of natural light using surfaces as daylight reflectors and modulators. Glazed ceramic flooring is combined with rough brick walls, while satiny dark wood is used with carefully placed apertures, creating ‘rich and intricate spatial experiences’.
‘We describe our architecture as physics of space, physics of culture,’ says Farrell. ‘What we really try to do is capture the environmental conditions of location, for people to enjoy it. It is a cultural relationship. Our relationship with light starts with looking at the angle of the sun, one of the aspects that we look at very deeply.
‘As we move to the future times of sustainability,’ she continues, ‘we should be aware that light is an extraordinary energy, it is not just a visual delight.’
THE DAYLIGHT AWARD FOR RESEARCH
Anna Wirz-Justice has carried out pioneering research on how light regulates human circadian rhythms and sleep. She is concerned with defining the key parameters of how light acts as a biological stimulus, including the importance of when we see light, how long we see it, and of what intensity and colour spectrum. Her work, though rooted in the therapeutic use of light to treat mental disorders, has had much wider implications. ‘Anna Wirz-Justice has embedded her science broadly across the public sector,’ said the jury.
‘She has, and continues to reach out to numerous other fields in both the natural and humanistic sciences, to convey the importance of the natural day-night cycle on our psyche and physiology, including through architecture and the world of art. She has been the driving force behind multiple public lectures, exhibitions, installations and architecture projects.’
Having worked in a psychiatric clinic, Wirz-Justice discerned the connections and correlations between abnormal light exposure, circadian rhythm disruption, and the impact of such factors on mental health. She introduced the use of light therapy to Europe and studied its use in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), non-seasonal depression, Borderline Personality Disorder and dementia.
Image Credit: GRAFTON ARCHITECTS
This work allowed her, and other international groups, to establish both the scientific and therapeutic application of light as a treatment for different areas of mental illness. She and her colleagues have written a manual for healthcare professionals, designed to guide evidence-based light treatment to improve mood and sleep disorders.
‘Research on light’s widespread effects on humans, independent of vision, has changed architecture in the past decade,’ says Wirz-Justice. ‘It has initiated new lighting standards to incorporate non-visual effects of light as necessary for health. It has reawakened interest in the huge potential of daylight to complement artificial light.’
Widespread research in recent years has revealed that light is essential for health, regulating many aspects of human physiology, as well as circadian rhythms and sleep/wake cycles. Appropriate light exposure synchronises the body clock, allowing people to respond optimally to the diverse demands of the day/night cycle. Without this daily synchronisation, circadian timing systems become misaligned with each other and with the outer world. Research has further shown that the consequences of circadian dysregulation include fluctuations in mood, irritability, impulsivity and reduced concentration, alertness, performance and creativity. Long-term, there is an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cancer and mental illness.
As Florence Nightingale discovered in the mid-19th century, there is also a healing aspect. ‘Recovery from illness can be accelerated by enhanced exposure to daylight,’ says Wirz-Justice. ‘We and many others have collaborated with architects in new hospitals or retirement homes. Schools and workplaces also need enough access to daylight. If young children spend time outside every day, this seems to be a simple strategy to prevent myopia. ‘So, I think we have reached a level of knowledge whereby chronobiologists and architects can talk to each other to improve the quality of the built environment with respect to the health-enhancing effects of daylight.’
The Daylight Award was established by the philanthropic foundations Villum Fonden, Velux Fonden and Velux Stiftung, and is conferred biennially in two categories, The Daylight Award for Research and The Daylight Award for Architecture.