Daylight is good for people. This is basic point that few would debate. As a testament to this, in a 2012 survey, 99% of US architects either agreed or strongly agreed that people perform better in buildings when exposed to natural light1. Findings are nearly identical when asked about the benefit of preserving a view to the outdoors2.
Unfortunately, too many people don’t get enough daylight, with about 33% of office workers in the US3 and 42% in Europe and the Middle East4 saying they have little/no access to natural light.
Building occupants want daylight, building designers see its value, so our global building stock should reflect this, right? Far from it. There is a massive gap between where people agree we ought to be and where we are when it comes to natural light in building design.
Why the Gap?
Some reasons are obvious, others less so. Here are 5 key reasons5 why this gap exists (in no particular order):
- New vs. existing buildings. Certainly more and more of today’s buildings are constructed with the value of daylight in mind, as evidenced by the growth of glass-centric façade designs. However, the vast majority of the building stock is older, and in many older buildings daylight is a scarce commodity. Over time this will change, but how do we know the buildings we construct today will continue to meet our needs ten, twenty or even forty years from now? Here is a great blog from Stantec which discusses the challenge of planning for building uses we can’t fully see today…planning for the unknown!
- Daylight and views vs. glare and heat. With increased light comes the unwanted side effects of glare and heat gain, which can compromise occupant comfort. Too often natural light and views get sacrificed to limit heat gain and prevent glare. This occurs during both the design phase, by architects, owners and engineers, and the operation phase by facility managers and occupants.
- Want vs. Need. People want to maximize light for their buildings, but they need to maximize usable space, manage costs, meet deadlines etc. A great many “wants” in buildings get sacrificed during the long and difficult planning, design, bid and construction process.
- Daylighting experts vs. the rest of us. The world of daylight metrics is a challenging one to understand, even for experienced building industry professionals. Other metrics, such as those for energy efficiency, are comparatively easy. Most architects and building owners could easily name a number of metrics associated with energy efficiency, but ask them about how daylight is measured, or glare for that matter, and only a fraction could offer examples. This complexity presents a challenge when asking people to invest in natural lighting strategies.
- Believing the value vs. seeing the value. Perhaps the most significant hurdle is demonstrating that sunlit spaces deliver on the promise so many believe them to on an individual project basis. It is one thing to believe generally that daylight and views are better for people, it is another to see and even measure that benefit project by project. The body of evidence grows, but questions remain.
Bridging the Gap and Latent Demand
In some ways, all of these (and certainly the last four) connect to the economics/marketing concept of latent demand. The classical definition of latent demand is basically “Desire or preference which a consumer is unable to satisfy due to lack of information about the product's availability, or lack of money.” While accurate, this is overly restrictive. A better definition would mention a lack of information not merely regarding availability but a lack of information that is readily accessible, comprehensible, persuasive and actionable.
In layman’s terms, people need to be convinced! The data shared in the opening of this blog is essentially evidence of latent demand. Key actors seem to want more sunlight for building occupants but the investment lags. This comes back to developing more powerful proof points, demonstrations of success that people can easily and quickly understand, in order to unlock investment. The benefits of daylight are real but intangible and still frustratingly hard to measure. The more we can make the benefits measurable and real the more people will trust in them. With increased trust in the outcomes comes increasing investment. While this alone will not bridge the gap it is definitely a critical step.
Jordan Doria is the Senior Channel Marketing Manager for SageGlass. Jordan has a decade of experience in the building industry, working to promote buildings that are better for people and the environment. He holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Political Science from Villanova University (USA).
1 2012 study commissioned by SageGlass and performed by Hanley Wood, surveying 479 architects across the US
3 Saint-Gobain and SageGlass commissioned Amplitude Research, Inc. to survey 400 team members across the U.S. between March 22 and April 1, 2016
5 Almost all discussions of real estate need to mention the “split incentive” issue, namely that developers/investors have different priorities than owners/occupants in many instances. In developer-led projects, first cost rules and lifecycle costs (and arguably overall quality) take a backseat (if they get a seat at all). This is certainly a major reason…but it is also pretty obvious, hence the decision to mention it only as an endnote and not in our top 5 list.