Many office, industrial and retail premises are deep plan buildings, and whilst some have views out and an element of daylight can be achieved, the question could be posed – what are the benefits of daylight? At the same time it seems prudent to also ask the question – what is the value of views? This is because one suspects that daylight alone may not be the only determinant factor as to the value of openings in the envelope of deep plan buildings.
On two occasions when I have visited deep plan premises, the most notable observations made employees related to daylight and views out. One member of staff expressed how much she found having no visual connection with the outside world depressing and that when she worked nights, she found that the disconnect with the outside world and not seeing the setting and rising of the sun particularly difficult. One might describe her comment as akin describing her experience as “doing her head in.” Whilst visiting another deep plan building, one member of staff expressed how pleasurable it was to work in a building that provided daylight and even commented – “in how many [of the kind in question] could you look out and see sheep?” One can surmise that from these comments pleasure and enjoyment is expressed by staff, able to achieve a connection with the outside world. One can only suppose that this significantly affects wellbeing and motivation.
It has long been suspected that was a strong correlation between people’s wellbeing and there connection with daylight and the outside world. In the 1980’s the seasonal mood varying effect of reduced natural lighting levels was as giving rise to the instances of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD syndrome and this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seasonal_affective_disorder.
It has also been discovered that levels of alertness, within the populace in general, are biochemically interconnected with natural daily changes in light colour output http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circadian_rhythms. The discipline of Environmental Psychology has also carried out studies into the relationship between people’s wellbeing and their connectivity to the natural environment. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_psychology. BREEAM assessments even award credits for views out of buildings in recognition of the reduction on eye strain, offered by allowing the eye to periodically re-focus on long distance views http://www.breeam.org/BREEAM2011SchemeDocument/. Meanwhile, some lighting manufacturers have even developed bio-dynamic lighting containing programmable colour diodes so as to correlate with circadian rhythms and optimise human productivity. Furthermore the work of Dr Jean Ayres and more recently Dr Zoe Mailloux and Dr Winnie Dunn would suggest that we have differing sensory processing needs and respond to environments in different ways. These needs include the visual sense and how they interact and integrate with other senses. For some, these sensory processing needs are known to be more acute than others. It also turns out that our visual field also plays an important part in our memory. Pleasant visual fields could also quite possibly establish themselves in our longer lasting emotionally anchored memories.
What would one suggests is done?
I would suggest owners of deep plan building commission a survey of their staff and customers to elicit, what to them, are significant environmental factors affecting their wellbeing at work, whilst independently surveying their environment. Survey exercises could be used to collate other data of benefit to businesses when considering staff wellbeing, customer experience and store design. One would suggest that such a study did not focus on lighting and views alone, as this could give rise to prompting answers to closed questions. I would then suggest that a range of pilot projects be put into effect best practice design as deduced from academic research and staff engagement, by incorporating changes within new premises and implement changes to existing premises as and when opportunities present themselves.
What could the results of improvements be?
I would anticipate an increased sense of staff wellbeing, motivation, retention, loyalty and productivity through greater alertness and reduced risk of downward shifts in mood and mental health. One would also suppose that which benefits staff – could also be identified as improving the customer experience either directly as a result of daylight and views or indirectly as a result of happier staff. Implementation of changes could also further any Community and Social Responsibility agendas.
Steve Maslin RIBA NRAC Consultant
Director of Building User Design
Research Fellow the Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems