Lockdown thoughts from a lighting designer

Associate Lighting Designer, Claire Hope reflects on how lockdown has changed her approach to lighting design.

Recently, I have spent a lot of my time thinking about how we can and should use natural light to bring the benefits of nature indoors. Lighting designers have a central role in a developing the conversation around biophilic design. We should be leading the discussion on the use of light in the built environment.

Biophilia – an innate love of nature – is discussed frequently in the design world. There are clear links between spending time in nature and reduced stress and anxiety, lowered heart rate and increased levels of empathy and kindness.

Biophilic lighting – where my current interest lies – that next layer of design the step towards artistic intervention, where we try to replicate the experience of light in nature.

McEwan Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Image: McAteer

At a basic level, lighting designers will consider the following to provide eye-comfort in the work environment:

  1. Suitable contrast between the task area and background – ideally dynamically controlled
  2. Minimising flicker – a common cause of migraines, stress and visual task  impediments
  3. Appropriate light levels for the task at hand
  4. Lighting control systems that work for the anticipated user easily and intuitively
  5. Colour rendering accuracy and quality  – to ties in with the other requirements of the space
  6. Colour temperature – again often dynamically controlled.

However, despite taking these factors into account, more is needed to create a natural and healthy environment.

Prolonged visual tasks on electronic devices (such as working from your computer screen without taking regular breaks) strain your eye muscles and lens. We are all accustomed to reminders about exercise and the need to move our bodies, getting the blood flowing and keeping our bodies strong. Lockdown has given people the time to prioritise when and how we exercise, with running and cycling being firm favourites.

With remote working becoming the ‘new-normal’ are we prioritising our eye health?

Claire Hope, Associate Lighting Designer, Buro Happold

I am struggling to get away from the screen and allowing my eyes to stretch and move. Staring at a screen for hours on end, barely shifting your gaze is the equivalent of holding a plank or pull up for hours i.e. it is not natural. Your lens stiffens, the muscles become tired and struggle to retain focus, the task becomes more difficult, you blink less, and as a result get dry itchy eyes because you are so intent on achieving your goal. Then, without realising it, you get a headache, become grumpy, or perhaps send a slightly off tone email without realising or meaning to.

female with computer eye strain
Prolonged visual tasks on electronic devices strain your eye muscles and lens.

This silent factor that we often ignore can have a bigger impact than we realise. The common rule of thumb is 20/20/20, which means that after every 20 minutes of screen time we should look at something 20 feet away for around 20 seconds. This will help reset our eyes and can have a huge impact on both productivity and wellbeing. For a short-term solution, Healthline offers advice on how to relieve eye strain.

Taking these points onboard, how can we adapt the built environment in offices and schools to encourage good eye health? Outside of lockdown, many of us spend upward of 8 hours a day indoors in an office, where light level exposure is reduced from around 100,000 lux (bright sunshine) to 500 lux or less. With constant exposure to artificial lighting and extended time indoors, we are being kept in a tepid environment ranging from around 10 – 500 lux as these light levels do not change or move throughout the day.

For me, the answer lies in the idea of movement and change. Nature is never still. Even when the wind drops and the water on the loch goes glassy, time does not stop. The sun continues to pass through the sky, slowly shifting the shadows and the colours around us. We subconsciously read this landscape of light in order to understand time and our place in the world.

Going forward, I hope to see more lighting designers taking the leap into embracing the harder to define and more artistic lighting techniques that bring elements of movement and pattern into our homes and workplaces.

Claire Hope

This will relieve our eyes and minds from strain, keeping them healthy and active. To see an example of this in practice, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is a major project by our specialist Lighting team.

Louvre Abu Dhabi’s “rain of light” © Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Image: Mohamed Somji

For built environment solutions, contact our specialist Lighting team, who can help find you the right solution for your project.

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