Daylight for Babies

August 20, 2014

In 2011, after an intense pursuit, Portland State University professors Cory Griffin and Sergio Palleroni were awarded the NCARB Grant for the Integration of Practice and Education in the Academy transforming the curriculum of the PSU's School of Architecture's recently accredited graduate program. The previous building-science seminar was lecture based, while the new structure of the class connects students with real projects at local Portland firms. This partnership provides firms with building-science research on a project which otherwise would not have gotten that level of attention or testing. As students, we have access to the Green Building Research Laboratory (GBRL) resources, so the firms benefit from these additional data gathering tools. Each student benefits from spending time in a firm of his or her choosing, participating with professionals and networking, while also becoming experts in his or her chosen research type. This level of professional interaction was previously left up to individuals to seek out. Many connections made during this class have led to internships.

This past year, my team of four students worked with SRG Partnership, investigating lighting design for a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) remodel. I chose to work with SRG because I had worked in a studio support position there between undergrad and graduate school, and I admired the way that it was run and enjoyed the people I worked with. Mark Elliott from SRG and Zach Suchara from Luma Lighting Design were our professional partners on the NICU remodel. They met with us several times and introduced us to what they were working on, their goals for the lighting scheme, and their constraints while providing us with the lighting design standards for the healthcare provider. As we dug into a design scheme of our own, we were able to focus on finding the best lighting strategies for the varying user groups-without the limitations of budget or schedule-based on academic articles and conversations we had with researchers.

My team extensively researched circadian rhythms in adults and babies, the health benefits of natural light, lighting needs of nursing staff, and the effects of different colors of light on human eyes and brains. We presented the findings and design solutions of our lighting schemes to SRG and Luma, adjusting them as the research or the knowledge base of our professional partners revealed a new constraint. Although the budget for the project would not allow for them, we incorporated solar collectors and solar fiber optics as a method of providing natural light to NICU occupants in isolated areas of the building. My team and I were able to have real conversations with each other and with our professional partners, something that had not been an option in our previous schooling adventures. Our different levels of experience in the professional world gave some of us more confidence to lead the conversations, but we were all able to contribute to our final scheme. We were asked back after the term was over to present our findings to the healthcare provider during one of their team meetings and handed over our findings to them, some of which conflicted with their design standards.

This partnership was beneficial to the students by giving us real world experience and giving us the time to research lighting design in depth. I had my first opportunity to shift roles and come back to my firm in a design role to work with some of my favorite people. Mark was able to support me and participate in my design education while receiving a body of research which may influence future projects. My hope is that our research will be incorporated into lighting design standards and will benefit the groups of patients, families and staff who occupy NICU units.