Science has the ability not only to improve our lives but to change the world as we know it. This daunting notion was flowing through my head when I began my first laboratory design project years ago. My next thought was how can the design team use architecture to improve the process of the lab but also craft the space into a meaningful environment that might inspire innovation? The proverbial light bulb turned on in my head. Then the bulb turned off because the idea was to focus on natural daylighting solutions.
We all know that natural light is excellent for us humans. Studies have shown access to daylight helps increase productivity, happiness, employee retention and, coupled with access to views, is a smart way to recruit and retain talented staff. Truthfully, direct access to views and an abundance of daylight are a couple of the many reasons I personally love working in SRG's Portland office.
A lab is best suited if positioned on an exterior wall for access to daylight and views. It's true that this will set the stage for a significant reduction in lighting power consumption and overall energy use, but what is equally important is the quality of the environment. Although abundant light is great, it's important to provide the occupants the ability to control direct sunlight via exterior sunshades and light shelves to reduce glare. It is also fundamental to limit east and west facing windows, which is difficult to control and can create heat gain issues.
The laboratory building that I most recently worked on, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Veterinary Diagnostic Center, organized the lab spaces along the exterior and included tall north and south facing windows to draw natural light deep into the building. To bring light into the core of the building, we used a tall light monitor to allow northern light to flow into the the space. Tim Evans, the design lead, stressed the importance of natural light in this part of the building because he felt this space's central location was ideal for informal collaboration and innovation. The goal in creating a gathering space with excellent natural daylighting was to inspire the scientist to want to occupy and brainstorm in an area outside the lab. Through the use of daylighting simulation models and dozens of design options, we settled on a unique way to bounce the soft northern light off a clean white undulating ceiling down into the space.
My hope is that the scientists will enjoy the quality of natural light and abundant views within their new building but will also better appreciate the subtleties of time, seasons, weather, and nature all while improving the world as we know it.