Building for Health: Insights from the IES Research Symposium
In 1999, the Institute of Medicine estimated the number of deaths due to medical errors to be between 44,000 and 98,000. That number, in a 2016 report by doctors from Johns Hopkins, has spiked to at least 250,000.
Fatigue is a major problem among doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers. Staffing is often cut and shifts are extended.
This is not a black and white issue, but a light and dark issue. The amount and type of light we receive during the day and night has an extreme effect on our circadian, biological and behavioral responses.
Work areas, especially for shift workers (those working between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m.), often lack proper lighting. Conversely, when some tired workers try to get sleep, they go to bed in spaces that are not dark enough, robbing them of the rest they need to keep their circadian rhythm uninterrupted.
When scientists, researchers and design professionals came together for the recent Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) Research Symposium in Atlanta, research, from evidence-based statistical research to human subject science, came to the forefront of how we deal with issues.
Through research using mice, we have discovered that different systems in the body react differently to artificial light. The timing, strength and wavelengths of light can have a profound – and sometimes profoundly adverse – effect on our physical and mental state.
The research presented during the three-day symposium will help educate us on the best way to design healthier buildings for people.
We need to rethink what a healthy building looks like, whether that is in existing buildings or new construction. Balancing natural daylight and artificial light is critical; that’s why we are always excited to work with architects using scientific research to design buildings that best utilize natural daylight.
A clear example of building for the health of people is the $76 million (£55 million) renovation to Benenden Hospital in Kent, England. Kalwall worked with architects CA Vaughan Blundell and SR Architects Ltd. to maximize natural daylight for the project through the use of skylights with translucent sandwich panels.
The design clearly considered the human element at every step, achieving what much of the research points to, such as:
- Allowing the most natural daylight into a building. Expansive skylights installed in the hospital not only provide natural daylight to the areas they are directly over, but create an ambient light that seeps into the adjoining areas.
- Designing areas that have top lighting. Skylights bring natural daylight where windows could not. A new atrium, awash in natural daylight from the skylights, now serves as the hospital’s main entry and provides a warm and welcoming place for patients and family.
- Designing common spaces where people working in areas with no access to daylight can go. The lounge area provides spaces where workers can relax under natural daylight from skylights. Many hospital staff, most notably doctors, nurses and technicians, are confined to rooms with no natural daylight.
- Considering the balance between natural light and artificial light. While artificial lighting is essential, especially for buildings that operate 24/7 such as Benenden Hospital, it is important to take advantage of daylight whenever possible. Artificial light is limited in wavelength, whereas natural daylight provides full-spectrum visible light, with ability to control for harmful UV and Infrared wavelengths. The benefits of full-spectrum light are numerous, including improved mood and mental awareness, visual clarity and more.
The emerging research continues to show that natural daylight is critical in the workplace and workforce satisfaction is no doubt linked to production.
For hospitals, that is absolutely critical.