“Is daylight enough? Taking a holistic, human perspective” by Peter Barrett
Emeritus Professor of Management in Property and Construction
Lecture from the 7th VELUX Daylight Symposium “Healthy & climate-friendly architecture– from knowledge to practice” that took place in Berlin on 3-4 May 2017. For more information visit http://thedaylightsite.com
The Holistic Evidence and Design (HEAD) project studied the impact on learning of physical school design elements from a sensory experience perspective. One hundred and fifty-three classrooms were assessed, together with the 3766 pupils in those spaces and their individual progress aggregated across reading, writing and math.
The headline finding was that variations in the physical design of the classrooms accounted for 16% of the variation of the progress in learning of the children. Given that most variation is associated with the pupils themselves, this is a very big impact, on a similar scale to the impact of variations in the quality of teaching. It is thought that this is the first time that the holistic impact of spaces on a clear human performance metric has been successfully isolated and evidenced. To achieve this the analysis adopted two strategies. The first was to truly attempt to look holistically at all of the sensory impacts on a person in a space, from their perspective.
This involved the development of a novel analytical model, informed by the quasiregularities of single sense laboratory studies, organised within an over-arching framework rooted in the fundamental ways in which the brain converts converts individual sense inputs into an overall experience of a space. The new framework demanded measures of the characteristics of the spaces studied in the three areas of: naturalness, individualisation and (the level of) stimulation. These reflect, respectively basic animal needs for “healthy” environments, human desires for spaces we can adapt to our own preferences and an appropriate level of stimulation for the activity in hand.
An easy way to recall this three part framework is in reverse order to the above, namely the SIN factors. Having complicated things, the second strategy was to employ multi-level statistical analysis, which was possible because the data was nested: pupil, in class, in school. This meant the variations in learning at the classroom level could be isolated and linked to the physical classroom characteristics, whilst at the same time the impacts of other factors could be controlled out. The study was not focused on light alone, but did include assessments of both natural and artificial lighting within the “naturalness” category of the SIN model.
It became clear that “light” is in fact the biggest single factor influencing learning, accounting for a fifth of the impact, alongside six other design parameters. However, it is not as simple as more daylight being better. There are many interactive effects that must be addressed for the benefits to be realised, such as: glare, overheating, and the complementary need for good quality artificial light. Still focused on windows, the question of adequate ventilation is also crucial. Beyond this, there are also many other factors to be considered within the SIN framework that can provide the designer and / or user with a stimulating range of design parameters to consider, in the knowledge that there is evidence that these factors really do impact on human learning, a most basic necessity for life.
Peter Barrett is a past President of the UN-established International Council for Research and Innovation in Building and Construction (CIB). He is Emeritus Professor of Management in Property and Construction at Salford University in the UK and Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Education at Oxford University. Peter has for many years been a member of the High Level Group of the UK Construction Technology Platform and has been closely involved in its European equivalent.
He is an international advisor to the OECD and the USbased Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture and American Institute of Architects. He has produced over one hundred and seventy single volume publications, refereed papers and reports, and has made over one hundred and ten presentations in around sixteen countries. Professor Barrett has undertaken a wide range of research. He is currently focusing on the theme of Senses, Brain and Spaces with a particular interest in the area of primary school design and achieving optimal learning spaces. The findings of this work have, for the first time, isolated a significant influence of “Clever Classrooms” on variations in pupils’ learning. This has directly influenced, for example, the US Green Building Council and the Norwegian Education Directorate. Peter now carries out strategic consultancy on optimising the impact of school buildings on learning, most recently for the World Bank in Romania.
Presentation from 7th VELUX Daylight Symposium, for more information please visit http://thedaylightsite.com.