Saturday, August 27, 2011

Impact of Light on Health and Welfare

It has become obvious to me both in my own personal observations, and the scientific information laid out in Edelstein and O’Connor’s articles that the sun has and will continue to be the dictating phenomenon for all life on earth. Whether we choose to accept the sun’s daily rise and fall as the measure of our waking hours or not there are some risks to be taken into consideration.

The first arises from a study on how the majority of living species respond to changing patterns of light and darkness. These patterned responses measured over the course of a single day are called a circadian rhythm. Humans, regardless of whether we are aware of it or not, work through a series of daily routines and rituals. It is usually not until these rituals are disrupted or changed that we become aware of their significance. The most widely recognized disruption of our circadian rhythm is daylight savings time. The act of moving the clock ahead or backward a single hour has a substantial impact on our health; ranging from common grogginess to heart attacks, or accidents at work. Even those who work the night shift are at risk for cancer due to their inadequate amount of exposure to the sun.

Even if you are an abiding citizen of your circadian rhythm, studies have shown that certain parts of the country like Seattle Washington, and Portland Oregon have increased rates of a form of depression known as SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder in their populations. During winter these regions of the country experience long periods of time seeing only a spot of sunshine. Inadequate exposure to the sun causes people to experience emotional depression, diminished immune response, and even premature aging.

After examining these risks, abiding by the daily cycle of the sun appears to do more good than harm. Even people as far back in history as Benjamin Franklin recognized the benefits of following the body’s natural responses to the daily patterns of light when he said, “Early to bed, Early to rise, Makes a man healthy wealthy and wise.”

Friday, August 26, 2011

Light Revealing Experience

In speaking of my own personal experience with light, I will start by saying we can all identify with what Richard Kelly has to say when he describes the three types of light for design. especially when he speaks of focal glow as “the campfire of all time… the sunburst through the clouds, and the shaft of sun that warms the end of the valley.” I think all of us have experienced these moments of light in one form or the other at some point in our lives thus far. Personally, these are some of my favorite moments. I love waking up in the morning and feeling the cool air on my face. As the sun rises I feel the warm rays of light touch my skin. I feel energized, awakened, and alive. These are the almost spiritual moments that keep me going each day.

In addition to these moments of brilliant light, I also feel a deep connection to the soft, muted light of a cloudy, foggy day. Being of Scottish decent, I can imagine on these days that this is what the homeland of my ancestors felt like. The ambient luminescence makes the world feel soft and fresh.

There is also something inspiring about walking in the clouds. As a child I would go backpacking with my parents in the mountains. As I climbed higher and higher there was a point where I could literally touch the clouds, and heaven felt that much closer.

It has always been my dream to travel the world, to cross the ocean and see what lies beyond the borders of the United States. I want to feel a mild Italian winter, the dry searing heat of an Australian summer, and the bitter cold of a Russian autumn. It is interesting to me how the landscapes of many places around the world almost seem to visually describe the type of climate it has. For example, the Australian outback, an ancient place with its rust red, rocky landscape seems to radiate a feeling of heat. In Millet’s analysis of light expressing place, the physical characteristics of a landscape are part one of her two-part system. The second part consists of the particular set of changes within the landscape that take place as the seasonal year progresses. For example, during the summer the Arctic Circle can go for weeks without seeing the darkness of night. I would think this would take some time to get used to, especially for someone who didn’t grow up there. From the very beginning of history different cultures around the world have used the sun to gage time, from months of the year to the time of day. Even with clocks to keep time for us, the temporary loss of the ageless relationship between sunlight and the time of day could prove challenging to overcome. This extensive amount of daylight is similar to summers in Finland, where the sun can shine for up to twenty hours a day.

In Northern climates there has always been a struggle in architecture with how to deal with the sun. Architects have to allow for lots of sunlight in the winter, in addition to keeping buildings cool in the summer. The original design of the Cite de Refuge by Le Corbusier is an example of this struggle. The large expanses of glazed glass on the south fa├žade, combined with no means of ventilation virtually cooked the residents. Alvar Aalto, on the other hand, designed the Seinajoki Library with much success, using a curved ceiling section that rises to the south facing windows to keep visitors from losing all of their body heat in the winter, and sunshades to reflect sun back outside in summer. In an effort to produce a design that is both beautiful and useful, each of these designers was successful in meeting the special needs of their client. As difficulties arose to make the project work within the chosen landscape, one was more successful than the other in comfortably facilitating the task to be carried out.

As we have grown in our modern age of technology, we have grown accustomed to altering our environment to better suit our specific needs. As we continue to move further and further away from our relationship with the landscape, we have found ways to recreate glimpses of the essence of our natural environment. Whether it’s a shaft of light peaking through the clouds, the warmth of a campfire, the twinkle of a clear night sky, or the shimmer of a far away sea, light is the tool we use to recreate these memories of a time when we depended upon our deep connection to the earth.