In Melbourne, a push for daylighting in architecture

MELBOURNE -- Amid growing energy concerns, a Melbourne lighting movement seeks to improve our access to daylight.
Written by Lieu Thi Pham, Contributor

MELBOURNE --  On Melbourne's city fringe, another multi-story juggernaut has been erected, a tower looming over the public spaces cowering in its shadow. The new development, representative of the rise in the city's high-density property market, shows a trend toward smaller-sized apartments. While urban planners continue to develop strategies to meet the housing demand, a society of lighting and architecture practitioners are actively pursuing a basic amenity -- daylight.

"Generally speaking, we as human beings, respond positively to natural light," says David Poulton, a Melbourne architect concerned with the application of natural lighting techniques in architecture. "Having access and exposure to natural light throughout the day delivers numerous benefits as well as other positive outcomes for our environment."

Poulton is a long-serving member of the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES), an 80-year-old lighting society which hosts an annual design award event to acknowledge excellence in lighting. This month, for the second year running, the Victorian Chapter of the Society will present the Dr. Albert Dressler Daylight Award, dedicated to the use of daylight in architecture.

Melbourne architect Antony Di Mase, co-convenor of the Daylight award, explains that good daylighting in architecture takes into account setting, orientation, access and obstructions to natural light, as well as the changing quality of the light in the environment.

"Architects can use the objective analysis of daylight to creatively design strategies to harness natural light for people to enjoy," Di Mase says. "Daylight design in architecture is both a science and an art. It is both simple and complex and is endlessly fascinating to designers and artists who are attuned to its potential."

The Australian Building Codes Board, which sets the regulations for the building industry, estimates the energy used in buildings accounts for approximately 20 percent of all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. And earlier this year, the Australian Energy Market Commission, the government's rule-maker for the energy market in Australia, estimated that national household electricity bills have risen, on average, by 14 percent in the last Australian financial year.

These figures reveal a clear opportunity for the building and architecture industries to provide innovative lighting solutions to increase our access to natural light and contribute to a healthier and more sustainable future.

IES Victorian Chapter President Dave Anderson explains that in the Northern Hemisphere, daylight is scarcer and therefore considered as a commodity which influences the way buildings are designed. But while Australia has an abundance of daylight, misconceptions are preventing the nation from using the resource to its full potential.

"There's the idea that daylight equals solar gain, which is seen as a problem in terms of internal heating," he says. "People think that more windows creates the need to increase air conditioning which is, of course, a negative, but proper daylighting design considers this."

"Techniques that were common before electricity was cheap and artificial lighting was common, have almost been forgotten about," Anderson says. "Now that our resources are scarce and energy is becoming expensive, we need to rediscover that knowledge that we've lost."

Last year's inaugural Daylight award went to Melbourne architecture firm Bates Smart for their design of the National Center for Synchrotron Science (NCSS), a high technology, science and research facility in Melbourne's south-east which was praised for its holistic approach to design.

The NCSS project featured an innovative light wall, which projected natural light into the main exhibition space without the need for artificial lights. This solution resolved the common issue associated with deep plan buildings where rooms have no access to natural light.

"Light is pushed down into a cavity wall via a reflective film applied to the inner wall," explains Kristen Whittle, design architect and director at Bates Smart. "Light bounces around the cavity and is directed all the way down the walls to illuminate the space via a second skin which radiates the light via its vertical surface."

The combined effect of harnessing natural light, the installation of solar panels on the roof and the thermal efficiency of the building, ensured that the project embodied a strong commitment to sustainability and daylighting principles.

This year's award has attracted a diverse range of entries, including a residential country home, a public school, a health facility, and an extension to a shopping center. All entries have, to varying degrees, taken careful consideration of lighting principles, with natural light as its integral source.

Photos: Kevin Poh/Flikr; Tony Miller Photography; Gary Windiate; and Peter Bennetts.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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