How does light affect the way we learn? By evaluating the nuances of natural and artificial lighting within the greater sphere of architecture, we can design spaces that encourage greater learning, productivity and collaboration.
In nature, light is constantly shifting. Factors like sun positioning, cloud cover, haze and shifting shadows produce a broad range of lighting scenarios over the course of a day. In indoor spaces, we often lose this variation. Ceiling-mounted tube lights in classrooms and office buildings cast an even light that provides adequate illumination, but disregards the fluidity of natural lighting. Allowing greater variety in spatial illumination helps recreate an organic atmosphere and encourage a natural state of well-being.
Exploring lighting design in the context of early learning spaces illustrates its importance to concentration, productivity and overall well-being. Factors like lighting intensity, color temperature, glare and light distribution affect our visual and cognitive abilities; clearly a relevant consideration for learning spaces.
However, lighting design in most classrooms tends to focus exclusively on providing adequate visibility, often disregarding the atmospheric and emotional component of lighting design.
In 2016, we collaborated with the Frederiksbjerg Skole in Aarhus to explore new possibilities with electric lighting design. We wanted to experiment with more versatile light, enabling users to adjust the classroom atmosphere to suit the task at hand. We supplemented classrooms’ ceiling lights with hanging pendant lamps, allowing more focused light on the communal work tables. These lamps focused activity and attention to a small radius, instead of casting diffuse light throughout the room. Over the course of our studies, we found that classrooms tended to use pendant lighting for small group work and individual activities, during relatively focused subjects such as reading or mathematics.
This type of lighting proved to prompt behavioral changes: In 70 percent of scenarios employing the pendant lamps, we measured a noticeable decrease in classroom noise levels compared to a base level.
We have seen that in learning spaces, students and teachers alike recognize the capability of light to encourage greater focus and productivity. Lighting and architecture are intrinsically linked, but there is room to develop our understanding of the atmospheric, biological and behavioral implications of light. By expanding our knowledge of lighting design within the context of architecture and human behavior, we can create more comfortable spaces for learning, working and collaboration.