The many benefits of natural light in built environments across residential, commercial, educational and industrial spaces are well known. Occupants of environments exposed to natural light benefit immensely, especially from a psychological perspective. Educational spaces are no exception.

“Natural light gives you the truest colour,” explains Florian Mehler from JDH Architects, a firm that specialises in the design of learning and educational facilities.

“You can never copy what the sun does to you. Just think about situations where you work all day under fluorescent light. This definitely affects your happiness. If you can bring natural light into schools wherever you can, it’s good for the wellbeing of teachers and students alike.”

Several research studies have revealed how natural light delivers a wide variety of benefits to educational spaces.

A 2014 University of Nebraska-Lincoln study on the impact of daylight on the social and cognitive skills of preschool students revealed a notable positive relationship between their social abilities and the daylight conditions in their classrooms when compared to those of students in classrooms that didn’t have sunlight exposure. The results also revealed a significant relationship between cognitive development and classroom lighting conditions.

Similarly, a 1999 study by US energy efficiency consultancy Heschong Mahone Group revealed that children achieved a 25 percent improvement in test scores as a result of naturally lit classrooms. Another study by the Alberta Department of Education in 1991 found that students read faster in classrooms with natural light.

After analysing the results of more than 21,000 students in Canada and the US, researchers found that students progressed 26 percent faster on reading tests and 20 percent faster on math tests in classrooms that were lit by natural sunlight.

Solatube daylighting systems

Technology by Solatube Australia is helping an increasing number of Australian schools take advantage of natural sunlight in their learning spaces.

Solatube daylighting systems were installed in the senior academic block at St Marks Anglican College in Perth. The brief called for natural daylight to play a major role throughout the three-level, 22-classroom building.

Architect Chris Oakley from Oakley Architecture, who designed the school, said they were quite restricted in terms of the number of windows around the perimeter of the building. However, by installing Solatubes, they were able to bring natural light into the deep plan building. This allowed occupants in the central core of the building to enjoy the benefits of natural light, with minimal loss of colour rendition – an important element in teaching spaces.

According to Oakley, collaborating with Solatube allowed him to adapt his architectural approach in order to overcome some key design challenges.

“We had some very long runs over the three-storey building and some situations where we had double 90-degree bends in the tubes, but working with Solatube, we were able to fine-tune the design and contain them within the ceiling void,” he says.

“We’ve come up with a great result. Being able to integrate Solatubes into the building is just one fantastic design tool that gives yourself as an architect so much flexibility in bringing natural light, good colour rendition, all those good things, into the heart of a building.”