Health, Architecture, and the Sun
by Dr. Richard Hobday
In times past, we instinctively understood that our lives depended on the glowing warmth of the sun. Without space heaters and microfleece, every winter was a stark reminder that the sun’s warmth can be all too fleeting on a winter’s day. And in the spring, great rites and festivals celebrated the coming of longer, more fertile days.
Somehow, however, the sun’s importance in modern architecture has diminished over the course of the twentieth century, often even as firms attempt to “green” buildings by reducing airflow (and therefore, heat loss). The Light Revolution is a beautifully researched book about the sun’s journey over time through our collective consciousness. It is also a medical book, celebrating the healing power of sunshine, which has been known to cure a whole host of diseases and other maladies. Even as a solar enthusiast, I learned a lot about ways in which solar power and medicine has been utilized in the past, and also about why current architecture has strayed from its heliocentric past incarnations. When you realize just how many things the sun can cure, and how many very respectable people have argued its merits over the years, it is almost hard to figure how the box factory/warehouse/office building came to be.
What I liked most about the book was its discussions of quality of light. After all, sitting under a tree is hardly the same as sitting on a beach, though both can be considered daylight. According to Dr. Hobday, our modern lighting systems are negatively affecting our health, and costing us billions of dollars in loss of health and productivity. The quality of indoor light is most often below the luminant threshold necessary for internal vitamin D production. As you’ll discover in the book, vitamin D is absolutely critical to our ability to prevent and heal infections and diseases.
Rounding out the interest to readers is an interesting look at how political considerations often eclipse design considerations in the planning and construction of buildings. He showcases some nice attempts at solar building design from the past, and shows how each achieves or falls short of its goals. In the end, the lessons from the past serve to greatly underline the future potential of light therapy and its applications in health and architecture.