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Biophilic Lighting Play An Important Role in Biomimicry

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We Love Nature 
A hike through the woods, a round of golf, or a walk on the beach—all of these provide connections to nature that intuitively we know people enjoy, seek and value. If you have ever worked or lived in a windowless room, chances are that at some point you experienced a strong desire to go for a walk, or to go outside to get some fresh air. Workers in windowless spaces often will put up nature-themed calendars, and bring in some plants to liven up the space. Those fortunate enough to have windows might keep the blinds open, especially if the view is nice, and let in some natural light.  In modern architecture the advent of steel construction and advances in the production of large glass panels enabled architects to open up the perimeter of buildings, thereby allowing us to blur the lines between indoors and outdoors, and ‘bring’ nature inside.

What is Biophilia? 
Biophilia, a term first coined by E.O. Wilson in 1984, is the innate desire to be connected to our environment and other living things, and research suggests a positive link between biophilia and our sense of well-being.  Emerging science is catching up to what our bodies have been telling us all along—that connection to nature and maintaining alignment with its rhythms, including natural light/dark cycles that regulate our circadian system are vital to maintaining good health.

We are becoming even more aware of the impact of our environment on our health, and we now know that light in particular has an important role to play.  Given that most of us working in the industrialized world spend a majority of our time indoors during the day, we have little opportunity to access the beneficial qualities of natural light.

What is Natural Lighting?
“Natural” lighting is light that changes over time, in both intensity, color, direction and quality – sometimes in a predictable way (as in the arc the path of the sun takes over the course of the day), and sometimes not (as when a sudden storm comes through). Sunlight and daylight are two forms of natural lighting, and are both characterized by continuous change in light level and color. They provide us with dynamic, variable visual experiences:  like the mesmerizing qualities of dappled light through tree canopies; the awe-inspiring power of sunlight breaking through dark clouds; the energizing brilliance of sunrise; or the serene beauty of the vivid colors of sunset. Moonlight and firelight do this as well, at a lower level of intensity. Research shows that dynamic and variable lighting scenes provide the greatest stimulation in the brain, and offer the most pleasure for people, in accordance with the biophilia concept.

There’s a good reason the corner office is the most coveted prize of the corporate ladder. Windows provide an immediate connection with the outside world, and can allow some natural light into an interior space. Thanks to the views and natural light they provide, windowed office space is at the top of the wish list among office workers from every corner of the globe. But as more and more of the global population move from rural to urban environments, it is not uncommon for people to find themselves working in windowless structures devoid of connection to nature. In one survey, 47% of respondents reported not having access to natural light in their office at all; and the US is second only to the UK with the fewest workers having access to natural light (60% in the UK, 64% in the US). Following a daily schedule where work can sometimes continue late into the night, we have become a society often too busy to pay attention to our natural environment. Thanks to modern technologies like USAI Lighting’s Color Select, we no longer have to: we can recreate natural lighting with the right architectural lighting installation.

How Biomimicry Lighting Can Recreate Natural Light Indoors. 
Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that attempts to emulate nature’s patterns and strategies, and innovative tunable white light LED products from leading lighting manufacturers now give us the capability to recreate the dynamic and varying qualities of natural light indoors with ease. With USAI Lighting’s technologies, bringing the beneficial qualities of natural light into the workplace is now possible—with or without windows. USAI Lighting’s Color Select technology makes it easy to simulate natural light with LED lighting. Color Select is noteworthy, because it currently has the widest range of tunable white light color temperatures available, from a candlelight-like 2200K to a 6000K you would only see in bright daylight. By independently adjusting light levels and color temperatures, the full dynamic range of natural daylight can be recreated in an interior space.

The entire USAI Lighting product line has been designed to be compatible with all industry-standard architectural lighting controls, which means that the end user can take advantage of Color Select’s functionality, regardless of the controls chosen.  And, if the building control system uses an astronomical time clock, Color Select can be commissioned to change color temperature and light level automatically, allowing for the reproduction of outdoor lighting conditions in a windowless office, or bring the calm of a sunny day to a board meeting. Perhaps most importantly, the lighting can be preprogrammed to provide a daily dose of high energy white light in the morning to start the day as daylight would, and dynamically shift to settings more amenable to teamwork and collaboration at the times you choose.

In addition to task requirements, nonvisual effects are what we want and need from our lighting today, and this can be done easily and simply with Color Select. Even certain regulatory agencies of the federal government are finding that the “right to light” is something every citizen should have, and new lighting designs of interior spaces are taking nonvisual lighting effects, such as circadian light and biophilic lighting, into account. Light that changes over the course of the day, with high light levels and high relative blue light content provided in the mornings, and lower light levels and warmer tones in the afternoon, can simulate the course of natural daylight and bring a dynamic sense of change to an interior space. In one study, 67% of the subjects reported feeling happy when walking into bright office environments accented with green, yellow and blue colors. Employers can use these natural colors in interiors, and can also accentuate them with dynamic lighting.

Nature, Positive Emotional States, and Creativity
Of course, we want to feel good. But as it turns out, there is more than just a “feel-good” reason for this, too. Research shows that positive emotions enhance creativity, long- term memory, and higher-order cognitive functioning on specific types of tasks; and being smarter than our peers has given us a survival-related advantage during evolution. Because natural selection has favored creativity and higher-order cognitive functioning, it has also predisposed us to seek out positive emotions – for our own greater benefit. Even early childhood educators and specialists promote outdoor experiences as part of a complete therapeutic experience, increasing concentration, attention span, and reducing hyperactivity in children, while also successfully aiding in positive behavior modifications. In fact, access to exterior space and daily outdoor playtime is mandated by most public school regulatory agencies in the US for these reasons.

The Business Case: Biophilia’s Impact on the Bottom Line
For any company, its people are its greatest asset and cost.  Businesses succeed when they are able to attract and retain the best talent, and get maximum productivity from all its employees. Studies have found that the design of the workplace affects an applicant’s decision whether to accept a job offer, and that productivity is significantly impacted by our surroundings. Investing in employees through periodic training alone is no longer adequate to ensure success. In another study, 24% of those surveyed reported that their workplace does not provide them sense of light and space. Researchers have shown that providing employees access to windows with views results in less fatigue and better focus, reduced stress and lower rates of absenteeism. Today, in an effort to be competitive, companies, with the help of designers, are employing biophilic design to bring nature into the work environment. Google, Etsy, Facebook, AutoCAD and other tech companies have all taken steps forward to incorporate biophilic elements into their workplaces. Companies who have made these investments to provide spaces that offer a connected experience with our natural environment are reaping the benefits of having a productive and creative workforce, and a healthy bottom line.

Conclusion – A Fascination with Complexity
Blurring the lines between indoors and outdoors has been one of the key tenets of modern architecture.  Advances in lighting technologies today are opening exciting design possibilities and elevating the quality of our spaces in much the same way that steel and glass did decades ago.  The dynamic properties of LED products on the market today are enabling us to take the next big step in fulfilling this decades-old aspiration. Architectural lighting that appropriately simulates natural light can provide a biophilic benefit to the occupants of a space. The biophilia hypothesis asserts that if we can harness some of these qualities of natural light and bring them indoors, we can recreate a sense of security that our ancestors might have had, and bring some positive emotions to the inhabitants. While an office-wide redesign with windows and skylights providing universal access to views and natural light are not likely to be solutions that can be implemented quickly, or within most budgets, there are solutions that can be provided with electric lighting.

These are the advantages we have with LEDs that we have never had before with traditional lighting. Tunable white lighting technologies like Color Select are the next best thing to being outside, or to having a wall of windows in our architectural space. The future of lighting is fascinating, complex, and filled with possibilities – for improving our quality of life, our personal health, and our individual sense of well-being, both at home, at work, and in society as a whole.