Daylighting in Educational Settings

Let the Sunlight In

Daylighting in educational settings, is becoming a bigger area of focus as school districts struggle to keep operating budgets low and learning standards high. Studies show that having exposure to natural light during the school day has a plethora of positive benefits for students, both aesthetic and healthwise. Students who receive more exposure to daylight during the school day show rates of better information retention, and thus better test scores. They experience decreased absenteeism and are less likely to engage in bad behavior.

Beyond schools, daylighting is also a benefit for office spaces and buildings in general. There is science behind daylighting. It regulates our circadian rhythms – the physical, mental and behavioral changes that respond  primarily to light and darkness in one’s environment. Facilitating exposure to natural light increases occupant productivity and comfort and provides the mental and visual  stimulation necessary to regulate human functionality. It even sells merchandise—a study conducted by Daylighting Initiative revealed that “skylights were found to be positively and significantly  correlated to higher sales.” The study references Wal-Mart, which noticed its departments located under skylights performed better than other departments that were not daylit by skylights  throughout its stores.

Our interest in exploring daylighting techniques in more detail is driven by projects we have seen where architects have attempted to maximize daylight, but it was ineffective due to excessive glare. In the worst case we have seen windows covered in cardboard to block out the incessant glare from having too many windows. In more mild cases, blinds or shades have to be closed most of the time to allow for comfortable viewing light.

We have explored various techniques to keeping and maximizing daylight while cutting glare. Through trial and error, lessons learned and client feedback, we learned what to do and what not to do. Daylighting is not as simple as adding a bunch of windows to the building.

With any design and construction project, integrating daylighting into the plan as early as possible yields then best outcomes. Especially with daylighting, which involves window and door placement, building orientation, and diffusing or directing light where it is needed. These things all need to be addressed at the start of the project, not after the building is 60% designed. Using successful daylighting projects as a guide helps illustrate what techniques work. Three different school projects in Minnesota have successful daylighting components we will dive into. This article explores those new build and renovation projects and their benefits.

Pine Island School District

Daylighting gone wrong.  A common misconception is that adding windows equates to daylighting. That is the case in this airport where the glare is unbearable.

The first project we will take a look at is in the Pine Island School District No. 255 in Pine Island, MN. This project included a new elementary school construction and remodeling of the middle/high school. Daylighting was a focus across the board. Pine Island Elementary School The elementary school was designed to educate 750 PreK-4 students in three ‘neighborhoods’ organized by grade level. Due to the building design the client wanted, there are classrooms on all four exposures, which each needed to be treated differently. The project team

Diagram 1

effectively dealt with every exposure, and equalized the exposures. This prevented the blinds from needing to be closed on one side of the building at all times or using overhead lights all the time on the other side of the building.

The good news about incorporating natural light into a new building is there are more options for daylighting. The bad news is there are more options for daylighting. For the elementary school, it was about window placement, but also incorporation and placing of shading elements.

The design team proposed the use of exterior shading devices for the window openings specifically designed as a reaction to the sun angles that would be present at each given location. The use of computer modeling helped determine the size and placement of the devices as they correspond to the sun angles. At the southern classroom exposures, horizontal shading devices were used to correspond with the high sun in the middle of the day (see diagram 1.0). At the east and west exposures, where the sun is lower at the beginning and end of the day, vertical fin shading devices were used to correspond to that solar condition (see diagram 1.1).


This classroom is on the south side of Pine Island Elementary. The horizontal shading device on the windows is illustrated in Diagram 1.0 above.
Diagram 1.1
The Pine Island Elementary classroom below is equipped with vertical shading devices on the windows, illustrated in Diagram 1.1.













The Pine Island Elementary media center (right) received indirect light from windows in the corridor (left). Diagram 1.2 (center) shows how natural light was utilized.
Diagram 1.2












The horizontal and vertical shading devices are subtle accents to the design of Pine Island Elementary School.


In Pine Island Elementary School, the media center was in need of daylighting, but does not have an exterior wall. The media center does, however, have windows leading into the hallway space. The project team brought natural light into the hallway with skylights. This in turn provided indirect light through media center windows, thus daylighting the space (see diagram 1.2). Since the hallway is not susceptible to glare, it is not adversely affected from over daylighting. Hallways in general have a much greater tolerance for glare, due to the fact that people do not sit in the hall to learn—looking at a computer  screen or reading from a book. In a classroom, or in this case the media center, you want to bring light into the space, but avoid blasting occupants with glare that could compromise what they are viewing, such as a computer screen or book.

Pine Island Middle/High School
The forum room in the high school was designed using innovative techniques to allow for natural light to enter the space, while not compromising the functional requirements. The room is a tiered meeting space, designed for use by students with laptops and other digital devices that are sensitive to glare. The design team needed to bring daylight into the space, while keeping glare out. Using windows located high in the wall and simple geometry, the project team figured out a way to utilize interior and exterior shading devices to keep direct daylight away from someone sitting at any level in the space (see diagram 1.3).


Diagram 1.3

Lakeview School
Lakeview School is a K12 school in Lakeview, MN that accommodates 600 students. The school district required an addition of elementary offices, additional classrooms and a gymnasium.  Daylighting was again a focus of design. The design team made sure the additions had appropriate daylighting exposure for the classrooms and administration areas, while making sure there was no glare.

Solar control is crucial to the success of daylighting the space. The design team set out to control glare and solar heat gain while still providing transparency and views. In order to accommodate the daylighting needs of this school, the project team researched possible products that could be incorporated.  They chose a white random-mix ClearShade honeycomb patterned insert that fits between the two panes of glass. The project team chose this particular product due to its ability to provide evenly diffused daylight, glare and solar heat control as well as dynamic views. There are several products on the market in addition to the ClearShade product that can be applied to existing or new windows to mitigate glare, while still allowing natural light into the space.

Daylighting in the forum room of Pine Island High School was achieved using the upper windows and simple geometry.


New Ulm School
The New Ulm School District determined it needed a new high school building to accommodate 760 students. Due to the fact this was a new build, the design team could really look at all of the angles of the sun and how it would affect each side of the building. They were able to experiment with orientation, shifting the way the building faced slightly to test natural light volumes on certain faces to make sure no classroom or learning space was getting too much or not enough daylight.

When daylighting in an educational setting, it is especially important to recognize that different types of spaces need more or less glare control depending on their purpose. For example, classrooms have students reading from books, working on computers and tablets, and focusing on whiteboards. Therefore, classrooms need constant daylight and low glare so students can focus on all of their materials. Circulation areas, lobbies, hallways and common areas can tolerate more glare as they are not a focused learning area.

The final design of New Ulm School uses the orientation to maximize natural lighting for educational enhancement, while reducing glare and yielding energy savings.

Keep in Mind

When incorporating daylighting, there is no one size fits all solution. Each space is different and will have a different application. Keep the end user in mind and apply daylighting to fit their needs.

Project Objectives