"To bring in the sun, that is the new and the most imperative duty of the architect". Le Corbusier (The Charter of Athens)
Reinventing the wheel is not usually seen as a good thing, as it tends to imply lack of perspective and vision. So what does that say about human beings and their intellectual capacity, in this day and age, when we are only now rediscovering two of the most essential elements of life?
The benefits of sleep and light seem to have been lost to us for quite a while. Sunlight exposure has been in the research for about a century now, yet we still seem not to grasp its full importance. In what regards the importance of sleep, well…if by now you haven’t read Arianna Huffington’s book, you’ve been living under a rock.
Though it was not the initial plan (not that I’d be sorry about it), I did my master thesis and architectural project on the benefits of light exposure for the human body and its place in architecture. By the end, it proved to be ten times fold, the right function for the right place and context. The unexpected side effect of the necessary research has been the realization of how little of architecture is presently designed with the benefit of the human life in mind. I am not talking about making beautiful designs and modern spaces. I am talking about analyzing spaces to see how they will contribute to the physical and mental health of the people to inhabit them.
Light and sun exposure are particularly important. Exposure to sun is responsible for the production of vitamin D, which in turn is essential for physical and mental health. Despite that, we spend 40 hours a week in an office, most of us without a window, travel an average of 10 hours and sleep far too little.
One might say that is not the responsibility of the architect to solve the human existence or the welfare of the society. I do however, beg to differ. As the ones responsible for the context, the background, the places we spend our lives, we, the ones who dared to take the place of Mother Nature, have a lot to say and do.
When designing on a blank canvas, in this case an empty plot, the architect has to research and even anticipate:
– what is the most beneficial function for the neighborhood
– what is desired by the beneficiary/neighborhood
– what is the context: economical, social, cultural, national or international (if applicable)
– who will be using the space and how will they be using it
– how will the building/place most likely evolve
– what possible situations may occur
– how will people react and behave
and many more.
So stating that is not the responsibility of the architect to have an input, to take a stand and to work for the welfare of the human being implies ignoring all of the above.
As I stated at the beginning, my “weapon of choice” is light. In the Netherlands, intense light is often missing. The summers are short and the winters are somewhat absent. Most of the time, the weather is grey and rainy and a beautiful day is, more often that not, a day with no rain. It is easy to say that there is no way one could get the necessary of vitamin D in such conditions. However, scientists have already proven that spending enough time outside, even in a grey cloudy day, ensures the necessary exposure for healthy levels of vitamin D.
There is enough technology that can be implemented in order to support and enhance the low levels of light during the cold season, however I believe that these should be used to support Mother Nature and not replace it as the trend seems to be going now. Ideally we would all work in sunnier conditions, however as we can not all move to Spain, the idea is to search for all possible changes that would improve the base conditions.
One of the architectural elements, I believe to be presently ignored is the top layer of a building. Excluding the angled roofs, most of the flat roofs are potential roof gardens/terraces. I did, however, discover with a lot of pleasure a platform already active in the matter: Rooftop Revolution. This is a platform facilitating and promoting the involvement in, and the projects that can bring green spaces to neighborhoods.
That being said, an open terrace is lovely and highly desirable, however with the Dutch weather it can end up just being admired from inside during the rainy cold days. So how about a glass house/terrace on the roof? It would allow for far more options. Reading, enjoying a coup of coffee, tea, sleeping or simply working while providing one’s body with the necessary sun exposure.
Ideally, the material used to cover the glass house would have the ability to allow light to come through from the outside but not allow it to go out to the exterior. I know that this is something being researched. I have however not found enough information to know for sure whether it is possible or not.
The reason why I would recommend this is due to the already really high levels of light pollution that exist in the Netherlands. This does not interfere only with the lives of the animals left in the urban context but also with the lives of the people residing in. Please don’t hesitate to share if you know materials that would do the trick.
One of the most common excuses and complaints in the Netherlands is the lack of space. This has been brilliantly used to create an amazing field of reclaiming ground from water, incredible foundations on unsuitable soil and indispensable water works. However in the field of architecture it has yielded a lot of unnecessarily cramped designs. Though it would be an interesting experience, it is not really possible to just scratch everything and start over. Thus my concept enhances present time experience in order to increase quality of life and market price.