We know that nature makes us nicer, but can we bring nature inside virtually and still keep the positive effects? researchers from the Stuttgart-based Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO want to find out with an interesting concept for making an office ceiling look like the sky, complete with rolling clouds.
The ceiling, which extends the entire length and width of the room, simulates lighting conditions similar to what you'd experience sitting out on a lawn somewhere, with slight variations as clouds pass over. The goal is to make you feel like you kind of are sitting out on a lawn somewhere.
The ceiling is made of 50cm x 50cm tiles, with each tile consisting of 288 LEDs. Dr. Matthias Bues, head of department at the IAO, states, “The board is mounted on the ceiling. A diffuser film in matt white is attached approximately 30cm beneath the LEDs and ensures that the individual points of light are not perceived as such. This diffuser film creates homogenous lighting that illuminates the room throughout.”
The researchers also state that since LEDs are being used, the energy consumption of the design is kept at a minimum. However, that doesn't mean that this design doesn't suck up the electricity. Are the benefits worth the expense? Maybe, if the energy source for the lights comes from renewables -- and if the effects of shifting light are positive rather than distracting. The researchers note that they simulate the lighting patterns of clouds in a way that is very subtle, and not necessarily obvious to the naked eye.
The results of a preliminary study indicate that users find this dynamic lighting to be extremely pleasant. The study involved ten volunteers who carried out their daily work over the course of four days under these lighting conditions with a lighting surface of 30cm by 60cm. Throughout the first day, the lighting remained static. On the second day, it fluctuated gently, and on the third day the fluctuations were rapid. On the fourth day, the participants could choose which type of lighting they wanted, and 80 percent opted for the fast, dynamic lighting.
A prototype of this virtual sky has now been developed that contains a total of 34,560 LEDs spanning an area of 34 square meters. At full power, the “sky” lights up with an intensity of more than 3,000 lux, but 500 to 1,000 lux is sufficient to create a comfortable level of lighting.
Would you enjoy working in an office more if the lighting reminded you of being outside? Do you think you'd feel more relaxed or joyful? Or does a design like this strike you as a waste of LEDs and not worth the environmental resource put into it? Even if it does make the day more pleasant, we know that it doesn't replace the positive effects of actually going outside and being under the wide blue sky during a walk.