Asumag 2430 Rydeen 2013

Facility Planning: Let the Sunshine In

Feb. 1, 2010
Daylight exposure promotes better learning.

A lot has been written about the healthful side of sunshine. Experts see moderate sun exposure as essential to maintaining a healthy body and mind.

Minnesota Health Board rules in force by 1910 included requirements for classrooms that specified minimum square footage, ventilation, heating and light. Window space was specified at one-fifth of the floor space of the schoolroom, and windows were to be placed as near the ceiling as possible; translucent rather than opaque window shades were to be installed.

In the 1960s, air conditioning enabled architects to design classrooms with minimal or no windows. After the 1970s energy shortage, large expanses of classroom windows in old schools were replaced with solid walls and minimal windows. But the pendulum has returned to more daylight in classrooms.

Multiple studies show student health and test scores are influenced by improved ventilation, indoor air quality and daylighting. The California Board for Energy Efficiency's 1999 study, "Daylighting in Schools," analyzed test score results for more than 21,000 students in more than 2,000 classrooms from Orange County, Calif.; Seattle; and Fort Collins, Colo.

"Controlling for all other influences, we found that students [in Orange County, Calif.] with the most daylighting in their classrooms progressed 20 percent faster on math tests and 26 percent on reading tests in one year than those with the least," according to the report. "Similarly, students in classrooms with the largest window areas were found to progress 15 percent faster in math and 24 percent faster in reading than those with the least."

The study's authors, Heschong Mahone Group, identified another window-related effect: "Students in classrooms where windows could be opened were found to progress 7 percent to 8 percent faster than those in rooms with fixed windows. This occurred regardless of whether the classroom also had air conditioning."

This report states the importance of the visual environment for learning:

  • An ample and pleasant view out of a window is essential.

  • Sources of glare affect student learning negatively.

  • Direct sun penetration into classrooms, especially through unshaded east- or south-facing windows, is associated with negative student performance.

  • Blinds or curtains enable teachers to control intermittent sources of glare or visual distraction through windows.

  • Situations that compromise student focus, such as reverberant spaces, equipment sounds or excessive noise, have measurable negative effects on learning.

  • Physical characteristics of classrooms are just as likely to affect student learning as many other factors.

One hundred years ago, daylight was legislated for classrooms in Minnesota. The journey has come full circle as we focus on daylight once again flooding into learning environments.

James E. Rydeen, FAIA, is an architect/facility planning specialist and former president of Armstrong, Torseth, Skold & Rydeen, Inc. (ATS&R), Minneapolis. He can be reached at [email protected].

Sponsored Recommendations

Schedule an AIA Course Presentation

Get closer to completing your annual AIA Continuing Education requirement.. Our continuing education courses will get you that much closer to completi…