Projects, Products, Design

Are Your Designs Keeping Up with Demand for Natural Light?

Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners designed Carnegie Mellon’s new Tepper Quad building to ensure 85 percent of interior spaces have access to natural light. 

According to a 2018 Future Workplace survey, more than 1,600 employees ranked “access to natural light and views of the outdoors” as their No. 1 desire for a workplace environment. This far out-ranked a facility fitness center, “nap pods,” or even on-site childcare. Buildings with an abundance of natural light have shown broad benefits across all occupant types, from faster patient recovery to improved student performance to increased employee satisfaction and decreased absenteeism. Designing to maximize daylight exposure pays long-term dividends to owners and occupants.

From modern curtain walls to interior glass partitions, there are increasingly more ways to maximize sunlight for building occupants. However, in some instances windows alone are not enough to truly let everyone benefit from natural light. Skylights efficiently and effectively offer natural light throughout sprawling buildings to supplement exterior window façades. And their impact goes beyond daylighting: Skylights can also reduce the reliance on artificial lighting, resulting in lower energy consumption. With the correct application, ensuring thermal performance and heat gain control, skylights offer buildings, new and old, an opportunity to truly provide a coveted amenity.

Academic institutions, which are often owner-occupied, are at the forefront of this pursuit. The newly completed, LEED Gold-certified Tepper Quad at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, is a prime example of a building designed to maximize light and occupant well-being. Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners purposely designed the Tepper Quad with no corridors as a way to foster innovation and collaboration while emphasizing open space. With 82,000 square feet of exterior glass, 85 percent of the building has access to natural light.

“We have found (and studies confirm) that access to daylight and connection to views is the most important spatial quality for people in their built environments,” said Jeanne Chen, FAIA, principal at Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners. “We purposefully designed the Tepper Quad project as a dynamic horizontal framework wrapped around a central HUB/Atrium that brings daylight deep into the building to increase creativity, dialogue, and interaction,”

Proper application of the skylight in the school’s atrium was critical to installation success and to ensuring optimal thermal performance of the building.

Within that, “A prime consideration for us was interfacing the skylight with the vertical curtain walls,” said Bruce Jamison, senior project manager specializing in skylights at Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope. “The steel truss in the vertical wall was pre-loaded prior to installation of the skylight framing, so the project design team had to determine how much the steel would rebound and account for its effect on the skylight system. Through proper planning, we were able to account for minimal movement once the steel was released.”

In any application, a well-insulated skylight is vital for performance and occupant comfort. “At the Tepper Quad, insulating laminated glass with argon was used in the skylight to enhance insulation, coupled with silk-screened glass containing white frit, a ceramic coating made of small dots covering 60% of the skylight surface, to counteract glare and reduce direct sunlight,” added Jamison. This application yielded a solar heat gain coefficient of only 0.21, reducing heat transfer to provide occupants the benefits of daylighting without the discomfort, and added maintenance expense, of managing heat gain.

“All the glass daylights much of the building. That does not just reduce the need for electricity and lights, it makes for a happy place to live,” noted Bryan Routledge, associate professor of finance at the Tepper School, who co-chaired the Tepper Quad building working group.

As buildings continue to transform from mere shelters to experiential spaces for occupants, creative design will become more and more critical in offering areas that enhance not only their performance but also our well-being.