February can be a depressing month. We can no longer remember summer, and although spring is quite near it rarely feels that way. Often we get some of the worst weather of the year, and there are few treats unless you are young and giddy enough to be excited by Valentine’s Day. But there is one compensation – by February there is no doubt that the days are getting longer. On the latitude of London, there are nine hours of daylight on 1 February but 10.7 hours on 28 February. Go further north and these figures reduce, but the trend is still the same.
Most of us will still be at work or travelling to and from work for most of the daylight hours. If we are to appreciate this herald of better times it will have to be from our desks. And that, of course, requires us to have daylight in our offices. There is widespread acceptance that we feel better if we have access to natural light, and this will only increase as pressures force people to spend more time at their desks rather than taking a long lunch break outside. Some countries, such as Germany, legislate for the maximum distance that workers can be from daylight. In the UK this is not the case, but it makes good psychological sense, as well as economic sense, to rely as far as possible on daylight rather than artificial light.
Buildings do however need to have relatively deep plans sometimes, so any possible means of bringing light into the deeper spaces is to be welcomed. Good design of windows, which may include light shelves, is part of the solution, and so is the use of atria and rooflights to effectively reduce the maximum distance from natural light.
It is also important to design in a way that brings light into buildings but cuts down glare. Although solar gain is likely to be an advantage not a disadvantage at this time of year in terms of the temperature in the building, the low winter sun, particularly towards the end of the afternoon, can dazzle. How often do you see buildings where this has not been allowed for? Internal blinds are fitted to solve the problem. In ill-considered and ill-managed schemes, once they are closed they often remain permanently that way. There may be more daylight available in February, but without intelligent design many of us will fail to benefit from it.