The Assessment and Application of Natural Light in the Workspace

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

- Active utilisation of Natural Light


Whether in industrial or office settings, proper lighting makes all work tasks easier. People receive about 85% of their information through their sense of sight. Appropriate lighting, without glare or shadows, can reduce eye fatigue and headaches; it can prevent workplace incidents by increasing the visibility of moving machinery and other safety hazards. Good quality lighting also reduces the chance of incidents and injuries from "momentary blindness" (momentary low field vision due to eyes adjusting from brighter to darker, or vice-versa, surroundings).

Lighting can be categorised as - 

  1. Natural lighting

  2. Artificial Lighting

Natural light or daylight is the light received from the sun. In offices, this natural light is often introduced through windows, light wells and shafts. 

Artificial light is the light received from any electrical source. Artificial lights are used more extensively in offices.  Light sources can be utilised as per requirement for a number of purposes including working, walking, socialising etc.

In today’s day and age artificial lighting is used more extensively in office projects. Natural light has been neglected. The common use of natural light extends to only windows. The current trends perceive natural light as an added commodity rather than a necessity. 

Figure 1: Office Utilising Natural light

Importance of Natural Light

Improved Productivity

It is clear that employee performance and outlook are connected to the environmental conditions in which they work. So, what can organizations do to promote office conditions that support the well-being of their workforce? Employee preferences point the way. Natural lighting is a common ask from employees across the globe. The connection to the outside can only be considered natural.

Better concentration and improved short-term memory were both observed in office workers who had been exposed to natural light, according to a 2003 California Energy Commission study. The Lockheed Martin office mentioned before reported a 15% increase in productivity after it increased natural light in the office. The company believes this change and the resulting productivity boost led to the acquisition of a 1.5 billion-dollar contract. There’s also the oft-cited post office in Reno, Nevada that introduced more light in its building, leading to one of the most productive teams of postal workers in the region and a profit increase of $400,000-$500,000.

Less Eye Strain & Headaches

Daylighting is also crucial to good eye health. For one thing, artificial light may not provide sufficient lighting with the way daylight does. Users' eyes may also be strained under fluorescent lights. According to the green workplace blog Green Room, a “landscape view” is also good for a person’s sight because it “provides a combination of both short-range and long-range views causing the eye to constantly refocus, which benefits the eyes.” 

According to a study, the right amount of natural light can decrease eyestrain among employees by 51%, drowsiness by 56%, and headaches by 63%. Workers sitting close to windows that are capable of controlling daylight also reported a 2% increase in productivity—the equivalent of an additional $100,000 per year of value for every 100 workers (assuming an annual average salary of $50,000) or around $2 million over the life of the window.

Employee Sleep Hygiene

A study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University compared two groups of workers: One worked in an office without windows; the other worked in an office with natural views. Of the two groups, the latter experienced a better quality of sleep. The workers with the window view slept 46 minutes longer on average than those without. The windowless workers also reported more problems with “sleep quality, sleep efficiency, sleep disturbances and daytime dysfunction.” As we all know, sleep is a critical part of our mental performance, so natural light can improve brain power in the office. 

The overall sleep hygiene of an individual is hence, maintained. The sleep hygiene of an individual is a core part of his/her being. The benefit of having a healthy one extends beyond the walls of any office. An estimated 1 in 25 adult drivers (aged 18 or older) report having fallen asleep while driving in the previous 30 days. 

Energy efficiency

Artificial lighting usually uses up about a third of electric use in a commercial building. That number can be a little higher or lower depending on various circumstances. It’s no great revelation that natural light can reduce the need—and expense—of artificial lighting. However, the right kind of design, layout, and window products are essential to reducing utility costs. That’s to prevent savings in lighting being offset by heat loss through windows or allowing too much sun during hotter months.


As a source of light, natural light can only be deemed beautiful while observing the view outside. The scenery outside the office is a variable that cannot be controlled by any designer. However, by allowing natural light to enter the office sceneries can be created within office spaces. Stonework, plants and water features can be highlighted as aspects of nature by shining natural light on them. 

A sense of spirituality can be instilled into the office through careful intervention. This provides designers with a unique opportunity to enhance their clients’ office space.

Health Benefits

One can take all the vitamins and supplements he wants, but nothing beats the natural thing. Sunlight is a natural source of vitamin D. While one can get most of it outdoors, he can still get his daily dose of the D vitamin when he has access to natural light indoors. Furthermore, more health benefits are offered by natural light. In fact, experts say that being exposed to natural light for a significant time during the day helps promote better sleep. In general, natural light can greatly help an employee’s overall health and wellness.

For about 6% of the population, fall kicks off a time of serious depression known as seasonal affective disorder (aka major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns).

Another 14% experience the less debilitating (but still significant) “winter blues.”

People tend to feel better, more cheerful and energised in daylight. Lack of sunlight was recognised with the discovery of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in the early 1980s. SAD is most prevalent in latitudes higher than 30 degrees when daylight hours are short. Those suffering SAD may be gloomy and lack energy and may also have difficulty concentrating, withdraw socially and experience difficulty sleeping.

Utilising Natural Light in Offices

Understanding Optimal Lighting

Measuring Units of Light Level - Illuminance Illuminance is measured in foot candles (ftcd, fc, fcd) or lux (in the metric SI system). A foot candle is actually one lumen of light density per square foot; one lux is one lumen per square meter. • 1 lux = 1 lumen / sq meter = 0.0001 photon = 0.0929 foot candle (ftcd, fcd) • 1 phot = 1 lumen / sq centimeter = 10000 lumens / sq meter = 10000 lux • 1 foot candle (ftcd, fcd) = 1 lumen / sq ft = 10.752 lux 

Table :1 Common outdoor light levels

Common and Recommended Light Levels Indoors - The outdoor light level is approximately 10,000 lux on a clear day. In the building, in the area closest to windows, the light level may be reduced to approximately 1,000 lux. In the middle area it may be as low as 25 - 50 lux. Additional lighting equipment is often necessary to compensate for the low levels. Earlier it was common with light levels in the range 100 - 300 lux for normal activities. Today the light level is more common in the range 500 - 1000 lux - depending on activity. For precision and detailed works, the light level may even approach 1500 - 2000 lux.

Table 2: recommended Lighting in Workspaces

Creating Outdoor Spaces

As discussed earlier, natural light is very beneficial for employees in particular. An approach which sees employees come outdoors can help compensate for a closed office.

Outdoor open spaces can be cleverly crafted to make sure employees utilise the space. For example, an outdoor canteen with suitable seating would force an employee to spend time out in the open. 

Green, recreational areas are designed in open areas actively attracting employees. Very often employees would be seen working in such areas. An indirect connection with productivity can hence be made. 

Figure 2: Outdoor Seating

The introduction of such spaces alters work cultures and practices. These design interventions are crucial for designers as they can often define an office. These spaces must be defined to avoid harsh sunlight while allowing employees to enjoy their office. The variation of temperature and daylight during a day must be taken into consideration as well.

Using pergolas and punctures in roots can help control the amount of direct sunlight that an employee is introduced to. Direct light can prove harmful, and detrimental to one’s health. Analysing sun paths and seasonal variations can give accurate projections to then design upon.

Design Elements

Bulky furniture can get in the way of natural light and reduce the impact of having wall to wall windows and skylights. Furniture that remains hollow and skinny should be utilised. 

The minimal use of furniture effectively allows light to travel directly through any given space. A layout that focuses on furniture being away from windows and skylights can allow light to percolate through the structure.   

Figure 3: Skinny Furniture in a compact office

Layouts should favour “skinny” furniture near natural light sources to allow better light penetration. This can, in turn, will be an effective way to open up previously closed offices. Sites with restricted natural light can utilise this method to improve the quality of space for its employees.

Tables, chairs and decorative pieces should not obstruct the flow of light. An individual from the centre of an office should have a clear view of windows and doors. This subtle design philosophy can benefit an individual greatly as he feels connected to the environment while staying within the perimeter of the office. 

Common mistakes involve placing large potted plants against glass facades. Though this might be beneficial to the plant, the light and view often get obstructed.

Planning & layout considerations

“Open Plans” are a popular way of allowing light to pass through the entire office without much hindrance. This concept revolves around the minimal use of internal walls to keep the office as free-flowing as possible. By allowing people to see through and through an office. The spatial detailing of any given space defines the space instead of the traditional four walls most people would expect.

Natural light from windows can easily percolate through the entire structure allowing an added luminance factor. This, in turn, reduces the need for artificial light creating an energy-efficient layout. 

Allowing every person the view of the outside at all times is in line with the biophilic hypothesis which demands people be connected with nature at all times.

Private zones like meeting rooms, huddle rooms and even conference rooms are placed in the centre of an open plan so as to not obstruct any natural light and or view. These private zones require complete abstinence from the rest of the office at times which can only be served by partition walls. Recognising this factor, and properly placing these select rooms is pivotal to the functioning of an open office.

Case Studies

AMA CRAI-EST office, Italy


Ama - Crai Est Societa' Cooperativa owns and operates supermarkets. The Company retails frozen food, fresh fruits, vegetables, beverages, baked products, meat products, and general groceries. Ama - Crai Est serves customers in Italy.

Ama - Crai Est Headquarters in Montebelluna, Italy is an excellent example of a new workspace designed according to common sense and low energy impact criterion. 

The office lighting has a big impact on the productivity and the health of a worker. Not only that, but correct lighting also has a great impact in terms of energy-saving and environmental sustainability. The design of light in the office today, therefore, on one hand, must aim to ensure optimal lighting for those who work, on the other hand, must, therefore, aim to minimize waste.

The HQ is a four-storey building, with a total surface of about 1300 square meters with single offices, open space offices, and meeting rooms. 

The design revolves around sustainability, as simplicity is introduced to streamline the entire office from head to toe.

Figure 4: AMA CRAI-EST office, Italy

Natural Light Usage

The first word to keep in mind for the correct office lighting design is ‘comfort’. It has been demonstrated several times that natural light helps productivity, but also it highly stimulates creativity.

AMA CRAI-EST building is made by three facades completely glazed, so the interior spaces are pleasantly illuminated by natural light. The correct balance between natural light and artificial light is then guaranteed by a light level adjustment system which, depending on the natural light, increases or decreases the artificial lights. Moreover, to ensure the maximum user’s comfort, the lights are all automated, even if their brightness levels can be adjusted according to different needs.

Figure 5: Office view

The second factor to consider when designing light in workspaces is the energy impact that lighting will have on the life of the building, both as a function of a sustainable approach towards the environment and in saving useful resources for the company and amortization of costs.

At AMA CRAI-EST everything is managed, as well as by brightness detectors, by presence detectors: in this way, the lamps turn on only when needed, or when someone occupies the office. The difficulty was to find a space to insert the sensors, the false ceiling is entirely dedicated to lighting bodies and radiant panels, and they were therefore positioned in the frame near the windows. The sensors regulate the gradual switching off of the lamps, which occurs when someone clears the room: a solution that really allows you to minimize waste.

The brightness detectors ensure the minimal use of artificial light. In this way, natural light is focused on during the daytime. The intensity of light is increased gradually till complete sundown. The office hours are from 7 am to 7 pm usually. Hence, the office culture also accommodates natural light as a part of the office.

We all love spending time in a beautiful space, however, for an office designer the difficulty is to find an interior style that can bring people together. AMA CRAI-EST office interiors are aesthetically pleasing, with a modern but discreet design: no frills or unnecessary decoration, but the lamps themselves become an element to make the offices and common areas more beautiful.

In this office project, all lighting fixtures are by Panzeri, an Italian lighting design company founded in 1947.

Figure 6: Smart lighting above the Staircase


Natural light has been emphasised in the design after knowing the benefits of exposing employees to the light. Moreover, sustainability has been focused on to be a part of a green revolution. Understanding and contributing to the larger picture to help the environment has been the offices’ goal.

Electricity is a major running cost of any regular office space. Addressing this issue with automated lighting features can prove to lower costs for the foreseeable future.

The brightness detectors limit the use of electricity at any given time ensuring that a particular luminance is maintained.

Elysium Health office, Soho


Elysium Health is a company founded in 2014 by biologist Leonard Guarente, Dan Alminana, and Eric Marcotulli to market dietary supplements. The company contributes to the healthcare division of the US market by innovating in the field of pharmaceutical products and drugs. 

Before the move into their new 6,500-square-foot plant-happy space in New York, the dietary supplement company was shuttling between two offices on the same floor—making cross-functional collaboration a hassle. The acting office design company, Float Studio, took up the challenge of creating an office that resonated with the company’s persona.  

Lush greenery purifies the air, reduces stress, and along with natural light, makes for alert and happy workers. For Elysium Health CEO and cofounder Eric Marcotulli, offering that healthy living ethos to nearly 50 employees was priority number one coming out of a three-month redesign. “Our office is located in SoHo and there is a wall of windows that looks out onto Broadway. Given the fact that our work is very demanding, it was important for us to have a meditation space so that the team has a place to relax and think,” he says.

Figure 7: Elysium Health office

Natural Light Usage

Figure 8: Reception Area

The office resonates with inner peace and tranquillity. The entire office is laden with clear glass partitions to allow percolation of natural light. The reception area uses white glossy finishes to reflect light further.

Artificial lights have been designed to mimic natural light in the office. Plant creepers are emphasised on by the light. The contrast between the white and green colours is another design feature which leaves people with a sense of peace.

Figure 9: Workstations

The workstations have been oriented linearly in a direction perpendicular to the windows. The natural light touches all the workstations to keep people connected to the outside. 

As seen above, natural light is used to illuminate the indoor plantations creating striking visuals within the office. The usage and composition of these natural elements add a spiritual component to the design.


Though natural light is not at the centre of office design it is an important part of the experience. Utilising natural components to set a mood throughout the office is an ideal way to promote productivity. Besides being sustainable, the office attracts its employees to come to work.

As a healthcare company, the employees present are wise to self-care and self-help. Float Studio recognised the mentality prevailing in the office and acted upon it. Identifying nature as an appreciated concept, Float studio adopted it to resonate with the office employees and their beliefs.

Natural light has been used to create climactic scenes within the office. Dynamic visuals which actively set a mood are a bold move by Float Studio to create a holistic environment anybody using the space. The general artificial light is designed to mimic natural light as well. The value given to lighting in this design is enormous. From creepers to water features all design components have light highlighting them. As the day progresses the natural light angle changes creating stimulating visuals throughout the day.

Questions about the upkeep of flora can be raised. However, the employees are motivated to watering and caring for the plants in their office. A symbiotic, interactive relationship is established between the employees and the office.

At WorkAmp Spaces

The importance of natural light is growing in office spaces as the market is now trending towards health-friendly alternatives to conventional approaches.  Vitamin D deficiency, Sleep apnea & SAD (Seasonal Anxiety Disorder) are amongst the many health indicators that have been identified as major problems in conventional setups. 

While being beneficial for ones’ health, natural light has proven to create a happier and productive workspace for all. Connecting one to the outside is an important part of natural light as well. The sense of “openness” can psychologically benefit one as well.

As a designer, the proper utilisation of natural light can really help control the atmosphere of an office. Quality spaces with striking visuals are economical and beautiful for all parties.

AMA CRAI-EST office, Italy focuses on being a part of the SMART revolution. By using technology to limit artificial lighting and promoting natural light, the engineers and designers look to create sustainable offices with less recurring costs that can benefit the environment. The “green” aspect is probably the most important use of natural light. In the coming years, the design will pay for itself while contributing to the bigger picture.

Elysium Healths’, Soho office use natural light in a completely different way. Natural light is used solely as a design feature to emphasis the office’s connection with mother nature. The natural elements are used to manipulate and control the moods in the office. Hence, productivity is optimised by the clever use of naturally available components. The benefit of using natural light to illuminate the office is a by-product of the stunning design. 

The influence of natural light on any design is profound. The active utilisation of natural light can enhance even a low budget office greatly. The energy efficiency factor of natural light is the way to the future for office design.

Brightening up Workspace at Zilingo

Company Profile

Zilingo is primarily a garment based company from Singapore. The office is located in Marathon Futurex, Lower Parel, Mumbai.

The company and employee profile have been taken into account for design purposes. After identifying a young employee profile, the incorporation of casual, comfortable, and visually appealing spaces were introduced.

Figure 10: Zilingo Workstations

At a functional level, workstations are placed perpendicular to the full-length windows. This helps connect each person to the outside. This is important as the employees at Zilingo spend a large amount of time in the office. 

The general artificial light is kept minimal so that the natural light is given emphasis. Furthermore, each employee can look out the office from any point. This is clear evidence of non-obstructive design elements used to create a completely open office. 

Figure 11: Zilingo Outdoor seating 

Zilingo is situated in Marathon Futurex, Lower Parel. Marathon Futurex is a commercial building focused on providing office spaces. However, access to open areas is fairly restricted. Designers at Workamp identified this deficit and made the necessary design implementations. 

The dedicated outdoor spaces have been utilised for mainly seating. The design intent behind seating is to make sure employees stay outside for a sufficient amount of time.

Natural light has been coupled with artificial light to give emphasis on seating spaces inside the game room as well. By placing the hammock close to the windows the natural light was intentionally used to bring out the best of the hammock. The hammock is a stand-alone piece of furniture consuming a large amount of positive space. The overhead lighting and natural lighting simply provide a platform for the seating to shine.


Natural light is an emphatic part of the design in an earlier time. Conventional office designs blocked out natural light due to compartmentalisation. Separating employees based in function was a part of this ritual. The resultant was a poorly lit space with unilateral functions and no versatility.

The need for natural light in the workplace can be deemed as an absolute necessity by some. The synthetic atmosphere created by offices needs to be disillusioned by the use of natural elements. Light, airflow and views are needed breaks in the office culture to help promote healthy living.

The health-related data conclusively shows the need for natural light in the workplace. As a design element, the possibilities are endless. Sun path, azimuth, light intensity all provide a variety of opportunities to designers to improve their spaces. While there is a bevy of health and production-related reasons to incorporate daylighting, we shouldn’t lose sight of the financial benefits. More natural light means a decreased need for artificial light. This trade-off reduces a building’s power consumption. 

Although at first mention it seems counterintuitive, artificial lighting can contribute to a good daylighting strategy. A popular design element is the installation of direct-indirect lighting fixtures. With these, more than half of the light generated can be directed upward, reflecting off of the ceiling and other surfaces. This results in reduced glare, a more uniform ambient light level with fewer “hot” spots, the need for fewer artificial lights, and decreased energy use and cost.

Energy modelling and computer-generated building models can be extremely helpful evaluation tools when determining daylighting strategies. Using these, facility owners and maintenance staff will not only be able to observe how natural light and views will exist in their building, but they’ll get an understanding of how much energy—namely in lighting and cooling—can be saved. Whether new construction or renovation, modelling should be incorporated to inform the design effort and guide decision-making. As early as possible, the project team should evaluate the most appropriate ways to bring daylight and views into a facility and how these will be integrated with artificial lighting and controls. As more design and product options are entered into modelling software, facility planners are able to make informed design decisions.

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