“Nature Is Always The Very Best When It Comes To Solving Problems”
Interviews, Opinions August 6, 2019 TiL Editors
Saurabh Sachdev is working as a daylight specialist and project designer at Light Bureau. Before Light Bureau, he was working as a research fellow and lecturer, teaching lighting science and daylight at the University of Wismar and before that, employed as a daylight design specialist & lighting designer at reputed lighting design firms in Berlin.
He strives to create an emotional experience of architecture where lighting is used to transport one to a different level of consciousness. He is completing his PhD in Daylight design from the University of Stuttgart and has a Master’s in Architectural lighting design from the University of Wismar, Germany.
Light Bureau was established in 1999 and for two decades they have developed a way of working and a quality of design which sets them apart in the field of architectural lighting design. Based in London and Oslo they have a diverse backgrounds but a common culture that binds them. In 2017, Light Bureau became part of ÅF Lighting. They are now more than 100 lighting designers and specialists based in offices across Scandinavia and Europe.
Their work is split between domestic and international projects, covering virtually all aspects of architectural lighting. Key strengths include workplace, residential, hospitality, public realm and master-planning. They approach each project with a fresh perspective – the time invested in a project becomes a part of its value. Their design approach is an antidote to mass production.
Trends in lighting were given the opportunity to speak to Saurabh Sachdev of Light Bureau about designing with natural light, the inspirations nature brings, and the need for sustainability to be considered more than just the carbon footprint.
Trends in Lighting: Can you describe what natural lighting design means to you?
Saurabh Sachdev: I studied architecture; I’m an architect by profession. While studying, I chose to work on a project called ‘Experiencing Architecture’. During this project’s research phase we realised how important lighting is to architecture. We saw how important it is to feel, experience and enjoy architecture – our visual senses are wildly potent and daylight plays a pivotal role in it all. I studied the great architects and their work with daylight to gain a deeper understanding and from this point onward I have been developing my design sensitivity and have been working with natural light.
My studies took me to Germany to complete an Master’s in Architectural Lighting Design at the University of Wismar. During my Masters studies I met Professor Dr. Thomas Römhild and was fortunate enough to work with him and see examples of his skills first hand. These projects pulled me further towards natural light and I even completed my thesis on the topic of daylight.
As part of my work placement during this time I went on to work with a company in Berlin and there I focused on daylight design projects, shading design to name a few. After that I moved away from purely working as an architect and into natural light design.
Please don’t forget that the two are completely interconnected, natural light and architecture. It is a huge advantage that I studied architecture and that I have the language and experience needed to understand architecture, it only helps to improve the daylight designs I deliver.
TiL: I guess that your understanding of architecture helps with communication during a project?
SS: It really does! It is important to understand that it is not just the light of a building it affects. Choices of windows and openings affect the energy consumption and sustainability of a design, the wellbeing of those who use the space.
I have worked with nearly all the groups of professionals involved in the building process from architects, building engineers, façade engineers, sustainability consultants and also construction firms and the installation contractors. As I have experience as an architect I can work across an entire project with various professionals because I understand the factors that make a project and the point of view of consultants.
TiL: It’s not as simple as understanding a singular product or what it does; it is about having a complete overview of a space?
SS: Daylighting, for all its positive attributes has some negative elements and you have to understand these to deliver a successful daylight scheme.
TiL: With that in mind, how do you balance your customers’ needs with what is achievable with daylight?
SS: It really does depend at what stage in the design we get involved. To be very honest we usually are called in much later in the process and the materials and budget have been set. Many times there is a need for validation, to receive some standard certifications. Or clients come to us to validate daylight to help with the sale/leasing of a property. When we come in at this point, there is not really much we can do, apart from evaluating and validating the amount of daylight because the space, fenestrations, material etc is set.
But, we still try and improve the daylight situation as much as we can through our expert knowledge. Although, there have been times where we are called on to improve an already built building and client in these cases expect us to work magic! We still however try to work with the design and restrictions of the building, collaborating with the interior designer or space planner to find ways to improve daylight in the space and utilise spaces appropriately.
Where we get included in the design process in the earlier stages there are no limits to the inputs and improvements we can offer. At this stage in a project the expectations can be managed much better and we can have a greater impact on not just the daylight quantity but the quality, wellbeing and of course sustainability and energy efficiency of a project.
TiL: Have you experienced an increase in clients bring you in earlier – that daylight design is now a greater consideration?
SS: Daylight is so closely linked to the architecture of a building; unfortunately there are not as many projects as would have liked where we got involved in from the beginning. Many times the architects have a set idea about the concept and design of the project and do not appreciate external inputs from consultants at such early stages. We do still try and provide as much information as we can to help assist the architects and designers achieve their visions and concepts, without interfering in their design process.
That said with new standards and with the increased awareness surrounding the benefits of natural light we are slowly seeing an increase in clients and architects who come to us to learn more and to ask for specialisation and knowledge.
TiL: How do you think the influence of human wellbeing will affect your work in the future?
SS: With the recent shock statistics about the amount of time we spend indoors, I believe around 95% of our time, we are witnessing an increase in people seeing daylight as crucial to building design and its strong connection to human wellbeing. With this information clients, architects and developers are focusing in on wellbeing. We often work with architects and clients who want to improve the working and living conditions indoor and help them design a space that will foster wellbeing. We are also witnessing a shift away from quantitative to qualitative daylight design. Many of the standards and quantities we had been using for daylight were first created in the 1950s and there has been a tremendous improvement in our understanding from those times. This is finally being reflected into the new standards which are focusing more on quality and building up the argument for better daylighting.
One thing that we need to understand is that even with the best control systems, the best LED’s and chips, you still need to connect to nature, natural light, and weather patterns. People need to look out of windows, see other people, see the sky and trees. There can never be a true substitute for natural light. We are slowly re-learning these facts and learning to use daylight once again – it is slow but we are surely getting to the point where daylight will again be an indispensable design tool.
TiL: With the huge buzz surrounding HCL, how do you identify trends in research results that are ‘science fact’ as opposed to ‘science fiction?
SS: I can relate this to our company philosophy. We look at light as a craft. We never specify a single luminaire or use a light source that we have never tested before. We apply this to research as well. We look at the context of results, we review the limitation and see if we can take this into practical field, what impact it will have. We try to synthesise the results in a real environment – away from the controlled environments where research takes place, so we know how the research result translates to the real world spaces.
TiL: Which project has pushed you the hardest, and why?
SS: In both design, and in the validation work we do, it is never as simple as it looks. But if I had to choose, I would say it was a project I worked on where daylight was required to be brought into a public square, when there was obviously no option to bring in direct sunlight into the space. We explored options with mirrors, light reflection and it required an extensive understanding of not just the sun-path and its apparent movement in the sky but also a detailed study of the built environment, geometry, scale, orientations and not to mention safety – we had to ensure that no one would be blinded by looking at the mirrors. It was fun – but also challenging.
Recently though, I have been working on a landscape design in London that incorporates stained glass constructions. The landscape architects wanted to know if the stained glass would receive direct sunlight and if they could create the stained glass effect onto the landscape. We had to again explore the surrounding built geometry, orientations and heights, trees and vegetations as well as a study of the sun-paths and sun geometry. The entire design project had to be approached holistically.
TiL: What inspires you personally?
SS: One quote by Lou Michel in “Light: The Shape of space” has been imprinted in my mind ever since I read that book. To paraphrase it says “a single source of light 150 million km away creates magic every day, and that magic takes roughly 8 minutes to reach us”, he was talking about the sun and that has inspired me ever since – bringing the magic of daylight into the places we dwell and grow. I have also been fascinated by science and astronomy. If we had been a few hundred kilometres further away or too close to the sun, life on our planet would not be possible. We are in the perfect spot and this makes me realise how important the sun is in supporting life. This also brings me to the issue of sustainability which is a vital topic. Nature is always the very best when it comes to solving problems.
TiL: When considering sustainably and natural light design, what hurdles do you see in the future and how can they be overcome?
SS: The main challenges still remain that we look at daylight from a quantitative point of view and we ignore the qualitative value of daylight. We need to increase awareness of the positive qualities of daylight and its positive impacts.
This brings me again back to sustainability, we need to think beyond energy efficiency alone – if you build schools without windows they might be energy efficient yes, but you will get students that often fall sick, are not able to concentrate, lack motivation to name a few negative aspects. This is not sustainability and we need to approach projects holistically. Yes, we have to reduce carbon footprints of buildings but we have to harness the potential of daylight to do this.
Some see artificial light and natural light to be two separate things – that they do not work together. I believe in the power of light and it has to be both artificial light and natural light combined. Only then can you achieve healthy, liveable and sustainable spaces where we can dwell and grow.
Feature image: National Library of Sweden-Annex, Sten Jansin
Image 2: The Porter Building, Hufton+Crow
Image 3: Østbanehallen, Thomas Majewski
Image 4: The Optic Cloak, Conrad Shawcross
Image 5: Yellow Pavilion, Luke Hayes