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Working in a space with no windows can affect your brain

How much natural light do you have in your work space? Is there a window? Can you see the sky? Some architects say those are the sorts of questions building designers need to be asking.  It’s part of a movement to bring more daylight into our work lives.

I interviewed Christopher Meek, University of Washington associate professor and co-author of the new book “Daylighting Design in the Pacific Northwest." (To listen to the complete interview, click the audio button above.) 

Meek said a lot of people don't realize how important natural light is for our health. For example, while it may seem like it's just as dark outside on a gloomy Seattle afternoon as it is inside, that isn't true.

"For example, a typical office building may be lit at 30 foot candles or 50 foot candles, that's a measure of light in a space. Well, an overcast day in Seattle in the winter at noon may be 800 or 900 foot candles," he said.

Meek says the average person spends about 90 percent of their time indoors.  The result, he says, is that our experience of light is very flattened out. And that can affect our brain chemistry which needs varying levels of brightness throughout the day.

He says designers have something to learn from the past.

"Pretty much all buildings that were built before 1940 were well day lit because they didn't have high quality electric lighting at that point," he said.

Meek says he first got interested in the idea of daylight design as an architect in New Orleans.  He worked on historic buildings that, he says, "just felt right."

"The proportion of these historic buildings is all about light and air and feel dignified in a way that a lot of contemporary buildings feel oppressive," he said.

So, what can you do if your desk is far from any window with natural light? Bundle up, take a stroll outside and look up at the sky. It'll do you good.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.