K-12 Buildings / Lighting / Renovations/Retrofits

Daylight and a Learning-Friendly Environment

A bright, sunshiny day can uplift any mood.

February 28, 2013

A bright, sunshiny day can uplift any mood. So it only stands to reason that more daylight in classrooms will also have a positive impact on students.

Extensive research bears this out. Studies indicate that the effective use of daylight improves student performance and expedites learning. For example, a study by the Heschong Mahone Group in California found that students in classrooms with more natural light scored up to 25 percent higher on standardized tests than students in classrooms with lower levels of daylight.

The importance of daylight to our everyday lives is becoming increasingly clear. We are learning in hospital environments that natural light boosts healing. We know that in office spaces daylighting boosts productivity and morale. This extends to educational environments where studies show that daylight enhances cognitive function. More specifically, the effective use of daylight in educational environments is proven to increase student and teacher attendance, boost achievement rates, reduce fatigue and improve student health.

Our children need daylight to learn and thrive.

The Woolwich Central School in Woolwich, Maine, was due for a massive overhaul and update. Woolwich School is home to some 375 students in Pre-K through Grade 8. More than $16 million was budgeted to update the existing structure and develop a significant addition to replace a number of old portable classrooms. Original buildings needed major upgrades to be more energy efficient and sustainable. In short, Woolwich School needed an extreme make-over to become a school for the 21st century.

The Challenges
School officials and project architects, Lewis & Malm Architecture, had a distinct vision to make the revamped school more energy efficient and learning-friendly—a future-oriented school that puts its students first. They especially wanted to optimize daylight to help create a more stimulating educational environment.

With sunlight, however, comes solar heat and glare, both of which need to be controlled for the best daylighting results. Maximizing the exterior walls for the introduction of daylight increases the potential for additional heat loss in the winter and too much solar heat gain in the summer.

Additionally, in a typical double-loaded corridor design, half of the classrooms would face south while those on the opposite side of the building would face north. This would inevitably result in classrooms with radically different daylighting conditions between the two exposures.

A Different Approach
Lewis & Malm decided to take a very different approach to classroom daylighting. A more innovative design was employed to minimize the extent of perimeter wall and roof area as much as possible by designing a three-story school instead of the more traditional two-story approach. Also, to better promote flexibility of use, classrooms were designed to have approximately equal dimensions of length and width rather than an elongated rectangular configuration. Most significantly, classrooms were all oriented to the north to ensure glare-free, consistent daylight throughout the day.

The Solutions
To better manage the impacts of sunlight from all angles, Lewis & Malm incorporated both integrated louvers and exterior sunshading solutions. Integrated louvers are cord-free, hermetically sealed glass units combining louvers within glass that are designed specifically to ensure adjustable sunlight control for desired lighting levels. They can be fully opened to allow maximum daylight penetration, partially opened and angled upwards to reflect off ceilings for a balanced reflective and diffused daylighting environment. And they can be fully closed for complete privacy, darkening and sunlight blocking if required.

Cafeteria Curtain Wall

The southern exposure of the new school was designed to accommodate common spaces rather than classrooms. The challenge with these spaces was to maximize the introduction of daylight without allowing excessive brightness or glare from direct exposure to the sun. To add to the challenge, the school wanted floor-to-ceiling window curtain walls to create an outdoor quality to these spaces.

To make this work, motorized Vision Control louvers from Unicel Architectural were built between the exterior and interior window panes of thermal glass to allow for precise shading as the sun conditions vary throughout the day. In total, 36 Vision Control units with 3/8-inch low-E glass on both sides of 2.5-inch airspace were glazed into a clear anodized curtain wall. These Vision Control units are motorized to ensure complete remote control over solar heat gain and glare.

Classroom Windows

The school’s academic wing is a three-story structure with Pre-K to grade 2 on the first floor, grades 3 to 5 on the second floor, and grades 6 to 8 on the third level. Each classroom on all three levels has exterior north light windows supplemented by two light tubes near the interior wall. The combination of windows and light tubes ensures consistent and even daylighting in every classroom throughout the day.

Classroom Forums Curtain Wall


Project Name: Woolwich School

Location: Woolwich, Maine

Architects: Lewis & Malm

Electrica and Daylighting Engineer: Bartlett Design

General Contractor: Ledgewood

Glazing Contractor: Oakes & Parkhurst

Integrated Curtain Walls, Exterior Sunshades, Windows: Unicel Architectural

Each of the three academic wing floors has a forum which serves as a common meeting area for the grade levels or cross-grade level meetings. These forums have a south-facing curtain wall that is comprised of 90 Vision Control units with ¼-inch low-E glass on both sides of a 2-inch airspace glazed into Unicel’s clear anodized curtain wall. Again, these Vision Control units are motorized to better leverage and control the effects of the sun.

Classroom Forum Windows

The south-facing classroom forums include stairwells and shared learning spaces with windows that feature 24 Vision Control units glazed into operable sashes that are hinged at the top and open outwards for maximum daylighting benefits. Given the design requirements for natural ventilation to help reduce HVAC costs, Unicel created the operable windows to ensure adjustable airflow. Unlike corded integrated blinds that typically sag in operable sashes, integrated louvers do not sag and remain perfectly aligned even in an open-awning position.

Exterior Sunshades

Lewis & Malm wanted the school’s interior and exterior design requirements to work together as a dynamic system to respond to variations in temperature and daylight conditions. Exterior sunshading support was added to ensure optimal daylight performance while at the same time adding aesthetic appeal to the school’s overall design.

The shading system includes 36 exterior outrigger sunshades that extend three feet beyond the face of the building and span all three floors. Each outrigger sunshade is composed of 4-inch louvers angled at 45 degrees. These sunshades filter sunlight into the building while minimizing the impacts of solar heat gain and glare.

The extensive $16.2 million school renovation now encompasses some 66,000 square feet including a 52,600-square-foot, three-story classroom addition to the school's existing structure that replaces the old portable classrooms. The gymnasium and cafeteria have been renovated to create a separate cafeteria space and middle school-sized gym, bleachers and locker rooms. All original buildings are completely upgraded with new ventilation, electrical and HVAC systems for improved efficiencies. The entire facility is heated with a wood chip boiler that uses locally harvested fuel while reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

The glassed-in cantilevered entrance captures the sunlight and filters it into the interior. Daylight is harnessed throughout the facility with louvers and sunshades to help reflect light into classrooms and create optimal day lit conditions for students. To conserve energy and boost natural lighting, monitors automatically turn off the electric lights when enough daylight enters the interior spaces.

Woolwich Central School re-opened for students in September 2012. The new school boasts improved cost efficiencies, energy reductions, and a focus on natural lighting to enhance scholastic performance and overall health. Truly a school for the 21st century.

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