New software can model natural light from the occupants’ perspective

OCUVIS, a visualization software developed by a soon-to-be-launched EPFL spin-off, lets architects simulate 3-D building models to assess the performance of natural light indoors. After specifying the ambient conditions, architects can view the visual and non-visual characteristics of the resulting natural light in their designs.

A building’s architecture should be designed to take advantage of the way natural light changes according to the season and time of day. While we can see daylight in a given space, the intensity, spectrum, and angle of sunlight can affect building occupants in ways that are hard to anticipate and that they may not even be aware of. For instance, the composition and intensity of light can sometimes have a calming effect, while other times it can have an alerting effect through the secretion of hormones triggered by the retina. OCULIGHT Dynamics, an upcoming EPFL spin-off, has drawn on the results of research completed at EPFL to quantify these effects and build up unique, in-depth expertise in this area. The company recently applied its know-how to develop a groundbreaking web visualization software that enables architects to predict how daylight will impact building occupants based on three criteria: comfort, in terms of glare avoidance; vitality, in terms of non-visual light exposure over the course of a day; and emotion, in terms of the spatial composition and fluctuations of light.

Simulating natural light from the occupants’ perspective

The process begins with a 3-D computer model of a planned building and its geographic position. From there, the architect can specify the ambient weather conditions and see how the resulting daylight would be perceived by building occupants at eye level from a variety of points within the building. Using OCUVIS to compute and visualize the results, an architect can then change settings related to the time of day or year, sky condition, and location in the building and see how the dynamics of sunlight, weather, and space impact occupant well-being across a handful of factors.

At each point within the building, a cluster of arrows – each representing a viewpoint direction from a given spot – appear in different colors indicating whether the light at that point is conducive to calm or excitement, if it poses a long-term health risk, or if there is a possibility of visual discomfort. The light at a given point could be vibrant, energetic and auspicious for an occupant’s health if he is looking towards a window, for example, but have the opposite effect if the occupant has his back to the window or if it’s a grey winter day. Architects can use such information to improve their building designs so as to enhance occupants’ visual comfort and well-being. Of course, the ideal daylight design for a given space also depends on how that space will be used by its inhabitants.

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