An architectural exhibition linking exposure to light to health


Researchers from EPFL and HEAD have set up an installation to raise awareness of the importance of exposure to natural light for human health and the role of architecture in an urban environment in the modulation of this light. . The exhibition will participate in the Seoul Architecture and Urbanism Biennale this fall 2021.

Natural light plays a crucial role in regulating our circadian rhythms, which dictate a variety of biological processes, wake / sleep cycles, our level of alertness, and even hormone production. This happens because of a photoreceptor called melanopsin in our eyes that was discovered only about 20 years ago, making it a relatively new subject of research. In addition, our exposure to light is highly dependent on the architecture of the buildings and the cities in which we live.

This is precisely what Circa Diem (“about a day” in Latin) intends to highlight with a structure designed and set up on the EPFL campus this summer 2021. Set up by researchers from EPFL and HEAD-Geneva (Haute Ecole d’Art et de Design), it addresses the relationship between architecture, sunlight and the impact of their dynamics on human health. “City dwellers spend almost 90% of their time indoors and are generally deprived of natural light,” explains Marilyne Andersen, initiator and co-creator of the project, who heads the Laboratory of Integrated Performance in Design (LIPID) at EPFL. . “It can make them more drowsy, less alert and even impact their immune system.”

The installation aims to make the public aware of the importance of exposing themselves to sufficient sunlight for these natural systems to function optimally. It is not only the product of scientific research in neurophysiology, but also of cutting-edge optical technology from EPFL’s Geometric Computing Laboratory, headed by Mark Pauly, and Rayform, a spin-off of this laboratory. Researchers use so-called caustic plates, carefully designed free-form lenses that redirect light rays to form clearly discernible images. This innovation enables a whole new way of telling immersive stories, illustrated by seven scenes typical of day-night urban cycles. “At Circa Diem, we push light shaping technology to its limits to create a unique visual experience. At the same time, the installation highlights the potential of architectural design to reconnect us to our circadian rhythms by redirecting sunlight deep into urban spaces, ”Pauly emphasizes.

Using the architectural and facility design expertise of the Interior Architecture Department of HEAD-Geneva, led by Professor Javier Fernández Contreras, a cylindrical structure 6 m high and 4 m wide was erected. Equipped with a multitude of optical devices, Circa Diem allows visitors to experience in about 7 minutes the 4 phases of the day: morning, noon, evening and night, thanks to changing colors, refracted images and lights. In addition, the top of the structure aims to simulate a high-density skyline around you – an “urban canyon” – reminiscent of dense urban areas with architectural properties not conducive to sufficient access to sky light. “CIRCA DIEM embodies the importance of natural light in human physiology and architectural design, displaying scientific innovations in a deliberately primitive pavilion in its formal simplicity and extremely contemporary in its use of technology and materials. After a threshold of intimacy, visitors are integrated into an immersive space whose very matter is light and its performance through the lenses ”, explains Fernandez Contreras.

© 2021 EPFL / Alain Herzog – CC BY-SA 4.0

The Circa Diem project will be exhibited from September 16 to October 31at the Seoul Architecture and Urbanism Biennale in a hybrid form: a totemic structure of the same dimensions and volume as described, but in which a virtual version of the experience will be displayed instead as the ongoing pandemic has ultimately prevented the team from building the entire facility on site. In November 2022, it will be exhibited for a period of 6 months at the EPFL Pavilions (formerly “ArtLab”) as part of an exhibition entitled “LIGHT IN – the biology of time”; a public inauguration of the Circa Diem installation is scheduled a year in advance, on November 18, 2021 at EPFL. The site is linked to the installation via a QR code displayed on its outer skin, in order to help visitors understand the project, to know the optical effects used and to discover the principles of neurophysiology that inspired Circa Diem .

Beyond the exhibition, Andersen’s laboratory will continue to explore the impact of lighting conditions on human health. Simple advice can already be applied in everyday life: “A habit we have is to leave the blinds down all the time, because we have had glare at one point in the morning. It is actually very bad for your health! Andersen explains. Stacked on his desk, boxes full of light sensors, ready to be used in a local study of light exposure and mode of travel, then sent to classrooms in Iceland for a next chapter in his research. , which will compare groups of students living in different lighting conditions. “There has been a lot of work on what to measure to advance knowledge in this area. Now that we have developed a sensor that can, we are going to do it, ”concludes Andersen.

© 2021 EPFL

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