Daylight from The Inside Out

August 05, 2015

The New North Precinct for the Seattle Police Department design is different. It's not your typical office building approach, where we design nicely proportioned windows that provide beautiful daylight to the building occupants. Due to various security concerns, we need to design so the perimeter of the building is a protective shell. This basically means no windows. The question then becomes: How do we provide good daylight to the officers in the building? Well, we're working on it.

We are currently in the design development phase and will be partnering with the University of Washington's Integrated Design Lab (IDL) to ensure the moves we make are effective. Our approach is to bring all of the daylight into the building via skylights, lots of skylights.

The goal is to supply a large area of daylit space that is shared by everyone. We created a two story, central atrium at the heart of the building. It is programmed to get people into the space and serves as the main circulation route within the building. All of the collaboration spaces-kitchen, conference rooms, and open work tables-are in the atrium. This area is where the patrol officers will write up their reports, meet with command staff, and gather for celebrations and roll-call.

We started with a monolithic clear glazed skylight over the entire atrium; however, concern about heat gain and glare convinced us to redesign the skylight. There's no point in having an atrium if people are made uncomfortable in that space. Instead, we are developing a system of roof monitors-pitched parallel protrusions with glass apertures that allow natural light to enter a building-that are glazed on the north side and solid on the others so we get daylight without direct sun penetration. We will be testing several designs with our engineers to find the best solution.

With office and operational program areas adjacent to the atrium, we introduced glass walls to borrow as much light as possible. The thought was that it would help officers to have visual access to a daylit space since they won't have windows to the outdoors. What we right on one side, we wrong on the other. Our lighting designers, Dark Light, explained that when you look into the office areas from the atrium, the offices are going to look dark because of the contrast created by the overly-lit atrium. In order for the two spaces to feel equivalent they would need to over light the offices. Spending extra energy and creating more heat due to increased lighting loads is contrary to our ambitious sustainable design goals. Balancing the light in the atrium and office bars is another piece of this design puzzle.

Getting daylight further into the first floor office areas is a challenge. We experimented with a multitude of small light shafts that bring light from the roof. But, analysis by the IDL proved it was not as successful as we had hoped. IDL suggested providing three extra large light shafts, approximately eight feet wide by twenty feet long, and placing them at the edge of the roof. This allowed the light to graze down the wall opposite the atrium and be perceived as a brighter surface.

The second floor will be a relatively simple solution of evenly spread, smaller skylights across the roof which will bring in ample daylight. The third floor, which only covers the lobby portion of the building, also allows for windows, so our focus here actually shifts to shading and preventing heat gain.

The last area we are focusing on is the entry to the building from the parking garage. This may seem like a strange priority, but it is the front door for all of the officers and we want their entry experience to be a good one; we want them to travel towards light. A fifteen-foot zone, between the garage and precinct, pulls light down from the roof over the second floor all the way to the basement level. Light will graze the ends of the building and pool on the floor to make it clear that the "light" zone is where you want to go. The photovoltaic roof itself has skylights that point towards the building as an additional visual cue to where the front doors are.

We are continuing to find creative solutions to the daylighting challenge set before us. However, creativity doesn't ensure effectiveness, so we will work with our lighting consultants to explore and refine these ideas. As we progress through design development, we hope to prove our solutions will give the officers a high quality place to work. Our public servants' jobs are very stressful, so the more calming and healthy their environment, the better they can do their jobs.

Keasa Jones