Editor's Note (The View From Here)

The Light Gets In

Who remembers “sick building syndrome?” In the 1970s, during the first energy crisis, steps were taken to reduce energy consumption in new facilities (as well as existing ones). Buildings were designed with smaller windows or windows that couldn’t open in order to minimize loss of heated or cooled air. There was also the theory that if students couldn’t see to the outside, they wouldn’t be distracted and would be more likely to focus on what was being presented to them in the classroom, improving outcomes.

This closing off of educational spaces didn’t have the effect it was predicted to have, at least not on student performance. It may have saved a few dollars on energy costs. Fast-forward to today, and facility design is opening up learning spaces to natural light, with expansive (albeit energy-efficient) windows and movable and glass walls that allow light to penetrate deep into the interior of facilities. Various studies show that classrooms with the most amount of daylighting are associated with better student performance and outcomes. Other studies have shown that students with a view of some green space outside a classroom window performed better on tests requiring focused attention, and also recovered better from stress.

Two of the feature articles in this issue of CP&M talk about letting the light in: “Trends 2020” (page 13) and “Science on Display” (page 31). It is mentioned in other content in this issue as well. While editing these articles and thinking about the benefits of natural light penetrating the buildings in which we learn, work, and live, the lyrics of Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem” came to mind:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

Today’s campus administrators have a lot on their plates, from actual cracks in their campus facilities (see the article on deferred maintenance on page 24) to declining enrollments, a perceived public push-back on the value of higher education, shrinking funding, rising costs, and much more. Some naysayers are predicting the end of higher education as we’ve known it. That’s OK. Colleges and universities have always been on the leading edge of creativity and innovation, constantly reinventing themselves… and they will continue to do so. That’s how the light gets in.

This article originally appeared in the College Planning & Management July/August 2019 issue of Spaces4Learning.