Connecting Building Dwellers to the Great Outdoors

Brought to you in collaboration with Metropolis magazine

New developments in tech and manufacturing make us healthier and more connected to nature.

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The connection between windows and our wellbeing has been well-established for centuries. During the Industrial Revolution in England, social reformers like Charles Dickens demanded an end to the country’s hated window tax because the lack of light was forcing millions to live in poor health and misery.

Florence Nightingale, the pioneering founder of modern nursing, later made one of the first cases for what today is known as wellness architecture. “Among kindred effects of light…, as quite perceptible in promoting recovery,” she wrote, “is the being able to see out of a window, instead of looking against a dead wall.” Her argument was simple: Patients would heal better in spaces where they could “read in bed by the light of a window.”

Today, glass production and the manufacturing of windows and doors have advanced dramatically. Glass panels are larger, stronger, more flexible and energy efficient than ever, while vast operable partitions increasingly blur the line between indoor and outdoor spaces. Such technological advancement could not have been imagined by Nightingale, but the truth she recognized remains as prescient as ever: a well-designed window or door can make us healthier and more connected to nature.

Dale Hubbard, founder and principal of the Colorado-based practice Surround Architecture, says “not too long ago people would consider indoor and outdoor spaces to be totally separate, but now they are often interrelated.” Several of his own projects play with this dynamic, utilizing electronic glass assemblies that open up to panoramas of Boulder City.

“With many of our buildings we take the indoor and extend it outside,” he explains. “That process gives people a different perception of life. Whether you’re working at the office or relaxing at home, there’s just something phenomenal about feeling the wind, hearing the birds and having that auditory and visual access to the outside world. It releases a sense of wellbeing.”

And while we typically consider daylight and access to the outdoors as a nice-to-have, scientific studies have shown that windows can have a quantifiable effect on health. In his seminal 1984 study, Roger Ulrich demonstrated that surgery patients recovered faster and better if their rooms had windows. The study has been replicated multiple times, showing consistent results, and indicating that our predilection to views and nature isn’t just a whim.

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One of Hubbard’s regular suppliers is Andersen Windows. In an age where we spend more time indoors than ever before, Andersen is committed to creating more connections with the environments beyond our buildings. “Window and door solutions have become very energy efficient, beautiful and increasingly able to give people a connected lifestyle to the outdoors,” claims Katherine Graham, Andersen’s Glass Competency Team Leader. “We can deliver these products at a size and scale never before seen.”

The most impactful innovation, she argues, is the large-scale customization of a product depending on the context and geography where it will be used. “We can tailor a window to block solar heat gain in the south or provide optimum insulating value in the north. This boosts both the visual and physical comfort our customers will feel.”

Joseph Arcadi, the company’s Business Development Director-Innovation, says focusing on how the end-user feels at different times in the day is essential. “All our products are human-centered. Understanding and embracing the positive experience a window can have on their lives is a really important part of what we do.”

He points to a particularly striking product the company is helping to develop in collaboration with NovoLux: a virtual window that can be placed on any interior solid surface, regardless of what’s outside. Light panels around the frame replicate natural light—producing the same number of lumens you would encounter outside—while the “window” displays an app-controlled real-time camera feed of any outdoor setting, anything from your house to a favorite vacation spot. The technology has already been implemented in a number of hospital wards, with doctors reporting hugely beneficial results for recovering patients.

NovoLux CEO Pooja Devendran says the product benefits health, happiness and healing. “This technology is special, because it allows architects to overcome the limitations of the spaces they have to work with, and it allows the people who occupy those spaces to live better. The simulation of the outdoor view and the source of natural light work together to create a positive mental health benefit.”

She praises Andersen for “understanding this is a mission to transform health and wellness, not just an interesting and cool gadget.”

Arcadi explains why Andersen chose to become involved. “As a company, we like to disrupt our own way of thinking, and this is a prime example. It’s an outrageous paradigm-buster, edgy and brilliant and space age, so we’re making it a reality.”

Consumers, he continues, are becoming more intelligent in their understanding of the impact nature and daylight have on wellbeing. “We’ve got to keep thinking about what our products can do for people in the future,” he says.

Devendran agrees. “I’m fascinated by the potential of these technologies,” she says, “and I can’t wait to see how architects, builders, designers and developers evolve them to make the world a better place.”