DAYLIGHT IN DESIGN
DAYLIGHT AND MYOPIA
Following UK research which found that every year of education incrementally increases myopia (also known as shortsightedness)
BP’s Sophie Stevens talks to Dr. Richard Hobday, an academic, author and authority on health in the built
environment, about why incorporating daylight into schools is crucial for children’s eye development.
SS: What evidence is there that a lack of daylight
RH: Nobody’s worked out what causes myopia, but
studies clearly show lack of daylight has an effect on
The latest research shows that the amount of time
children spend outdoors has a direct bearing on
their risk of becoming short-sighted. The thinking is
that this is related to the amount of natural daylight
that they get.
Whether it’s the intensity or duration of the
exposure is still a matter of debate, but the exposure
itself seems to be the most important factor in
preventing myopia at the moment.
There is also evidence that myopia is a seasonal
condition that gets worse in the winter, which
further indicates that it’s related to light levels.
SEPTEMBER 8 | BUILDING PRODUCTS
SS: But is it possible that things like close-up work
and scrutinising screens could be the cause of
myopia, as opposed to the lack of daylight?
RH: From the research I’ve seen, lack of daylight
is a more important factor in myopia than close
work. But, the evidence suggests that both have an
impact on its development.
If you go back 150 years ago, the idea was
that if you were doing close work in a poorly lit
environment, you were at risk of myopia.
That would appear to be the case now and
evidence would certainly suggest that lack of time
spent outdoors in daylight appears to be the most
SS: What about genetics?
Myopia has gone through the roof in the last 30
years for reasons that have nothing to do with
genetics. It’s the fact that kids are spending so much
time studying. And they don’t go out. (Richard makes
reference to Asian countries such as South Korea and
China – which have intensive education pressures. Here,
as many as 90% of people are short-sighted by the time
they leave school at 18).
SS: Why is natural light provision so important for
schools in particular?
RH: The health benefi ts of natural light for children
are the same as for adults. For example, if you don’t
synchronise your circadian rhythms properly, with
enough natural light at the right time, then you’re
at risk of sleep disorder, depression and all these
things. So, it’s important to get the daylight exposure
at school. However, the important thing for children
is that their eyes are growing and therefore, if
they don’t get enough daylight they are at risk of
SS: How have daylight levels in the classroom
RH: It was always believed that daylight was
healthier than artifi cial light, so the priority was to
design schools to maximise daylight. Then with
the introduction of fl uorescent light in the 1950s,
artifi cial light was held to be as healthy as daylight.
There was no distinction between the two, so
provision of natural light was no longer a priority…
and that was the big change.
SS: What, in your opinion, should architects be
doing now to improve the health and well-being of
a building’s occupants?
RH: Certainly, over the last 50 years, there has
been greater emphasis on creating a comfortable
environment in buildings, rather than creating
a healthy one. So the idea is, you create an
environment that’s warm and one where conditions
can be controlled.
In contrast, the old approach to designing
buildings was that you designed to promote health.
So the building was in itself therapeutic – it created
a therapeutic environment. That goes back to
Florence Nightingale and the idea that you design
your building to create, as near as possible, outdoor
conditions indoors. That’s it.
For schools, we should aim to get as much
daylight into classrooms as possible, without making
Dr. Richard Hobday is currently researching the impact
of school design on children’s eyesight and that of the
post-antibiotic era on urban planning. Richard’s books
include: The Light Revolution; Health Architecture and
the Sun (2007); and The Healing Sun: Sunlight and
Health in the 21st Century (1999).