Bring the sun indoors

PLAY OF LIGHT: Lighting up the rooms naturally. PHOTO S. GOPAKUMAR

PLAY OF LIGHT: Lighting up the rooms naturally. PHOTO S. GOPAKUMAR  

IN THE traditional Kerala style of architecture, most houses were built around a central courtyard that served to bring natural light and fresh air to the interiors. Conventional wisdom has always highlighted the benefits of natural lighting in a building.

Nobody would dispute the belief that natural light lifts spirits, makes spaces appear larger and reveals the world in its true colours. Beyond the aesthetic appeal, it also reduces eyestrain, increases productivity and lessens electrical demand.

Unfortunately, today's buildings rarely have enough natural lighting. For years, designers and builders believed that it was the inevitable consequence of the trend to build compact houses. How do you manage to have a central courtyard in a house measuring hardly 1,000 sq.feet area? Why have an opening to the sky when large windows would serve the purpose as well?

Thanks to a new breed of architects willing to experiment with designs and materials, the concept of natural lighting is making a come back. The simplest method is to capture sunlight on the rooftop and diffuse it through the interiors to bring dark spaces to life. The skylight or roof-light has emerged as the most popular natural lighting system for any building, commercial or residential, big or small, simple or opulent.

The skylight is designed on the basic theme that a window on the roof lets in significantly more light than a vertical window. So even a small skylight can make a room feel larger and more airy.

Says architect G. Sankar of Habitat Technology Group: "Natural light is supposed to bring in prosperity and good luck. But at the more functional level, it helps to cut down on power consumption and improve productivity."

Mr. Sankar has applied the concept to his office where two big skylights derive maximum sunlight during the day. From the designer's point of view, providing a roof-light gives the freedom to design any room away from exterior walls and still maintain natural light. It allows adaptation to adventurous building design and adds distinctive identity to a building. A skylight can be designed as a pyramidal structure, a circle or any other shape.

But if the house is too small to accommodate a courtyard, the skylight can be covered with a transparent or translucent sheet. There are various options like plain or tinted glass and fibreglass sheet but the most popular, albeit expensive one, is polycarbonate. Available in the form of sheets, polycarbonate is a flexible material that can be moulded to any shape and is endowed with high impact resistance.

The UV protection layer eliminates up to 98 per cent of harmful radiation. In clear-sheet form, polycarbonate permits light transmission of up to 90 per cent while the tinted versions allow diffused transmission of 50 per cent or even less. Prices range from Rs.70 for the basic material to Rs.1,200 and upwards for unbreakable and bullet-proof versions.

"Builders prefer polycarbonate to other materials because it requires fewer architectural provisions, yet provide ease of assembly and improved insulation," says S.V. Anilkumar of Siva Infrastructure, a dealer in polycarbonate products. The skylight opening is first given a mild steel frame and welded in place to suit the desired shape like curved dome, flat surface or gable. The polycarb sheet is fixed to the frame with corrosion- resistant aluminium sections on top. For waterproofing, the underside of the frame is sealed with a gasket or silicone sealant.


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