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March 13, 2018 > Virtual windows bring us closer to nature

Virtual windows bring us closer to nature

By David R. Newman

For centuries, architects have been attempting to create buildings with interior spaces that speak to our inner soul, that inspire us to become better human beings. Using tricks of the trade like forced perspective, vaulted ceilings, and intricate murals, we have striven to become closer to the gods, the epitome of enlightenment, while still addressing our basic needs for food and shelter.

As architecture has evolved, the fields of biology and neuroscience have played bigger and bigger roles, leading to a better understanding of how we process information, which in turn has led to a better way of creating environments that we want to live in. This has become especially relevant in our urban centers, where massive concrete and steel skyscrapers compete for space, blocking out the sun for miles around.

Recent innovations in interior dynamic lighting systems have begun to address our need for connection with the outside world, changing the color and temperature of the light to mimic the rising and setting of the sun. Virtual windows and skylights have taken that idea a step further by creating artificial scenes of clouds, trees, and other exterior landscapes.

David Navarrete is head of Research Initiatives & Content Development at Sky Factory, an Iowa company that specializes in this new technology. ÒLooking up at the sky is the most universal experience that we all share, and we wanted to reproduce that feeling and study how this could influence peopleÕs perceptions of interior space.Ó

Sky Factory creates a range of skylights and windows that depict scenes from nature using high-resolution transparent images and custom-built window and skylight frames lit by either T5 fluorescent backlighting or LED edge lighting for even illumination. They also make some with high-definition LED edge-lit LCD monitors that can display video footage, all of which is custom shot using high end RED One 4K or RED Epic 5K cameras (used to shoot theatrically released films).

Says Navarrete, ÒOur products can give a sense of depth. ItÕs not only about the image and the way we put it on the wall or ceiling, but also how itÕs framed, and the scale at which theyÕre photographed, and the light temperature. There are about 20 little tricks we use to give someone that feeling of connection with open space.Ó

Most models come with a wall mounted control panel to play, stop, pause, and switch between scenes. Some models also include speakers to provide audio. Customers can choose from an extensive library of lake, mountain, sky, ocean, river and other natural landscapes. Their eSea product acts as a virtual aquarium, displaying a range of underwater scenes.

Hospital rooms with expensive equipment, like MRIÕs, are especially popular places for virtual skylights. Time on these machines is at a premium, so the more relaxed the patient, the easier the process, and the fewer re-dos needed. Says Navarrete, ÒHospitals were the first ones to find a direct correlation between patients healing faster, or needing less medication, or being less anxious, with having a view of nature, as opposed to a view of the next building.Ó

Prices for virtual windows and skylights vary, but a basic system can run in the thousands of dollars. Most applications thus far have been in the commercial sector, primarily in medical facilities. If you want one for your home or apartment, however, there are some simpler, more affordable options.

One such product is the Atmoph Window, by the Japanese company Atmoph. It comes in one size, approximately 22Ó X 15Ó, with five colored frames and over 500 videos to choose from, all for about $700. Place it on your desk or hang it on your wall. You can also download the Atmoph app, which turns your smart phone into a remote control, and allows you to display other useful information as well. Says team member Chikako Kato, ÒOur calendar feature allows you to check your Google Calendar events on Atmoph Window. You only have to connect your Google account to your Atmoph Window through your Atmoph app, and then you can see your schedule on full screen.Ó

We spend a lot of our time indoors in a static environment. Virtual windows and skylights are a way to help us connect to the natural motion of the world around us, which can engage our brains while relaxing our senses. As technology advances, perhaps more and more architects will incorporate these ideas into their designs, improving our well-being and productivity, and helping us to evolve as a civilization. ItÕs an idea worth dreaming about. Until then, why not count the virtual sheep jumping by outside your window?

For more information, contact Sky Factory at (866) 759-3228, info@skyfactory.com or www.skyfactory.com, and Atmoph at contact@atmoph.com or www.atmoph.com.

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