By Phil Mevert
One of the big trends in designing schools and other learning environments over the last several years has been to provide natural daylight to the classrooms and other active spaces within the building. While some may believe this is a grand and new idea, this idea was a major part of school design as far back as the late19th century. The use of natural daylight in school design in the early years of school construction had to do with the lack of electricity more than anything, however it was still well thought out how and where to place windows. With the focus and necessity of natural daylight within the school design the development of standards for window heights and offsets from the floor began to prevent shadows in the classrooms. Window sills should not exceed 3’-6” above finish floor to allow for those inside to rest their eyes by looking out into the distance.  Over the last 100 plus years school design many different ideas and configurations of providing natural daylight into buildings. Some classrooms have been designed with floor to ceiling windows to not just allow daylight in but to provide a connection with the outdoors as well. There was even a time in the 1970s and into the 1980s where in reaction to the energy crisis some schools were being designed without windows to try and control the heating and cooling with mechanical systems and to not allow solar heat gain. Today the use of natural daylight in the design of educational facilities is becoming a pretty common practice however; the size and method for bringing the light into the spaces can vary from designer to designer based on climate and research. With the advancement in light dispersing tubes it is now possible to provide natural daylight into interior spaces that do not have access to an exterior wall. As the effects of daylight on the learning environment progress it will allow designers to create the correct amount of daylight to enhance learning ability. It has already been noted that in rooms where students have more daylight their academic scores are anywhere from 7-18% higher than the rooms with less daylight.
As daylighting research has increased and the quality of the light fixtures has increased, so has the way spaces are heated and cooled. The original way to control temperature in a school room use to be to provide vents that would allow natural air to ventilate the spaces. As mechanical systems progress it became easier to use forced air to heat and cool spaces. It is also important that the temperature should not be less than 68 degrees F or higher than 74 degrees F in a room designed for learning. With most heating and cooling systems today, the units will have fresh air intakes that help to provide a better quality air to the occupants. However, one thing will always be true, “however perfect the heating and ventilating plant, and however faultless its operation, let it be clearly understood and always remembered that no artificial heating and ventilation can ever take the place of fresh outdoor air and sunshine” (Hamlin,1910, p. 9).1
As the class sizes in schools began to increase, so did the size of the classrooms and the amount of noise within the rooms. It became very important to mitigate the noise volumes to allow better concentration during class. Today a great deal of time is spent trying to decrease the amount of noise in all rooms of school buildings. Some of the most common solutions are to provide softer materials on the walls and ceilings and in some cases even on the floor. The softer building materials tend to absorb the sound rather than reflect it.
 Baker, Lindsay. “A History of School Design and its Indoor Environmental Standards, 1900 to Today.” National Clearinghouse For Educational Facilities. www.ncef.org
2 Bloom, Susan. “Let the Sun Shine In: The Value of Daylight.” ieslightlogic.org. (2012)