For all the advantages automated shades offer to properly daylighting an interior space—and delivering on the promise of natural light for the comfort and well-being of its occupants—a few disadvantages come with the territory. In fact, you might say territory is the very cause of these disadvantages, since direct sunlight entering through any window is limited to its reach inside.
Imagine early afternoon at the office. Outside, it’s a bright, crisp winter day. Cold as H E and a pair of hockey sticks, but not a cloud in the blue sky. If you’re lucky enough to have a desk by the window, you’re enjoying that warm sunlight pouring in (remember, thanks to your automated shades, glare is not a problem). But what about your colleague sitting a few desks further into the interior of the floor? The only way direct sunlight is going to get from your desk to theirs is with a little help—a little bounce, courtesy of a light shelf.
Providing a reflective, horizontal plane just inside a window, a light shelf gives direct sunlight a surface from which to “bounce” up to a ceiling to distribute natural light more evenly and deeper into an interior space. And while the composition of light shelves might vary based on architectural design, they are generally comprised of extruded aluminum or aluminum composite material for their conductive and lightweight properties, with a matte finish on the top to better diffuse direct sunlight while minimizing glare and maximizing interior penetration.
Light shelves are particularly advantageous when used in regions in the Northern Hemisphere, so it’s no surprise that a city like Toronto would see a number of them in use in its most recent officespace developments. Legrand is a chief installer of light shelf technology in the Greater Toronto Area. Collaborating on project development with Sweeny&Co Architects since the construction of Microsoft’s Canada Head office in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga in 2002, Legrand has been at the forefront of improving the design and implementation of light shelves.
John Gillanders, a Sweeny&Co Principal oversaw the development of light shelf design with Legrand’s Solarfective shades. “Light shelves have been used in buildings for quite some time,” Gillanders said in a recent interview. “Typically, light shelves reflect sunlight from their top surface up onto the ceiling of the office to create an indirect, more or less glare-free lighting from natural sunlight. But working with Legrand, we realized that the position of the interior light shelf, especially in winter months when the sun is low in the sky, had a tendency to allow daylight to stream over the top. Depending on the orientation of the building, at sunset direct sunlight would not be reflected at all, but stream straight in to the workspace. Which defeats the purpose of the light shelf.”
The solution Gillanders developed with Legrand was a motorized light shelf, one that could be integrated into an overall automated shading system. “The idea of creating motorized light shelves that are articulated and tilt up when necessary to block direct sunlight is something that we pioneered,” says Gillanders. “We’ve installed them in a number of different buildings. It solves the problem of having glare that is very uncomfortable at certain times of the year. And in fact, the light shelves themselves turn into shades in a sense. I think it’s been really quite a successful approach."