Back in the old days, offices were dominated by the sound of typewriters and fax machines, without a screen in sight. The modern combination of computer screens and larger windows presents a challenge to designers and architects. Glare can make a screen all but impossible to use and renders new technology somewhat useless. It also exacerbates the issue of eye strain. Office workers already need to manage their screen time to maintain their productivity and glare makes it significantly more difficult.
Both summer and winter present issues with glare, but for different reasons. Obviously summer is the time for longer hours of brighter sunshine, meaning more chance of glare. Yet winter is problematic too, since the sun is lower in the sky during this time of year. Your first port of call must therefore be to install the right window blinds and interior lighting. Blocking the sun in an effective way is paramount – and that means choosing blinds with reflective coating or made with reflective materials (like fibreglass). Without this kind of coating, the light might be blocked but the office will get warmer. That means increased air conditioning costs to combat the temperature rise.
Window film is also available, where a coating is applied to the window itself. This method claims to reduce glare by distributing the sun’s rays more evenly and preventing UVA rays from entering.
As well as installing a solution to protect against the sun, it’s vital that an office layout be designed with glare in mind. If possible, position employees facing outwards, so that sunlight does not hit their screens. Presentation screens in meeting rooms can be protected with barriers so light does not make them impossible to use. Furthermore, more low-tech presentation equipment like whiteboards should be placed opposite any windows, so light hits them head on.
The best strategies are those introduced during building construction, rather than adapting existing offices. Architects can study how and when sunlight hits an office, placing windows and meeting rooms in locations that make for the least amount of glare.
Cubicles, whilst generally undesirable, can be provided to block unwanted sunlight – but effort must be made to ensure they aren’t in the claustrophobic style of the past. If exposure to direct sunlight cannot be avoided, it’s imperative that the interior lighting level reflect the bright sunshine. In cases like these, lights must achieve a level of around 400-500 lux.
Most successful solutions incorporate a variety of fixes, as James R. Benya explains:
“In a current project in Chicago with complex interior lighting requirements and having east and west façades, my firm’s design uses a combination of dark-tinted low-E glass, frits in a pattern to reduce solar glare and sky luminance, and motorized perforated roller shades to control the brightness when the sun is rising and setting. We developed calculations for both lighting performance and solar energy performance. A mock-up is being developed to test the theories against worker acceptance of the light levels. Because projects with complex luminancee requirements are almost impossible to predict, this is a situation where the architect, lighting designer, and owner will know the right solution when they see it.”