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January 1, 2017

Designing with Light for a Healthier Life


On sunny days in the city, New Yorkers come alive. We choose walking the streets on our way to work and taking our coffee breaks in the nearest park over spending time indoors. Studies show that direct sunlight has the power to lift our spirits. But during winter, light can be a hot commodity. Overcast mornings and windy walks force us insides and out of the chill.

DDC’s Design Strategist Alison Brown studies how our building designs can promote healthy living. She notes the importance of creating therapeutic environments and maximizing a connection to nature within our civic structures. These design features have a profound effect on mental health, especially during winter months.

“We've learned that exposure to bright, natural light during the day,” she says, “either by spending time outside or in a day-lit environment, will boost your mood and alertness during the day, relieve stress and increase your ability to sleep soundly at night.”

With this in mind, DDC designs public buildings that filter natural light indoors so visitors won’t have to step out into the freezing cold to get some sun. We work with our client agencies at the Department of Cultural Affairs, the Brooklyn Public Library, the New York Public Library, and Queens Library to create local gathering places where you can not only pick up the latest bestselling novel or view a world-class art exhibition, but enhance your serotonin levels after a short time inside.

“It’s extremely important to us to design buildings that provide maximum benefits to the communities they serve,” said DDC Commissioner Feniosky Pena-Mora. “We know that design can intentionally help people lead healthier lives.”

Below are four institutions in the outer boroughs that use daylight as a central design feature – places you can visit to get a good dose of Vitamin D.

Queens Museum

In 2014, we completed a 105,000-square-foot expansion of the Queens Museum of Art. The new design includes a central gallery featuring a light-reflecting lantern made up of glass ribs that hangs beneath a large skylight. The museum’s newly renovated east and west façades filter in light to the space as well.

Elmhurst Library

We recently completed the new Elmhurst Library, a 31,000-square-foot facility that’s doubles the size of the original library and triples the size of the old programming space. The design includes two fritted-glass cube structures that extend beyond the terra-cotta façade and animate the entrance area as well as the second floor reading room. This transparent design allows visitors to enjoy views of the landscaped exterior and gain exposure to daylight.

Bronx Museum of the Arts

We announced the expansion of the 45-year-old Bronx Museum of the Arts after attendance at the cultural institution quadrupled over the last few years. The project will transform the South Wing Atrium into an energy-efficient “Gallery Cube,” highlighting the interior from the corner of the Grand Concourse and East 165th Street as well as improving connection from the South Wing to the North Wing. Construction is expected to be completed in 2020.

Mariners Harbor Library

The 2014 construction of Mariners Harbor Library in Staten Island is meant to mimic a cracked-open oyster shell as a nod to the area’s rich maritime history. Its slanted, glass roof brings northern light to the center of the building while the glazed surfaces at the street entrance and the side garden allow daylight to pour in from lower angles.


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