Understanding perceptual cues in the design of lighting in biophilic environments

Presented by: Tina Sarawgi

Since Ulrich’s (1984) seminal work highlighting the connection between biophilia and human well-being, several studies now support the importance of biophilic design, which involves connecting built environment with nature and its representations. Kellert (2008) discusses the importance of biophilic design as a “missing link” in sustainable design, presenting an elaborate list of dimensions, elements and attributes of biophilic design. Under design element of “light and space”, he notes lighting as an important contributor to a biophilic environment identifying six lighting-specific attributes: filtered and diffused light, light pools, natural light, light and shadow, warm light, and light as space and form. Boyce (2014) remarks that the “luminous environment is the starting point of perception” … and lighting could change the perception of spaces and the objects in them. He categorizes the perceptual aspects of lighting into simple and higher-order perceptions. Simple-order perceptions include lightness, brightness (luminance and brightness, light distribution and brightness, luminaire luminance and brightness, light spectrum and brightness, sparkle); and color appearance. Higher-order perceptions include evaluative dimension (pleasant-unpleasant scale), perceptual clarity, and spaciousness. Unfortunately, the discussion of lighting and biophilia has largely been focused on biological and physiological aspects of lighting. While closely linked to the evolutionary theory, it leaves out an important contributor to human response to biophilic environments—perceptual aspects of lighting. This poster will link the perceptual aspects of lighting to biological and physiological rhythms in designing biophilic environments. It will trace the perception and psychology of lighting and connects it to the aforementioned lighting-specific attributes defined by Kellert. Perceptual cues support the function of the visual and the circadian systems (Simeonova, 2004). The perceptual aspects of lighting and their interpretation of the physical world can be used to gain a deeper understanding of the psychological needs behind Kellert’s lighting-specific attributes.


  • Boyce, P. (2014) Human Factors in Lighting. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
  • DiLaura, D., Houser, K., Mistrick, R., & Steffy, G. (2011). IES Lighting Handbook. Tenth Edition: Reference and Application. New York, NY: Illuminating Engineering Society of North America.
  • Kellert, S. (2008). Dimensions, Elements, and Attributes of Biophilic Design. In S. Kellert, J. Heerwagen, & M. Mador (Eds.), Biophilic design: The Theory, Science, and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
  • Simeonova, M. (2004). Healthy Lighting for the Visual, Circadian and Perceptual Systems. Health Facilities Management, 99-101.
  • Ulrich, R. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224 (4647), 420–1.
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