Lighting Up Leisure

City officials in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, had wanted to build a new 43,500-square-foot facility because the Kirkwood Community Recreation Center was dark and underused. Instead, new glazing on the windows removed glare from the basketball courts and virtually eliminated any need for overhead lights. “The basketball players love it,” says Josh Toutman, Kirkwood’s Recreation Director. “Even on cloudy days, there’s enough natural light to play, and there’s no problem with shadows. The big payoff has been that usage rates by students have increased ten-fold.”

Most people like the idea of daylight pouring in through windows and skylights because it changes the ambience of the interior. And, it is good for you–it changes people’s circadian rhythms and improves their well-being.

The problem is that uncontrolled daylight can be distracting and dangerous. It also can cost a lot of money. Recognition of daylight’s shortcomings and figuring out ways to save energy are the reasons the science of building design–and specifically the design of sports halls, gymnasiums and natatoriums–is changing.

The Dark Side Of Light

Natatoriums have undergone a redesign, especially in finding an alternative to the clear glass that usually dominates the deep end of pools. Glass has many disadvantages, including lack of privacy, and while sunlight dappling the water may look attractive, it creates glare, making it difficult for lifeguards to see swimmers clearly.

Sports halls also have suffered with glare and disrupting shadows on playing surfaces. This is a major problem in facilities with high windows on one or more walls or skylights that can only be controlled with curtains or blinds.

And then there is the problem of money. Simply put, there is a penalty to pay for large areas of fenestration. In summer, more sunlight means the cost of air-conditioning rises; in winter, low insulation means more energy is required for heating. Uncontrolled sunlight eventually leads to expensive sports surfaces and finishes fading due to UV damage. Even on the sunniest days, expensive artificial lighting burns away scarce operating funds. It doesn’t need to be this way!

So, architects and facility managers have been trying to find new ways of reconciling the balance between maximizing daylighting with stricter energy management. At the same time, they have had to cope with tougher building codes and higher insulation requirements, all driven by the universal need to be “green.” The result is a new breed of sports and recreation facilities and new technology that not only radically improves leisure activities, but greatly reduces operating costs.

Changing Design

Many alternative materials to clear glass now exist, such as plastics, polycarbonate or fiberglass, which can be used to control daylight or to create translucent cladding or skylights. One system is based on fiberglass translucent wall panels. This insulating, structural composite sandwich-panel system actually “breaks up” and diffuses daylight, distributing it evenly as “museum-quality” light. Unlike clear glass, it eliminates not only shadows, glare and hot spots, but also the need for curtains or blinds. This system is used for pools, and is ideal for sports halls because it creates perfect playing conditions.

Another alternative is a glass double-pane window that uses glass-fiber veils as a prism and honeycomb cells designed to eliminate air convection. This combination not only eliminates glare, but offers thermal and sound insulation, and can be blended with clear glass panels.

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