Daylight Architect Peter Elemans (De Witte Oss)

“You can partly regulate climate control through your design, by taking daylight into account.”

By: Bénine Buijize

Photo's: De Witte Oss

Peter Elemans is an established architect who loves his craft. Het got this from his father, uncles and grandfather, who were architects too. He designs villas and education buildings in which efficient use of daylight takes centre stage. At the moment he works for the architecture office De Witte Oss, of which the pillars are daylight and greenery. “It’s important we are exposed to the right amount of light. Not a sea of light, just the right balance between light and dark.”.

Elemans learned craftmanship from the men in his family who preceded him. A building has to last a long time, so it has to be done right. In his designs it is important that buildings are tailored to the humans using them. The use of daylight and contact with greenery has a starring role in this. His clients are his inspiration. Creating something, together with others with a beautiful building as an end result is what makes his job so great. The next design is Elemans ultimate driving force. A chance to try out new things and to evolve as an architect, but also as a human. According to him, a real architect only gets into shape after 20 years of craftmanship. “When I was around 50 I really started to master my craft. Then I found breathing room for other things, like the focus on daylight.”

What was it about daylight that caught your attention?

“There wasn’t one moment at which I consciously started busying myself with daylight. As an architect, you evolve as a person, but you develop your craft as well. Later on in my carreer, I specifically started to concern myself with daylight. However, if I look back on earlier designs, daylight has always played a role. I sometimes visit buildings I designed years ago and I will think: wow! That’s pretty. Beautiful light. So, before that time I already did it, but unconsciously. Later on in my career, I realised daylight is an essential part of architecture.”

How do you make daylight an essential part of your design in your daily practice?

“That took me a long time. Firstly, I wanted to apply daylight to school buildings. I thought it would be nice for the kids to be in a fresh learning environment with sufficient daylight. And I couldn’t figure it out! Daylight in school buildings: how do I do that? I started doing market research with the help of a coach. He said: ‘Talk to the parties involved.’ It was then that I learned that the translation of the education concept to a fitting design was the most important factor for commissioning schools. That needs to be right at first. Secondly, the indoor climate has to fit within relatively small budgets. Only then the client is open to bring daylight into the design. It is important to meet the basic needs of a client. Only then, you can implement your own ideas in a simple way.”


Light is pretty, but if your home becomes a sweat lodge, it’s useless

How does the interaction between daylight and indoor climate work?

“The indoor climate consists of four components: heat, air quality, the light (combination of daylight and artificial lighting) and sound aspects (isolation and acoustics). In school buildings it is key to let in light, but not heat. I developed a design method for this in which I design every facade differently. The light on the northern facade is diffuse and flowy, so large windows are not a problem. At night you have a lot of heat loss, but you can prevent this with shutters you close at night. On the south side, the sun is in high position and the facade gets really hot. Awnings work best here to minimalize heat. The western facade also gets quite warm and has a lower position of the sun. And the eastern facade has a low sun position with blinding, but not too warm light. For these sides, it’s best to use screens. In this way, you can regulate climate control by taking daylight into account.”


Light activates our bodies

Do a lot of architects take this into account?

“No, you don’t see that as much. I really don’t understand that. If I could teach young architects one thing, it’s this: think of the heat! A sunroom on the southern facade with a glass roof: you don’t want to do that. Use your brain. Light is pretty, but if your home becomes a sweat lodge, it’s useless. It’s becoming more current nowadays. The earth is warming up. Heat stress is real. It’s a topic you can take into account as an architect while you’re designing.”

Does sufficient daylight in education influence performance or mood?

“Light activates our bodies. And for education: you learn better in daylight. Your concentration is better. Everybody has experienced reading on the couch at night and dozing off. This can possibly be attributed to a lack of light. Our bodies are programmed for this, so it makes sense. We’re sitting inside more than a hundred years ago. That’s why it’s important we’re exposed to the right amount of light. Not a sea of light, just the right balance between light and dark. Contact with greenery is also important during designing. In my own home, there is contact with greenery on all four sides. It’s a healing environment. They make use of this in hospitals. Research has shown that people who overlook something green are healing quicker than people who have a view of a brick wall. Even wallpaper with a forest on it has a positive effect on the healing process. Imagine how important it is.”


Daylight is always moving.

What’s still on your To-Do-List as an architect?

“I want to make an ultimate daylight building. What I would like to achieve as an architect, is making a building that shows the mystical aspect of daylight. What that looks like? No idea. Maybe it will become an artwork in a place where many people can gaze and be amazed by what they see. Maybe a railway station. I don’t know if ProRail would be interested. Or a funeral home. People are in a different state of mind there. James Turrell is a big inspiration for me in this. But what he does, he does with artificial light. I want to do it with daylight. Why? I think daylight is mystical. Other than artificial light, daylight is out of this world. And because of that, it’s always moving. It’s dynamic. The stream of light reaching the earth is constantly changing. It’s light that’s alive. It’s not-tangible. But also incomprehensible. That’s what I find interesting about it.

Curious about Peter's whole story?
Daylight architect Peter Elemans (De Witte Oss) about designing with daylight

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