This pattern, perhaps more than any other single pattern, determines the success or failure of a room. The arrangement of daylight in a room, and the presence of windows on two sides, is fundamental. If you build a room with light on one side only, you can be almost certain that you are wasting your money. People will stay out of that room if they can possibly avoid it. Of course, if all the rooms are lit from one side only, people will have to use them. But we can be fairly sure that,they are subtly uncomfortable there, always wishing they weren't there, wanting to leave - just because we are so sure of what people do when they do have the choice.
Our experiments on this matter have been rather informal and drawn out over several years. We have been aware of the idea for some time - as have many builders. (We have even heard that "light on two sides" was a tenet of the old Beaux Arts design tradition.) In any case, our experiments were simple: over and over again, in one building after another, wherever we happened to find ourselves, we would check to see if the pattern held. Were people in fact avoiding rooms lit only on one side, preferring the two-sided rooms - what did they think about it?
We have gone through this with our friends, in offices, in many homes - and overwhelmingly the two-sided pattern seems significant. People are aware, or half-aware of the pattern -they understand exactly what we mean.
The importance of this pattern lies partly in the social atmosphere it creates in the room. Rooms lit on two sides, with natural light, create less glare around people and objects; this lets us see things more intricately; and most important, it allows us to read in detail the minute expressions that flash across people's faces, the motion of their hands . . . and thereby understand, more clearly, the meaning they are after. The light on two sides allows people to understand each other.
In a room lit on only one side, the light gradient on the walls and floors inside the room is very steep, so that the part furthest from the window is uncomfortably dark, compared with the part near the window. Even worse, since there is little reflected light on the room's inner surfaces, the interior wall immediately next to the window is usually dark, creating discomfort and glare against this light. In rooms lit on one side, the glare which surrounds people's faces prevents people from understanding one another.
Although this glare may be somewhat reduced by supplementary artificial lighting, and by well-designed window reveals, the most simple and most basic way of overcoming glare, is to give every room two windows. The light from each window illuminates the wall surfaces just inside the other window, thus reducing the contrast between those walls and the sky outside. For details and illustrations, see R. G. Hopkinson, Architectural Physics: Lighting, London: Building Research Station, 1963, pp. 29, 103.
A supreme example of the complete neglect of this pattern is Le Corbusier's Marseilles Block apartments. Each apartment unit is very long and relatively narrow, and gets all its light from one end, the narrow end. The rooms are very bright just at the windows and dark everywhere else. And, as a result, the glare created by the light-dark contrast around the windows is very disturbing.
In a small building, it is easy to give every room light on two sides: one room in each of the four corners of a house does it automatically.
In a slightly larger building, it is necessary to wrinkle the edge, turn corners, to get the same effect. Juxtaposition of large rooms and small, helps also.
But of course, no matter how clever we are with the plan, no matter how carefully we convolute the building edge, sometimes it is just impossible. In these cases, the rooms can get the effect of light on two sides under two conditions. They can get it, if the room is very shallow - not more than about eight feet deep - with at least two windows side by side. The light bounces off the back wall, and bounces sideways between the two windows, so that the light still has the glare-free character of light on two sides.
And finally, if a room simply has to be more than eight feet deep, but cannot have light from two sides - then the problem can be solved by making the ceiling very high, by painting the walls very white, and by putting great high windows in the wall, set into very deep reveals, deep enough to offset the glare. Elizabethan dining halls and living rooms in Georgian mansions were often built like this. Remember, though, that it is very hard to make it work.