The open plan was supposed to free a building’s inhabitants from the historical, social, and psycho-spatial bonds that inhibited their creativity and general enjoyment, not to mention repressed their ludenic and sexual selves. Yet despite its lofty ideals, the partition-less plane engendered traumas and uncertainty, where the comfort of enclosing walls was obliterated by a perceived need for an abstract order and technological advancement. The effects wreaked on the behavioral health of workers by the modernist office building has been well documented, with blame usually placed on the static environmental quality of such workplaces. The greatest offense is the lack of natural light and air, where workers are submitted to the tyranny of fluorescent lights and air conditioning. Feelings of spacial freedom, then, do not necessarily arise from a particular architectural program, so much as from the variability of environmental conditions.
So says a team of German engineers at the Stuttgart-based Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO, who have devised a virtual sky to ameliorate the 9-to-5 drudgery. The team developed a luminous ceiling comprised of some 34,560 LEDs embedded in 50X50 cm tiles over an area of 34 square meters. The display mimics the lighting conditions on a cloudy day–one characterized by passing clouds–using a combination of red, blue, green and white LEDs to yield a full light spectrum and generate over 16 million hues. This degree of accuracy was necessary to fully render the “dynamic changes” of moving skies which “promote concentration and heighten alertness,” says Dr. Matthias Bues, head of the IAO. Initial tests proved the team’s thesis correct. After working under the LED sky over a three-day period, a test group of 10 volunteers nearly unanimously preferred toiling away under the auspices of a “rapidly fluctuating” lighting program. So is the virtual sky coming to an office near you? Not any time soon, if current prices for units hold: one square meter will put your office back €1,000 ($1278).