Our global population is expected to reach almost 10 billion by 2050, with approximately 7 out of 10 people living in cities. This notable growth in population and continuous urban development will likely alter the livelihoods of people worldwide. Ensuing climate change and necessary population migration will present humankind with countless difficulties.
Forced to spend more and more time indoors, humanity’s connection to nature, or “biophilia” will be widely altered. But if history is any indicator, the resiliency of human nature will rise to the challenge. Technological advancement has the potential to sustain and support our ways of life. One such technological advance includes lighting that properly mimics the outside environment for the growth and sustenance of plants indoors. The importance of this technology is expected to increase significantly, as the physical and mental health benefits of keeping indoor plants in living and workspaces is well documented.
Interior designers and architects have long used foliage and living plants as focal points in their installations and design. Consequently, the need to design buildings incorporating specialized lighting that supports the growth of plant life should drastically change the international architectural landscape.
A Brief History of Plants and Design
According to the authors Descottes and Ramos, architectural lighting design is a discipline cultivated from a myriad of fields, including architecture, art, and engineering. Intriguingly, plants and architecture have a longstanding, symbiotic history with each other.
Vegetation and Aesthetic Value
A study focused on incorporating plant life in cultural and historical monuments found that vegetation plays a leading role in aesthetic value or attractiveness. This is because the natural features that plants provide work to enhance the appeal of art and architecture. The point of intersection between these elements is where the potential of timeless and architectural plant lighting begins.
Gardening in Architectural Design
Gardening, architecture and lighting each have unique histories of universal beauty, but their development intersects as tools for creating environments. Gardening has traditionally been both a means to grow food and a means to comfort one’s landscape. Architectural design, which begun primarily from the need to provide shelter has developed into a medium for aesthetic appeal. History is filled with great examples of architecture enhancing the lives of past civilizations. Machu Picchu is seen as the symbol of Incan life and it still stands today.
Just as humans need shelter, they also need light. Man-made lighting emerged out of necessity. Humans could finally artificially light their environments after the discovery of electricity. Now in modern times, these three aspects can be combined to inspire even greater aesthetic value in architectural design by bringing the beauty of nature indoors.
Population Growth and Urban Development
A growing global population means that urban development must adapt to new constraints on resources, implying a major change in lifestyles markedly different from today. Many theorists have considered the potential implications of these changes in the shaping of their own population theories.
One of the most famous population theories was proposed by Thomas Malthus. This theory states that population growth is exponential while food supply is linear, meaning that population will eventually exceed food supply. While the Malthusian view of population growth is quite pessimistic, it does not account for technological advancement, which could and should make quite a difference. As the world population moves to urban areas, the demand for green spaces is projected to increase. Similarly, environmentalism is becoming growingly critical to consumer preferences as humans respond to news of climate change.
The average urban environment today however, is far from plant-friendly. Nor are our indoor spaces. Luckily, this creates a compelling opportunity for innovation. Architects, interior designers, city planners and product designers will need to act accordingly to meet this demand.
An example of green landscaping in an urban environment. Photographed by Ricardo Gomez Angel.
The Power of Technology in Securing a Greener Future
As pollution levels rise and the world’s population increases, innovative development will be our salvation. Some of the world’s most beneficial technological advancements have been inspired by nature.
- The discovery of the resilience and strength of plant cellulose has proved useful for construction and building applications. Humans have harnessed the nanocrystals of this cellulose for man-made materials. These nanocrystals have a high tolerance to heat and can be customized for various settings.
- Vertical farming is a practice that is transforming the way we produce food by producing it in a monitored indoor environment. These crops are stacked on shelves and water. CO2 and lighting are artificially controlled in sustainable manners. The practice of vertical farming will increase food production by greatly expanding agricultural output. Using vertical farming properly has massive potential to adequately address issues of food security.
- The resilience of self-sustaining wild plant life. Unfortunately, normal indoor lighting does not provide the kind of light that plants need. In order to grow indoors, plants must be positioned to get the sunlight they need. With the absence of sufficient sunlight, artificial light must emit the correct wavelengths to induce photosynthesis. Plants absorb nearly all wavelengths of light, yet only a narrow range of blue wavelengths, between 440nm – 460nm, and red wavelengths, between 630nm – 680nm, are easily absorbed by chlorophylls and effectively used for photosynthesis.
Using Technology to Cultivate Greener Living Spaces
A crucial method of increasing human exposure to nature in urban areas is the act of bringing plants indoors. In practice, this is not always simple to achieve. When plants are transferred from the outside world to an inside environment, they must be acclimated to new light levels. A newly plant-filled room may also require an adjustment in humidity settings.
Grow lights have been created as an efficient solution to provide for the needs of indoor plants. They mimic the sun’s photosynthetic spectrum, essentially providing plants with artificial sunlight. Therefore, plants can be grown from scratch in indoor environments using grow lights, and lighting technology for plant sustenance offers mass potential for advancements in architecture and interior design.
After conducting our own research on this topic, Soltech Solutions has been able to contribute to the innovation of grow lights by using a balanced spectrum of blue, green and red. Our lights have a focused 1:4 ratio of blue to red light, which promotes healthy root and stem development. (An unbalanced spectrum will cause deformation, elongation, or a weak root system.) Our lights also provide enough far-red light (680+ nm) to enhance the photosynthetic efficiency of other wavelengths using a process called the Emerson effect.
The Aspect Plant Light’s photosynthetic spectrum
Soltech Solutions has been navigating these new and uncharted waters, pursuing lighting products to meet the needs of the future.
Our goal is to seamlessly integrate plants with architectural design. Featuring a modern and minimalist look, our lights are available in matte white or black. The three different styles we currently offer include:
- The Aspect, a sleek pendant style light capable of growing everything from seedlings to small indoor trees.
- The Highland, a track style light or lighting system perfect for living walls or vertical gardens with a beam angle of 30 or 60 degrees.
- The Vita, a dimmable grow bulb compatible with standard fixtures to suit every design style and need.
We tailor a lighting spectrum specifically for growing plants indoors, without harsh colors or strong UV rays. Our lights not only add drama to interior design, but they are useful for the cultivation of living plants. We also offer our clients our expertise in plant styling, lighting placement, and design.
Photo of the Calienna Plant Bar in Vienna, Austria. Photo provided by Calienna.
Descottes, Hervé and Cecilia E. Ramos. Architectural Lighting: Designing with Light And Space. Princeton Architectural Press. New York, 2011.
Federman, Sarah, and Paul M. Zankowski. “Vertical Farming for the Future.” USDA, 2018, www.usda.gov/media/blog/2018/08/14/vertical-farming-future.
Galev, Emil, Maria Gurkova and Nikolay Galev. “The role of plants on the impact of cultural and historical monuments.” University of Forestry, Department of Landscape Architecture, 2016. https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/73142/1/MPRA_paper_73142.pdf
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Peacock, Alan T. “Theory of Population and Modern Economic Analysis. I.” Population Studies, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 114–122. JSTOR, 1952. www.jstor.org/stable/2171997
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Rogers, Kara. “Biophilia Hypothesis.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2019. www.britannica.com/science/biophilia-hypothesis.
“Urban Development Overview.” World Bank, 2019. www.worldbank.org/en/topic/urbandevelopment/overview.
“World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights.” United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2019. https://population.un.org/wpp/Publications/Files/WPP2019_10KeyFindings.pdf.