4: “The light is doing a show today”

Released June 12, 2019

JULIA: So, you might not associate Seattle with sun, but sometimes we get a lot of it! It’s early Summer now and the days are long and beautiful. The sun doesn’t set until 9:00. It’s great, but it comes at a cost. Because we’re so far North, the opposite happens in the winter. The sun comes up at 8 and sets at 4:15. It can mean waking up in the dark, getting home in the dark. And lots of gray in between.

PROF. STEVE CALANDRILLO: Yeah, no, certainly true. I mean the winter time here in Seattle -- even when the sun is out -- it’s often cloudy. And that is a problem for the Northwest.

JULIA: This is Professor Steve Calandrillo. He teaches law at the University of Washington and for the last 10 years he’s spent a lot of time thinking about our daylight problem.

CALANDRILLO: We only have about 8 hours of sunlight in the wintertime here in Seattle, and so that’s a problem. We’re gonna have darkness either in the morning commute or evening commute. Not good. Darkness kills.

JULIA: Now this sounds like common sense, right? And the statistics back it up. When it’s dark during rush hour, there are more accidents. But, with a problem like that, what can we do about it? We can’t just add more sunlight.

CALANDRILLO: It’s totally true, right? There’s only so much sunlight in the day, right? You can’t make more of it. The question is, how do you allocate it the best you can.

JULIA: Allocating the daylight. Another way to say that? Changing what time the sun comes up.

JULIA: And so you are comfortable being the Daylight Savings guy?

CALANDRILLO: (Laughs) If people want to call me the Daylight Savings Time guy, go ahead!

JULIA: Daylight Saving Time. When most people hear that, they tend to think, “Oh, that terrible day when I have to change the clock in my car and on my microwave.”

But actually, Daylight Saving Time just means being one hour ahead of Standard Time. So right now, we are currently in Daylight Saving Time in almost every state in the US. It lasts from April to November and it means later sunrises and later sunsets.

But when I hear people complain about all of this, they’re pretty much never complaining about sunrises or sunsets.

CALANDRILLO: And what they’re really criticising is not Daylight Saving Time; they’re criticizing the clock switch.

JULIA: Professor Calandrillo doesn’t like the clock switch either. But he doesn’t think we should get rid of Daylighting Saving Time. In fact, he thinks the solution is: make it permanent. Make a law that says: just leave the clocks how they are at the end of the summer… all year round.

CALANDRILLO: That’s exactly correct, right? In fact, Standard Time is really a misnomer. 8 months of the year we’re on Daylight Saving Time. I would like to see us move 12 months of the year to Daylight Saving Time.

JULIA: And it’s not just that he likes later sunsets. He actually says that this choice where to put that hour of sunlight -- morning or evening -- it can be a matter of life and death. According to his research, dark evening commutes are twice as deadly as dark morning commutes. For one thing, almost everyone is awake at sunset, so there are just more people on the roads then. And the darker it is, the more likely some of those evening drivers will be drunk. Researchers found that moving that hour of sunlight to the evening year-round could save 3-400 lives per year.

PROF. STEVE CALANDRILLO: But, you know, I don’t pretend that this topic is the most important priority that faces America or faces the world right now. But I do think that anytime you have a chance to improve society, anytime you have a chance to save a few hundred lives per year, you should take advantage of it.

JULIA: And that’s why he’s spent the last 10 years talking to anyone who will listen about this idea. He sees it as a relatively easy way to make the world a little better, a little safer.

It’s kind of romantic. That such an elegant solution -- just setting the clock and leaving it -- might make the world a better place. But the question I keep coming back to is: why does it need to be a law? If we all wanted safer commutes and more evening sunlight, couldn’t we just decide to get up an hour earlier?

CALANDRILLO: I don’t have a problem with that, if everyone in society could just agree to start living by the sun. The problem is I think that’s quite unrealistic, right? Not a lot of people go to bed when the sun sets.

JULIA: That’s exactly it. We can’t just tell businesses to move their hours or tell people when to wake up and go to sleep. We can’t mandate that people spend more time in the sun. And we really can’t “add sunlight.” But we can change the clock. We can change the way we design our world to better use the light we get.

JULIA: This is Going Forward. I’m Julia Drachman

JULIA: It’s 7:45 in the morning, late April, and the sky is bright and blue. I’m walking from my car to the front steps of a middle school.


BORIS: Hello!

JULIA: How are you?

BORIS: Good. How are you doing? You have some equipment, you must be Julia.

JULIA: I do. (Laughs)

JULIA: This is Boris Srdar, an architect from the Seattle office of NAC Architecture. And he designed the school we’re standing in front of. It’s called TIllicum Middle School and it just opened this last Fall.

It feels new and shiny -- lots of clean tan bricks and orange accents. Before meeting me here today, Boris asked me not to look up pictures of the school -- to save myself the element of surprise.

BORIS: Before you go inside, you haven’t seen anything, I told you. So, what kind of quality of daylighting would you expect?

JULIA: It doesn’t look like there’s a lot of daylight.

BORIS: Alright, very good. Let’s find out. There should be something in architecture it’s called surprise. Shouldn’t it? Let’s see what we find out.

JULIA: He opens the door for me and we step inside.

BORIS: Surprised?

JULIA: Yeah! Quite surprising.

BORIS: Alright, very good, hopefully good surprise.

JULIA: We’re in a big, cafeteria space. The first thing that hits me is an almost blinding light that throws everything into high contrast. The floor is patterned with long, sharp shadows and shining patches of sunlight. And directly across from us -- on the other side of a huge room full of tables and chairs -- is a giant wall of glass that is gleaming with sun.

BORIS: So in the morning, you have sun traveling through the poplars and lights the commons and the big space.

JULIA: And there’s no -- it looks like there’s very little artificial light in here.

BORIS: You currently don’t have any. You don’t need it for most of the times, even in the cloudy days.

JULIA: This was an important point for Boris and for the school. They worked hard to bring natural light into every space. But in a space like this -- where kids eat lunch and hang out between classes -- they wanted as much sun as possible.

BORIS: So we can go through different spaces. And then you can -- Maybe we can start here and we can come back to it later.

JULIA: We start walking through the school. At every stop, Boris points to the way the sunlight comes into the space.

BORIS: This is the place where we expected that, as the sun moves, you’re starting to see the different patterns that it’s starting to make and then it plays the patterns around this large open space.

JULIA: These spaces are shining with daylight. It’s like they feel alive.

BORIS: The need for daylighting is a physiological thing. It’s almost like not if we like it or not. We like it because we need it.

JULIA: When we spend so much of our lives under artificial light, sunlight can start to feel like a luxury. But Boris is right -- our bodies actually need it. The sun helps us get Vitamin D, process Calcium, and regulate our Circadian Rhythms.

But even before we knew all the scientific reasons for it, we knew instinctively that our bodies needed sun. In Ancient Rome there was a law -- it was called “The Right to Light” and it protected people from having their windows blocked by new buildings. It was understood that access to daylight was a human right.

Of course, now, so many of us live and work and shop in spaces lit almost entirely by artificial light. In fact, the ability to cheaply light our spaces with electricity kind of changed everything.

Starting around the 1950s, cheap fluorescent light swept onto the scene. That pretty quickly led to what we think of now when we hear the words “office building.” Low ceilings, fluorescent lighting, cubicles.

But, as it turned out, people didn’t love those cubicles. They weren’t happy or productive in those artificial spaces. Over time, the winds started to shift. In the last few decades, architects have been, more and more, embracing natural daylight. They took their cue from architects like Louis Kahn who famously wrote that, “a room is not a room without natural light.”

Boris couldn’t agree more.

BORIS: There is an anecdotal story of a person that, we asked them, what was your favorite moment in school. And that person was a few years from retirement, and she said, ‘oh I remember the moment when I was sitting here and there was sunlight coming through a window and I felt so good.” And 40 years later, she remembered the moment how the sun was coming through the building. That’s not a scientific data, but it is very human and very real.

JULIA: There are countless studies that show why more natural light is better for us: for our productivity, our health, our happiness. But sometimes we don’t need the data to prove what we already know: that a patch of sunlight coming through the window can be magic.

Architects, more than other people, seem to know this. You can’t design a beautiful day, but you can design buildings that will capture that beauty when it happens, and bring it inside where people can enjoy it.

Maybe that’s why it felt so fitting when I learned that it was a house builder who first proposed a new way to bring an extra hour of sunlight into our lives. His name was William Willett. And he had a reputation in London for building beautiful homes that prioritized daylight over everything else.

As the legend goes, one morning, in 1907, Willett was riding his horse near his home in Chiselhurt, just outside of London. As he rode in the quiet hours of morning sun, he noticed that he was the only one outside. In fact, everyone had their shutters closed. They were sleeping through the sunlight! That was when he started to wonder: what if he could move that sunlight from the early Summer mornings -- when everyone was sleeping -- to the evenings -- when people might actually use it.

Willett proposed that Britain should set their clocks forward in the summer -- he called it British Summer Time. Willett poured years of his life into the idea, but sadly, never lived to see it happen.

At the start of World War I, Germany became the first country to mandate that all clocks be set forward in the summer. In this case, it was all about energy saving during the war. The more work hours could overlap with daylight hours, the better. Soon after that happened, most of the other countries who were at war did the same.

Britain finally enacted Willet’s “Summertime” clock change, just one year after he’d died. And when the US entered the war, they followed suit. They called it Daylight Saving Time.

BORIS: So this is the space where we have a connection to the light on the one side, and connection to the courtyard so you never feel like you are in an enclosed space.

JULIA: Back at the school, Boris and I are standing in front of a stairwell connecting all 3 levels of the school. But it doesn’t feel like any of the stairwells you’re probably imagining. All 3 storeys are open, so that you can see from one floor to another. And running all the way up the side of the stairwell is another wall of windows. This is another strategy Boris’s team used: by making the stairs open to the rest of the space, and full of light, it lets the sunlight get deeper into the building. It is bright in here, but not as bright as the commons space was. At least, not yet.

BORIS: So this is the South sun, very early in the morning, but as the sun moves up, it floods this space, and it gets all this nice absorption and reflections along this three storey connection.

JULIA: That’s another key to this whole designing-with-light thing. It’s not just about bringing in a lot of sunlight. You also have to think about how that light will change over time. The sun is never static. And so the design, when it’s done right, should celebrate that dance of light and shadow.

JULIA: We really picked a good day for this.

BORIS: Yes, I was just thinking that the the the… you’re having the...light is doing a show today. Because of the good day. I think the library is at this point it is good to go in.

JULIA: Boris leads me into the library -- deep in the middle of the school. The space feels warm and well lit. But it’s different from the commons and the stairwell. There aren’t any giant glass walls in here. In fact, because we’re in the middle of the school, the windows look into those spaces that we were in before. Those spaces are bright from the sun. And then they kind of lend the light, second hand, to the library. Something about the way the light gently bounces into this space makes it feel… softer, quieter. Which makes sense for a library.

BORIS: This is more kind of the space that is introvert in a certain way. It has the focus. And you still get the light from different directions.

JULIA: For Boris, it was important that the library feel different from the commons. That’s the thing about daylight: it’s not just about quantity -- it’s about quality too. Thinking about all the different ways that sunlight can help shape the character of a room.

BORIS: Yes, now you are starting to see how the light travels through the space and you can be here in that quiet moment, but you can see those changes on either side.

JULIA: It’s like a piece of music or a painting. A composition of different intensities, different qualities. There can be spaces with direct sunlight and harsh shadows. And spaces that glow with soft light. The balance between those things -- that’s what makes it beautiful.

BORIS: So you need both. If you have all day just to be in the diffused environment, it will feel a little artificial, and you do need to have that natural reaction of sun travel and the shadow in the spaces that can reap benefit from that.

JULIA: There is something comforting about those moments when you notice how the light is changing during the day. I wonder if it's because it brings us back to the way we used to tell time -- back to when we relied on shadows and sundials, instead of clocks and time zones. We couldn't orient ourselves in time without referencing the sun.

Of course, now we all look at the nearest watch, clock, computer, or phone to see what time it is. In fact, if we tried to use a sundial now, it wouldn’t necessarily be very accurate anymore. The way we’ve designed our system of telling time, the sun is sometimes wrong.

Take time zones, for example. Towns that are 30 miles apart, East-West, technically should have different “noons,” because the sun is directly above them at slightly different times. But, as the world got smaller and we got faster at moving through it, it became more important for those two towns to agree what time it was. And so they compromised on when “noon” should be. In a way, it’s like the clock is the boss now -- and as the clock-setters, we tell the sun what time it is.

JULIA: Alright, we’re outside now.

BORIS: We are outside. We are smack in the middle of the building, but we are outside.

JULIA: Back at the school, Boris takes me out into a courtyard.

BORIS: It’s like an oasis. There’s uh... the sky is the limit.

JULIA: It’s small -- really just a little oval of landscaping in the middle of the school. There’s a little stone pathway and a garden. And one beautiful little tree. When you look up, all you can see is a perfect oval of clear, blue sky.

AMBI: Birds chirping

JULIA: Are you taking a photo?

BORIS : Always when I pass by I take a photo. Light changes. That is the purpose of this space because it brings home the change of light, change of shadows, change of intensity, the pattern of the sun as it goes around the oval courtyard, always brings different geometries. The movement of the sun is playing a vital role in making this space always feel different.

JULIA: Boris and I take one last look at the courtyard. I keep having this feeling on this tour. Like someone explained to me that there’s a color I didn’t know existed. And now, I can see it.

JULIA: Well should we head out?

BORIS: Yes, let’s head out.

JULIA: We walk back out through the school and out to the parking lot. And as I drive home, I feel the sun on my face and arms. That courtyard was beautiful. The whole school was lovely and warm. But it’s not just the school. I could be in my favorite coffee shop with the sun warming my back. Or sitting at my kitchen table, watching my cats bathe in patches of daylight on the floor. It is the space, yes. But in a sense, the space is really just kind of a canvas. A place for the light to shine.

JULIA: A few weeks ago, Daylight Saving Time made headlines here.

NEWS CLIP: Washington officially became the first west coast state to ditch the twice yearly time switch.

JULIA: That bill for year-round Daylight Saving Time -- the one that Steve Calandrillo had been fighting for? Just a few weeks ago, Governor Inslee signed it.

JULIA: How did you feel when you saw that he had signed it?

CALANDRILLO: I was celebrating along with all the folks behind him in the ceremony!

JULIA: That’s Professor Calandrillo again. This bill-signing means that his dream came a little closer to reality.

CALANDRILLO: For 10 years I’ve been advocating for permanent Daylight Saving Time and it’s only been in the last couple years that it’s actually received some traction. So it does feel really satisfying and I hope we can take it even further and make it actually come to fruition.

JULIA: Permanent Daylight Saving Time is not a done deal yet. Congress still needs to grant Washington an exemption to the Uniform Time Act, so we’ll have to see what happens. And even if it does pass, it’s possible we’ll change it again in a few years. Some people have pointed out to me that the sun rising an hour later in the winter may not be popular, no matter what the statistics say.

But right now, that opinion seems to be in the minority. It’s not just Washington. Oregon and California are looking like they’re gonna pass similar bills this year. It’s seems like the whole West coast may be moving their clocks. And for Professor Calandrillo, this would be something to celebrate.

JULIA: I’m excited for you for the moment when you don’t have to change your clock.

CALANDRILLO: Exactly! I’m excited for everybody when we get to that moment. I think everybody will be better off.

JULIA: We don’t know if congress will approve these laws. Or how people will react to this change. But I’m just glad there are people out there who are wrestling with these questions. Working and working just to bring a little more sunlight into our lives.

JULIA: This episode of Going Forward was produced by me, Julia Drachman, and edited by Nathalie Chicha and Doug Beyers. Original score for this episode by Phoenix Glendinning. And our theme music is also by Phoenix Glendinning.

Special thanks to Benjamin Benschneider, Scott Yates and Dr. David Prerau. Much of the research for this story was from Dr. Prerau’s book about the history of Daylight Saving Time. If you want more information -- mixed in with wild anecdotes -- about this strange, century-long battle over the clock, you should check it out. It’s called Seize the Daylight.

Also, I want to thank all of you Patreon supporters. If you’re enjoying Going Forward, maybe you want to be a Patreon supporter too? It’s super easy -- you just go to Patreon.com/goingforward and you can choose how much you want to give.

Last thing -- I just want to say thank you to Ula Kulpa who started this thing with me and whose brilliant voice echoes around in brain when I’m editing. It’s not the same without you, bud. And if you miss Ula too, you can go check out the work she’s doing on the new podcast Fiasco, only available on Luminary -- a new podcast app.

Ok, that’s it for now. New episodes coming soon. Thanks for listening!