Doctors decided some time back that the “winter blues” deserved a scientific diagnosis, and they dubbed it Seasonal Affective Disorder, which has the most appropriate acronym ever: S.A.D. This temporary clinical condition sets in when the days are short and the air is cold, with symptoms generally consisting of strong urges for carbohydrates and a longing for the comfort of your bed.
If we think we’ve got it bad, the people in Rattenberg, Austria are certainly feeling worse. From November through February, their sunlight vanishes entirely behind a mountain. With a S.A.D. epidemic spreading through the town, designers from Bartenbach Lichtlabor were called in to save the day by administering sunlight to the town through a brilliantly engineered system of mirrors.
(Image of Rattenberg by Paul Hofman)
Bartenbach specializes in artificial daylight applications for the Austrian government. In Rattenberg, they found a way to install large, rotating mirrors called heliostats on the mountainside which catch sunlight from the other side of the hill and reflect it back down into the Rattenberg valley. Because it’s impossible to distribute light across the entire area of the town, the heliostats strategically illuminate particular areas where people can gather to soak up their vitamin D and UV.
Seems like it also might be a great strategy for community building; when it’s dark and cold, we don’t necessarily feel inclined to venture out to socialize, but if there’s a place to catch some sun and mingle with the neighbors at the same time, the community might stay a little more lively. This is clearly somewhere in the minds of the people at Bartenbach, who focus large portions of their R&D on the psychological experience of natural and artificial light. The multi-faceted and holistic approach they take in developing their designs is fascinating and worth a look.