In Fairfield, IA, Sky Factory is changing what it means to bring nature indoors. The Midwest company, founded in 2002, creates architectural illusions of nature – think wide-open skies, colorful forests and sloping fields – in the form of virtual skylights and windows that trigger relaxation.
Sky Factory products, such as the Luminous SkyCeiling, are known for their array of health benefits. A single-blind study conducted by Texas Tech University in collaboration with Covenant Health and the Sky Factory, published in 2015, The Impact of Simulated Nature on Patient Outcomes: A Study of Photographic Sky Compositions, found a reduction in acute stress by over 50% and a reduction in anxiety by over 35% in patients assigned to the experimental rooms that featured a recessed Luminous SkyCeiling above their beds.
Illusions of the sky reduce mental agitation and evoke a visceral feeling of expansion, which, in enclosed interiors, offers a restorative experience for observers.
From dentist offices to high schools to hotels and hospitals, Sky Factory’s Luminous SkyCeilings and Luminous Virtual Windows have already been customized for hundreds of interior spaces. The company is currently the only manufacturer to not use commercial photography.
“Our in-house team of photographers captures, frames and calibrates every single one of our Open Sky Compositions, the imagery used to create our Luminous SkyCeilings,” says Skye Witherspoon, CEO of Sky Factory.
The company’s artists are trained by Witherspoon’s father and company founder, Bill Witherspoon, a visual artist with more than 40 years of experience painting and photographing high desert skies. The images they create range from different kinds of clouds, trees and foliage, to specialty subjects like underwater and deep space scenes.
This biophilic engagement with nature has a multitude of positive effects, including increased worker satisfaction and productivity. Witherspoon states that traditionally, most demand for Sky Factory products derives from the healthcare environment, as healthcare designers in particular understand the implications of evidence-based design applications.
“However, with the rising awareness of health, wellness and productivity metrics related to the built environment, the workplace, schools and colleges, senior living, retail and commercial spaces are realizing that their buildings face the same constraints that healthcare environments have been dealing with; that is, enclosed interiors or a lack of a meaningful visual and spatial connection to nature and open skies,” he adds. “Designers, architects and facility planners in these sectors are looking for solutions that have positive outcomes based on successful case studies.”
The three case studies featured here exemplify Witherspoon’s point and showcase how Sky Factory products can work in a variety of interior environments.
St. David’s Foundation - Austin, TX
Based in Austin, TX, St. David’s Foundation is one of the largest health foundations in the country. It commissioned Sky Factory to design a simulated atrium to counteract the isolated nature of its third floor Conference and Innovation Center. The installation features the Revelation SkyCeiling.
Natural light pours in from this virtual skylight at St. David’s Foundation, Austin, TX
The 20-by-18-foot virtual skylight overlooks a large central staircase, framing the upward view from lower floors and creating a restorative experience for occupants climbing up to the upper floor. The architectural illusion of nature creates a clear, open-sky view using color temperature that mimics daylight. Staff working long hours now benefit from an installation that facilitates cognitive restoration in enclosed interiors.
Lincoln Middle School - Schiller Park, IL
The new Lincoln Middle School in Schiller Park, IL, was designed with an emphasis on experiential learning, stimulating curiosity and inspiring students. The school features dynamic, light-filled spaces and places to gather, interact and collaborate.
Students enjoy this virtual skylight overlooking Lincoln Middle School, Schiller Park, IL
Connections to the outside environment are established through the large reading terrace and green roof garden off of the second-floor library. In the central two-story atrium, a large circular Luminous SkyCeiling provides a soothing connection to the refreshing presence of overhead sky. The design team at STR Partners, the project’s architects, created an engaging three-dimensional oculus to enhance the illusion of nature provided by the SkyCeiling.
Orange Telecommunications - Paris
Orange is one of the largest operators of mobile and internet services in Europe and Africa, and a global leader in corporate telecommunication services with 248 million customers across 29 countries. The company’s new headquarters in Paris now features a custom Luminous SkyCeiling surrounded by a dynamic LED lighting display embedded in the floor that lights up, beaming the company’s trademark orange before turning blue, then violet and green.
An example of virtual skylights spotted at Orange Telecommunications, Paris
The virtual skylight features the latest twist in modular innovation—triangular SkyTiles—that allow for the ceiling grid to be placed at a 45-degree angle in relation to the skylight’s perimeter, creating an attractive lattice-like pattern that adds a dramatic counterpoint to the illusory sky’s four distinct quadrants.
2020 Design Trends: Color, Materials + Finish
Modular and easy to install, Sky Factory’s SkyCeiling products can create a surprising array of shapes and custom-tailored illusions. The company continues to expand its current offerings and is launching several new products later this year, including Iris, a circadian illusion of nature featuring location-specific, sunrise-to-sunset biomimicry. This human-centric product arrives just in time, as health and wellness continues to be a top priority for interior designers.
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