Fluorescent lighting fixtures are located throughout the offices of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) on Centennial Campus. But many remain switched off as workers renew fishing licenses, teach conservation, and manage state game lands. Instead, soft, natural lighting spreads through the building, providing a comfortable work environment while saving on electricity in the state-owned building.

This “daylighting” technique has been a hallmark of Dr. Wayne Place’s work for years. The College of Design professor, who worked as a consultant on the WRC offices, brings a scientific perspective to creating buildings that enhance natural lighting. Place is a licensed structural engineer and a physicist who formerly researched alternative energy systems in buildings for the U.S. Department of Energy. “People think that having windows in a building constitutes daylighting,” he says. “But windows for view produce too much glare, and people usually just close the blinds and turn on the lights.”

Place has built his own lab on campus—complete with a rotating building—to study interior sunlight from various angles and at different times of the year. His research has determined that south-facing, vertical skylights with overhangs collect the most light during winter without allowing too much heat to build up inside in the summer. “People just crave sunlight. It’s such a crucial part of the quality of human life,” he says. “Daylighting is part science and part artistry. You need to look at the needs of the building as well as the desires of the people inside.”

In the five-story WRC building, for example, skylights wouldn’t work. Using his engineering background, Place worked with Willard-Ferm Architects to design the building so the ventilation system occupied less space between floors. That allowed eleven-foot ceilings and large windows. Exterior overhangs block out excess sunlight, while interior light shelves help reduce glare and spread light among the offices. “The pressure on energy resources is going to become so extreme,” he says, “that people are going to demand more design like this in the future.”

Meeting that eventual demand is also the goal of the American Home at NC State project. The demonstration program, expected to launch next summer, involves building five homes on Centennial Campus to research environmentally sustainable designs, construction methods, and building materials, says program director Dave Tilotta, of the College of Natural Resources. The program also will work with builders and consumers to educate them about daylighting and energy-efficient insulations, heating systems, and smart-sensor controls. “We have all the expertise on campus to look at houses from a systems perspective,” Tilotta says, “and to show people how to design and build homes that are efficient as well as comfortable.”