Mind & Matter


When Screen and Sunlight Don’t Disagree

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Hybrid LCD–e-ink screen. Credit: Fast Company


Since the computer became the predominant office tool, sunlight entering the building envelope has been heavily regulated. The conventional open office space is often enveloped by mini-blinds that remain closed throughout the day—because employees are too lazy to open the blinds during the hours that sunlight isn’t overpowering computer screens. Conference rooms are no better, and often remain in a blackout state to preserve the legibility of Powerpoint presentations. Thus, screen technology and sunlight have always been in conflict with one another. One can have sunlight and views, or read a screen—but not both.

E Ink has promised to change this incompatibility, based on the fact that it does not require the artificial illumination of common CRT (cathode-ray tube), LCD (liquid-crystal display), or LED (light-emitting diode) screen technologies. The Kindle, Nook, and similar reading devices possess E Ink displays that are crisply legible in the brightest sunlight. However, E Ink has suffered from the limitations of low refresh rate (e.g., no video) and no color capability.

The current fervor driving advances in screen technologies may resolve these barriers soon, however. Qualcomm has recently announced a two-billion-dollar investment in a Chinese plant producing “Mirasol” displays, which are hybrid LCD–e-ink devices that can play video in sunlight with vivid colors. Although Mirasol devices are not yet commercially available, Qualcomm has produced several working 5.7-inch prototypes. According to Fast Company, delivery of the first consumer devices is scheduled for 2012. Once e-ink overcomes its original limitations and workspaces are empowered by this new screen innovation, the ramifications for daylighting interior environments could be significant—including reduced energy bills and improved employee morale. Sayonara, everlasting blackout shades.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.