Active Daylighting: Smart Shading for “Phygital” Spaces

21st August 2023

Mahdis Aliasgari, Lighting Designer and Researcher at Lighting Design Collective, shares some of the findings from the studio’s ongoing work in the field of smart windows.

Back in 2018 our company, Lighting Design Collective (LDC), was invited to participate in a Horizon 2020 EU funded research programme called DecoChrom. Within this 4.5 years journey I had a unique opportunity to work with an interdisciplinary consortium of 15 partners with state-of-the-art backgrounds in design, chemistry, printing, coating, laminates and electronics system integration, to name a few. The project goal was to elevate printed electrochromic (EC) to the age of interactivity, allowing for enhancing and mass-producing this ultra-low-power material.

At LDC, we mainly focused on the concept of Active Daylighting, a term we coined to argue and explore innovative solutions for boosting the future of smart windows/shading.

Smart Windows

The concept of Smart – also known as switchable/dynamic – windows can be traced back to the mid-70s when the first electrochromic material, tungsten oxide, was introduced to create glasses that change opacity and colour when subjected to an electric field. However, it took nearly three decades of R&D for this technology to be commercialised and applied in the automotive sector, architectural projects, and aircraft.

While the DecoChrom project was only focused on electrochromic materials, there are several types of technologies behind smart windows such as thermometric, photometric, SPD (Suspended Particle Device) and LCD (Liquid Christal Device).

The common principle among all types is the ability to change their properties in response to external stimuli or user control. This allows for controlled light transmission, opacity, and colour, providing various benefits such as daylight and privacy control, as well as energy efficiency.


Within our work package Design and Pilot, together with other design partners, we provided a link between the technical work packages and three application domains: Smart Furniture, Furnishing & Decoration, Smart Sports & Wearables & Smart Buildings, where LDC explored the future of daylighting in the field of architecture. We divided our research objectives to three categories:

Technical aspects Enhancement

To take the concept of smart windows/shading to the next level, introduction of new colours, better performance in terms of light transmittance, switching time, durability and heat protection were anticipated. This part was developed within three work packages:

WP1: production and upscale of electrochromic inks.

WP2: production of electrochromic surfaces through roll-to-roll printing (R2R), high pressure laminate (HPL), etc.

WP3: enabling system components and integration that allows the surfaces developed in WP2 to become responsive Electrochromic (EC) screens by implementing required electronic components.

Within an intriguing process that required learning various disciplines’ perspective, such as chemistry, laminate, and electronics, we create a wish-list to start with. The idea was to ensure that the technical enablers would meet the design requirements. Of course, we were then informed about some limitations of the technology, but it was also full of fruitful discoveries when we came up with ideas and solutions within several rounds of iterations, which then were implemented to the project.

Pixelation & Aesthetic

The Active Daylighting/Shading explores a daylighting tool tuned for the “Phygital” environments. This concept argues the next generation of smart windows/shading not only blocks the daylight to create visual and thermal comfort but also allow for generating dynamism, engagement, diversity, and emotions in the space through pixelation and control.

During the night, when the interior lighting is on, these surfaces will transform the glass façade to an urban lantern, creating soft, low-resolution dynamism controlled by a bespoke software control.

It’s important to note that while EC screens can dynamically change their opacity and tint, the change is not instant nor uniform, especially for larger surfaces. On the other hand, for daylight to pass, the wiring and electronic components for power and control should be kept least possible, therefore creating high resolution screens is not feasible, and this “calm technology” is not intended to act as a media façade.

Control and User Interface

To enable a wide range of algorithmic patterns and parametric triggering, we proposed a bespoke software controller integrated into the IoT backbone. This addresses the notion of Ambient Communication – both during daytime and night-time – by subtle ways of engaging the user and/or urban environment. It is enabled by and facilitates, Surface as Service, Nearables, Internet of Things, Smart Buildings, Smart Cities and Constant Engagement.


To explore the mentioned ideas and concepts we developed two prototypes in close collaboration with Work Packages 1-3. While the first prototype was more focused on studying the pixelation, the second one tested wireless control and user interface.

Prototype 1

In this prototype we explored the functionality and aesthetic aspects of digital daylighting/shading. It’s consisted of a modular 12 10cm x 10cm EC display matrix. The display elements include a kiss-cut groove (an extremely shallow cut), creating two ‘pixels’ in one display, allowing for a slightly higher resolution. A custom PCB was designed to interface the display matrix to the control system. The prototype demonstrates the system’s reaction to the ambient light level, using a light sensor. Various dynamic patterns were programmed to demonstrate how we can control the daylight in a visually intriguing manner.

Prototype 2

A 1000mm by 500mm prototype (1:1 scale) was developed to study the challenges and potentials toward upscaling Active Daylighting concept. R2R produced screens and wireless communication control through a control/visualisation application were explored in this prototype. The control application – designed and developed in-house in collaboration with ReVR Studio – not only allows for controlling the prototype via Bluetooth but also illustrates how the dark/bleached patterns will look on the window prototype thanks to a twin Augmented Reality (AR) model addressing a merge between physical and digital.

A Glimpse into the Future

The Smart Window Market size is expected to grow from $5.09 billion in 2023 to $8.10 billion by 2028. Factors such as increasing energy-saving initiatives, rising demand for energy-efficient solutions in buildings, and advancements in smart window technologies is driving this growth. In my view, apart from enhancement in durability, performance, new colours, affordability, etc, the future development will address new opportunities in two categories:

– Retrofit Installations of smart filter/blinds: Retrofitting existing buildings with innovative EC solutions is an opportunity to enhance energy efficiency without the need for major structural changes.

– Hybrid solutions: Merging the features of media façades and electrochromic windows can open for revolutionary tools for architects and lighting designers. For instance, the integration of transparent LED displays or transparent OLED technology with electrochromic glass could potentially create a hybrid system capable of displaying media content while still providing control over light transmission.

Our exploration of smart shading has shed light on the immense potential for more diverse alternative solutions for daylighting. As we consider these visionary prospects ahead, I’d like to conclude by raising some questions: How can we – as architects and lighting designers – remain at the forefront of such emerging technologies? How do we anticipate for adapting our design to accommodate for these alternatives in the future, and lastly, how can we educate our clients about the value of implementing cutting-edge technologies in the realm of Active Daylighting?

The very first concept images, created by RrVR studio, show the power of Active Daylighting in transforming the space in an immersive way. Dark Blue and Red were within the feasible colours defined by WP1 to be explored by designers.