european office lighting is too bright for my eyes

Can you see what is wrong with this picture of my work space (at an undisclosed Amsterdam company)?

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No?  You can’t see what is wrong?

Now granted, mobile phone cameras have no where near the adaptability of the human eye, so the picture looks a bit blown-out.

Let’s zoom in a bit:

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Yes…the light meter reads that I’m working in an office with over a 1000+ lux (that’s over 100 fc for my gringo friends).  With a dim, fluorescent-lit monitor.  And this is ON A GREY CLOUDY DAY in the Netherlands.

I do nothing except stare at my screen all day long.  Paper disappeared so long ago from the office that they don’t even have recycling bins for paper anymore — because NO ONE reads dead trees.

Everyone sits in front of big, LCD monitors. Or stares at their glossy, glare-ridden, fingerprint-smeared Apple wonder device.

Now I’m going to admit this:  I’m turning 40.  My eyes really started to feel strained after a long day at work – so I thought “oh oh….my perfect vision is running out…I’m getting old and my eyes must be shifting, time to get glasses“.  So I go to an eye doctor, and after sitting there for 20 minutes of trying out the different lens and answering “is this better?”, I finally land on the perfect one, with crystal clear vision. The eye doctor smugly tells me that it is clear glass, that my eyesight is perfect (thanks mom and dad!  awesome genetics…)!

Here’s the kicker:  She tells me that she’s seen several people like me before, who complain about eye strain, but have perfect vision.  All of the previous people have been office workers in these modern European offices with ridiculously high lux levels.  She admits there’s  no medical research basis for this, but that is her hunch, she tells me.  My eye doctor basically offers to make me expensive sun glasses.  I decline.  I’ll stick to my cheap sunglasses, thank you very much.

So my dear European office lighting zealots who are advocating for even HIGHER lux levels…stop telling the world that “older folks” need more light in office spaces.  That is complete nonsense.  Every morning I have to manually dim the lights in the office (because I’m the only lighting nerd in the office who knows how to dim the lights), so I have at a least a chance of seeing my monitor without squinting.

The last major office I lit as a lighting designer in Boston, back in 2005, we advocated to drop down to 35fc  average ambient (that’s 350 lux for my EU friends), but gave everybody a task light. We did that because in their previous office, we saw that many, many of the staff had taken the lamps out of the old fluorescent troffers (in either the private offices or even the open office areas) and instead used small table lamps on their desks – for a more homey feeling.  The staff in the marketing agency loved the new lighting scenario – because they had control.  The lux level was irrelevant.

This is not rocket science, people…how about making offices actually attractive to work in? Don’t be afraid of darkness, humans need contrast and variety as much as they need light.