Trompe l’oeil skylights soothe hospital patients and beautify numerous spaces
If Sky Factory’s products remind you of Renaissance-era quadratura—those illusionistic ceiling frescoes— you’re not alone. The Vatican, home of some of the world’s most famous faux-architectural frescoes and ceiling paintings, placed an order for Sky Factory tiles to be installed in two hospitals it operates and owns. This is no small endorsement for the Fairfield, Iowa–based company.
Company founder Bill Witherspoon talks wistfully of the days when artists could fool a viewer into believing a ceiling painting was actually an oculus. Photography, he says, ruined the trick as people became more discerning consumers of visual culture. His company, he believes, is bringing illusion back to architecture in the form of SkyCeilings, a product that uses translucent, high-resolution images of nature illuminated from above by 6500-Kelvin lamps. This cool temperature mimics daylight.
Sky Tile Elevators, which hold the tiles above the ceiling grid, prevent shadows from being cast on the photographs. Further, they appear to be structural elements supporting a skylight, which adds to the effect. Witherspoon says that the illusion is so complete that it “actually tricks the mind into triggering a physiological relaxation response.” People in these rooms tend to behave more stably, which is an obvious benefit if installed in a conference room, for instance.
According to the company, SkyCeilings have been particularly successful in hospitals, where it is common for patients to experience stress. Here, a calming image of clouds and trees may facilitate medical procedures. For instance, Witherspoon notes that nervous, claustrophobic patients bottleneck many MRI facilities, and just seeing an illusory sky can soothe a person and allow personnel to work more efficiently. In fact, he claims that in hospitals where his product has been installed, technicians see fewer fidgety patients every day—significant, given that hospitals may charge $2,000 for an MRI. And the product is available in an LED version that produces no radio frequency interference, which is of paramount importance around MRI machines. www.theskyfactory.com
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