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Sustainable Design

Published November 2, 2020

It's Not Science Fiction

Balanced daylighting. Thermal performance. Sustainability


By Jen Levisen


Balanced daylighting. Thermal performance. Sustainability. Glass can’t hold a candle to Kalwall Corporation's highly insulated light transmitting products that let the light shine in on walls, rooftops, walkways, and more across the world.

Kalwall has been providing museum-quality daylighting to building occupants all over the world for more than 60 years. The company dates back to 1955 when founder Robert R. Keller, Sr. invented the original translucent sandwich panel, which continues to be a hallmark product for Kalwall today.

Based in Manchester, New Hampshire, Kalwall has dedicated years, resources, creativity, and innovation to the science and art of daylighting.

"Life just doesn't happen with the correct lighting or light levels," says Sam Keller, Creative Director at Kalwall Corporation, "ask any designer or photographer.

"But when you start to understand the biological impact of lighting on individuals, you see it's more than just illumination."

Amy Keller, Vice President of Sales and a Principal at Kalwall, has spent 20+ years researching daylighting and its biological impact.

"Light is like a drug, and we need a certain dose each day to remain healthy and productive," she says. "There are certain light wavelengths called blue light (460-480 nm) that we need to sync with our circadian rhythms. Most artificial lighting doesn’t deliver these wavelengths, and while a few artificial lighting companies are now trying to make that happen, it’s just not that simple.

“Even if you have the right lighting, it may not be given in the right dosage, etc.,” continues Amy. “That is the battle, so to speak — you may think an area is well lit, but you're actually in biological darkness. It sounds like a science fiction movie, but it's true. Natural daylight needs to be diffused and easily available throughout an entire space. Think about your own day. You don’t stay in one spot, you’re up, you’re down, moving here and there. This is where lighting designers and building architects are becoming more impactful in design strategy. We have to have both artificial lighting and daylighting, so it’s the combination of both that creates great buildings and healthy spaces.”

Natural daylighting is also key to energy efficiency, says Sam.

“Especially if you can provide it in a thermally-efficient way," he says. "By delivering the right type of lighting to a space, you can reduce mechanical loads, and heating and cooling can be offset as well."


A Custom Fit

Kalwall offers the most highly insulated light transmitting products in the market. Their high-performance translucent building products range from standard Wall and Skylight Systems to Unitized Curtain Walls, Canopies, Walkways, Skyroofs®, and ClearspanTM Systems, all based on the original sandwich panel created more than 60 years ago.

"We don't have any stock inventory, so all of our products and

systems are designed for the project at hand and any new or

existing condition," says Sam.

Kalwall's products are lightweight — "one third the weight of

glass," says Amy — which makes them easier to install, and as

everything is prepackaged in Kalwall's factory, faster than glass

to install as well.

"We have budget-driven and custom solutions, and with both

can tailor our systems' dimensions, details, and performance criteria for any project," he says.

Because of this flexibility, Kalwall is a good fit for new builds and retrofit and renovation projects, says Sam.

"Because of the nature and timelines of construction, we haven't seen a huge shift from new builds to more retrofit and renovation projects, but there is a lot of built environment out there, and it needs and will need, upgrading."


Scroll down for some of Sam and Amy's favorite Kalwall retrofit & renovation projects over the years.

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KALWALL PRODUCT: Kalwall translucent sandwich panels were retrofitted into an original skylight

LOCATION: Elgin, Illinois


PROJECT COST: $15.2 million

PROJECT SCOPE: 55 live/work units, 5,874 SF of retail and community space

AWARDS: 2014 AIA Chicago Design Excellence Award; 2014 Multi-Housing News Excellence Award (Gold): Best New Development-Affordable; 2014 Congress for New Urbanism-Illinois Charter Award: Best Block, Street, and Building

PROJECT PHOTOGRAPHER: Kate Joyce Photography