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Let there be light

It’s 7 a.m., and a patient, lying in his hospital bed, opens his eyes and gazes up toward the rounded skylight above him. He sees a blue sky, full of clouds with the bright pink buds of a cherry blossom tree hanging over the glass. The view rejuvenates the patient and, for a moment, helps him forget he’s in a windowless room on the second floor – of a five-story hospital.

The Sky Factory is an Iowa-based company that creates custom-built artificial skylights and windows designed to create an authentic simulation of daylight.

At first glance, it’s easy to see why hospitals, offices and other businesses across the country have started making the decision to brighten up their rooms with installations provided by The Sky Factory. The “sky ceilings” and “virtual windows” created by the company provide bright, vivid displays of real-life landscapes. Pleasing aesthetics, however, are not the only positive aspects the company claims its products possess.

The Sky Factory believes its products can mimic the presence of actual sunlight and produce a calming effect similar to the one obtained by gazing into the “real” sky.

“The whole idea behind Sky Factory’s vision is to create an authentic illusion of real sky,” said Sky Driver Mark Adamic, who tours the U.S. in the company’s SkyMobile, a truck-drawn trailer that features examples of The Sky Factory’s products. “If we’re successful in creating that authentic illusion it will automatically trigger a physiological and psychological relaxation response, and that’s exactly what we’re after.”

For six years, the Sky Factory has been producing products that attempt to create an authentic illusion of the sky. Unlike other artificial skylight manufacturers, which typically use standard fluorescent lamps to illuminate two-dimensional images of the sky, the Sky Factory uses a three-part method to ensure its products produce the most realistic illusion possible.

By using a combination of high resolution sky photography, full-spectrum 6,500K fluorescent lamps – the same lights used for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – and a patented elevator method that gives each installation a three-dimensional effect, the Sky Factory has created a product that can successfully imitate natural sunlight in windowless rooms.

While the company does not claim its products can provide full medical treatment for conditions such as SAD, a mood disorder characterized by depression during winter months, Adamic said that the company continually receives testimonials from clients who feel that the installations make them feel more relaxed.

With such positive feedback regarding the therapeutic effects of its products, The Sky Factory has found that the majority of its clients come from the health care industry, in which hospitals and clinics are constantly looking for ways to make sterile, windowless rooms more hospitable for their patients.

One hospital that has seen the benefits of the Sky Factory’s products firsthand is Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, which had one of the company’s Sky Ceilings installed in each of the three bays in one of its patient holding rooms.

“We put them in our radiology holding room, where we have people who are recovering,” said Vikki Hackman, project manager for Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. “They’re lying in bed on their backs for a little while and it just gives them something relaxing to look at.”

Tallahassee Memorial Hospital isn’t the only institution interested in the Sky Factory’s products. Adamic estimates that the 6-year-old company already has more than 1,000 installations across the United States and it has even started expanding overseas.

“We’re growing all over the world,” Adamic said. “We do a lot of work in Russia and France. We have some installations in China and we just got a new order from the Vatican – that’s really cool. So, we’re developing markets across the globe.”

With prices ranging from $83 per square foot for ambient, non-luminous displays to $413 per square foot for the company’s RFfreeLux LED displays – designed for radio frequency interference-free environments like MRI rooms – The Sky Factory’s products are not cheap. For many of the company’s clients, however, the result is worth every penny.

“It is rather expensive,” Hackman said. “It’s not a cheap thing to do, but they don’t look cheap when you’re done either. The comments that we’ve had are that they’re really relaxing, they’re really pretty and they look very real. We’re real happy with them, they are just gorgeous.”