Remember when you would assemble those little translucent pegs in any configuration possible to create a luminous image of your wildest imagination? There were no limits to how the pieces could be arranged within the board boundary; each glowing pixel of plastic contributed to the overall illumination from an assembled light source.
Some manufacturers are starting to realize this same freedom as they research and develop new lighting hardware utilizing LEDs. Taking a new technology or light source and inserting it into an existing fixture design doesn’t take advantage of the technology, though, and this is where many new LED products fall short. The fixture must exploit the benefits specific to the new light source and utilize them creatively to push the boundaries of what can be achieved with these assembled light sources.
There are still heat issues, light color, lamp efficacy, and lamp life issues that need to be dealt with and carefully understood. Not all claims are accurate, however, there’s no question that these factors are rapidly improving and the quality lighting manufacturers are developing new and exciting products.
Where LEDs, within architectural lighting applications, can really excel is in the optical design of the fixture. No longer do we need to bend sheet metal around a lamp to form a reflector that redirects the light in a particular direction. Clever LED configurations and mini-optical lenses can be and are being designed to precisely control light distribution. This Lite-Brite™ approach allows the fixture design, both optically and aesthetically, to develop without being constrained by traditional forms.
Manufacturers of parking garage, roadway, and some exterior area light fixtures are beginning to thoughtfully explore possible LED configurations and tailor the luminous distribution in ways that begin to make LEDs a viable replacement for some lamp sources. Extremely wide and precise fixture distributions can be achieved, creating excellent uniformity ratios. While lamp efficacies (lumens per watt) of LEDs are not yet outperforming standard HID and linear fluorescent sources, it is possible to design LED fixtures with a higher overall system efficacy. Again, this is achieved by the mini-optic on each diode or the precise configuration of the LEDs themselves, rather than a bent metal reflector around a bare lamp.
Don’t be fooled; I haven’t jumped on board the LED bandwagon entirely. One of the biggest downsides of many new LED fixtures is the increased glare and fixture brightness. Often, the wide distribution and increased uniformity is achieved at the cost of higher angle glare and less cut-off to the lamp source. With the lamp source right at the fixture aperture and the optics designed to maximize the lateral distribution, some LED fixtures are so bright that their negative impact on the nighttime visual environment is far greater than the potential benefits of the new technology.
There is a long way to go, and the designed balance between optical performance, lamp source technology, and fixture aesthetics is no easy goal to achieve. It is very clear that the endless creativity inspired by those assembled toys of luminosity point to an exciting time in fixture design and architectural lighting applications. The possibilities are limitless, so explore the design boundaries without introducing bright light!
Photo Credits: Crystl (1), HessAmerica (2), Beta Lighting (3), Jamie Perry / Lam Partners Inc (4)