“Less Or Else” is Becoming a Bore

November 9, 2009 / no comments

Architectural lighting is poised for a dramatic transition into innovative new applications and approaches to sustainability. To summarize this transition, let’s look at architectural history through the lens of Mies van der Rohe’s famous quip “less is more”:

More is more: classical architecture in an age with limited technical and material capability.

Less is more: modern architecture responding to the abundance of the industrial age.

Less is a bore: post-modern architecture seeking to reconcile minimalism with a consumerist society.

Less or else: the struggle to develop “sustainable” strategies using pre-existing paradigms and technologies.

Let’s propose a new strategy:

More for less: finding a guilt-free, sustainable lifestyle as culturally rich and pleasurable as any previous trend.

It is quite apparent that the lighting design community is tiring of stuffing decades-old technologies and lighting paradigms into the limited metric of ever-decreasing watts per square foot. Lighting designers are hungry for new technologies, new fixture applications and new opportunities to work with architects to develop creative new design approaches.

If we want to find the pleasure inherently possible in living sustainably, then we need to change broader attitudes in the design profession. This requires an approach far more complex then simply forcing down allowed watts per square foot.

Accepting Random Variability and Darkness as Wonderful Things

Encouraged by various sustainable design initiatives, architectural technology is moving from the tectonics-based “isolated shelter: humans versus nature” approach, toward an approach that considers buildings as living, dynamic organisms, constantly exchanging energy and resources with their surrounding ecosystems.

Therefore, designers of buildings need to move beyond their constant drive to create interior environmental stasis and pervasive homogeneity of light and air; they need to explore and exploit natural patterns of variability. In lighting, this means ignoring decades-old “best practices” routed in fixed equipment that was either on or off, with fixed outputs, without any functionality for accommodating change, and instead exploring more naturally derived patterns of light and shadow, variable color palettes, visual patterns, and other forms of dynamic change.

Darkness is wonderful: it helps people see the light. Designers must learn to not be so scared of it. And variability keeps a space alive, long after the design and construction process has ended.

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Ateliers Jean Nouvel, Louvre Abu Dhabi

Jean Nouvel has designed a perforated dome structure to provide shade from the piercing sun of the Persian Gulf. The organic pattern of the perforations softens the light and casts visually rich patterns across the structures below.


The Banality of Average Footcandles

Why must every corner of a building be lit to predetermined, fixed levels? Why have architects come to imagine their designs as compositions set in perfectly uniform environmental conditions with predetermined levels of light? Why have codes reinforced this simplistic thinking?

For example, modern office spaces have become terrible places to work because nothing ever changes. The lighting, the air flow, the ergonomics of the furniture, the sound, and, via constant computer usage, even the focal point of a worker’s gaze has become so fixed that the worker is completely deprived of any natural stimulus. Many commercial and institutional projects have suffered similar fates.

It is ironic that “stimulus deprivation” such as described above is recognized as one of the most effective forms of interrogation. We’re literally torturing the inhabitants of our buildings.

Down with Downlights!

Modernist architects of the 1960s, along with pioneering lighting designers and fixture manufacturers, developed concealed light sources to keep the visual focus on their bold geometric forms and rich materials. They artfully used their exquisite architecture to create pleasurable contrast, sparkle, and perceived brightness.

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Four Seasons Restaurant, New York

With lighting design by Richard Kelly and fixtures from Edison Price, this fine example of 1960s International Style uses concealed fixtures to highlight exquisite materials and bold geometric compositions.


That’s fine if you’re Philip Johnson and Mies van der Rohe designing the famous Four Seasons Restaurant in the classic Seagram Building. The problem is that for the rest of us working on budget-driven commercial and institutional projects, the only materials we often have at our disposal is plain sheetrock and acoustic ceiling tiles. This combination of lost materiality and the lingering desire of many architects for “invisible” light sources (such as recessed downlights) has virtually wiped out tools such as contrast, sparkle, and perceived brightness from many designers’ kit of techniques.

Post-modernism only worsened the problem, treating visible light fixtures as kitschy historical references while using “invisible” sources to do the “real lighting”. Hence we are left with a legacy of recessed, concealed fixtures that waste nearly half of the light from the lamp in a desperate attempt to look “invisible”, along with decorative pendants and sconces, a duo ultimately derived from gaslight fixtures circa 1900.

The most positive benefit of LED lighting is the plethora of new formats LEDs are spawning, such as grids of tiny direct-view point sources, super-compact linear fixtures, or glowing panel systems. LEDs are encouraging designers to treat light as a material, which helps them to explore new forms of self-illuminated architectural elements.

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Jason Bruges Studio, Hotel Puerta America, Madrid

This excellent example of a light source integrated into an architectural wall system also demonstrates cutting-edge control: cameras integrated into the wall track a person’s movement and create animated “digital shadow” effects.


Experience Designers (Formerly Known as Lighting Designers)

Digitally controlled, intelligent lighting systems are becoming inexpensive and widespread. Savvy, creative use of daylight is being included far more extensively in architectural design. Hence, designers must reincorporate the dynamic and experiential element of time into their thinking.

Once an architectural composition is considered as a dynamic scene, a range of questions spring up: When can an area be dark? When must it be bright? Should the lighting respond to the external environment? Will a fade between two colors achieve the same visual effect with lower wattage? Will an animated surface make a space feel more natural?

Because of the wide crossover between the theatrical lighting and architectural lighting professions, most lighting designers are already well equipped to handle such dynamic design strategies. The challenge is to incorporate novel ideas for energy conservation into the client’s preconceived notions and within the restrictions of outmoded code requirements. Another challenge is far more pragmatic: How do you document the element of time in an architectural drawing set?

The core question becomes: How can we, as lighting designers, enrich an occupant’s temporal experience of a place while using fewer resources?

With Love, Bill Gates: Lighting Design Becomes Interface Design

Architecture, by its very nature, interfaces with the natural environment. But there is another highly variable environment that architecture must also address: the digital realm.

Buildings must now be considered not only as shelters but as portals to digital content. How will new lighting technologies and media displays enable richer, more variable portals between the human world and the digital world? How will buildings exchange data with their inhabitants?

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Interactive wall and table concept, Microsoft Office Labs

Microsoft’s stunning view of the future shows non-luminous, multi-touch interactive wall and table displays set in natural daylight.


Lighting designers will soon have to adopt a wide range of new technologies – including thin-film light sources, low- and high-resolution video displays, digital content servers, and interactive proximity-based control systems – into their range of commonly used tools. Lighting designers are also well positioned to help clients integrate photovoltaic solar cells into a building’s façade systems.

With the lack of high-level innovation in the lighting industry, lighting designers increasingly have to depend on technology coming from outside of the industry in order to stay relevant to their client’s needs. All of this technology, however, will have to be integrated into architecture with the highest levels of sustainable design. What will digital media systems, integrated into architectural building systems and developed in a true, cradle-to-cradle sustainable fashion, ultimately look like?

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Simone Giostra & Partners Architects, GreenPix Zero Energy Media Wall, Beijing

The GreenPix project includes photovoltaic solar cells artfully integrated into a glass rain screen system, with each panel backlit with an LED pixel. During the day, it collects all the energy it needs; at night, it dazzles with textural “low-resolution” video effects.


Conclusion

The intersection of digital media design and green building systems poses an area of development rich with innovative opportunities for designers and manufacturers alike. The next generation of buildings will be living, breathing organisms, respirating and conserving energy and light through naturally derived exchanges, full of dynamic variability, and rich with digital content. The future for lighting systems has never been brighter.

Photo Credits: Ateliers Jean Nouvel (1), Four Seasons Restaurant (2), Jason Bruges Studio (3), Microsoft Corporation (4), Simone Giostra & Partners Architects (5-6)

Variety is the Spice of Architecture

October 26, 2009 / no comments

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Continuing on the topic of the well-balanced architectural diet and exploring the parallels between food and design (“In Defense of Design“), I come back to the notion of variety. Because of our very energy-intensive lifestyles, we can virtually have it all. Peaches in the winter, cheap beef year-round, and 72 degrees, 50% relative humidity, and 50 footcandles uniformly distributed throughout every interior space.

It wasn’t that long ago when people actually enjoyed truly seasonal fruits and vegetables, only ate beef and pork in the late fall and winter and chicken in the summer, and went to school in un-air-conditioned buildings. As far as food goes, more people are now turning back to organic or locally grown produce and meats. It’s much more sustainable to buy food that’s grown close to where it is consumed. It takes a lot of energy to fly and truck in peaches from Chile to Boston in January – and they’re really not that tasty… The same goes for our architectural environments.

Architecture started depending more on energy, and less on structure, to solve its environmental issues. It’s become so “processed”, cooled, heated, lighted, that we’ve lost some of the simple drama arising from varying temperatures and light levels.

Wearing a sweater indoors in the wintertime in order to lower the thermostat worked for Jimmy Carter. Better yet, having families gather around the inglenook to keep warm not only saved energy but promoted family conversation. Placing more demanding visual tasks near windows kept valuable illuminants from being exhausted during the hottest times of the day. As far as residential architecture goes, many of these variations are not impractical today. They say the passive solar homeowner is a very tolerant creature. Commercial spaces are somewhat more demanding of environmental power, but certainly not to the intensity common in most buildings today.

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Bringing it back to lighting, what’s wrong with a little variation in illuminance levels? When we walk around outdoors, we experience moonlight which is about one one-hundredth of a footcandle, while bright sunshine could be as high as 10,000 footcandles – a difference of a million to one. Walking through dappled patterns of sun and shade can vary in luminance ratios greater than a thousand to one.

And yet, when we design electric lighting for interiors, we must have a certain prescribed level, a “zone”, or people get upset. Darker areas are misconstrued as mistakes: “not enough light”. Not only is it good to vary light levels within an interior environment based on activity, but it’s also good to have various illuminance levels throughout the day. It puts us in touch with our environment and defines a sort of time-space continuum.

When we daylight buildings, we have the opportunity to not only save energy, but to make them wonderful and enlivened. The changing patterns of light and color throughout the day add a dynamic quality. And yet we read technical articles about daylit architecture and how it’s “bad” to have direct sunlight inside the building. It may be less desirable to have it stream across your keyboard, but who doesn’t like a view of sunlight? Doesn’t it seem strange that the daylighting point in LEED is in the Environment and Atmosphere section, a purely qualitative metric, yet we have to reach 25 footcandles in order to get the point, a quantitative measurement? It’s a peach, right? Who cares what it tastes like?

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There are clever products on the market that help introduce daylight into spaces that may not normally have it, but sometimes they’re used as crutches, in lieu of good design. “Light-tubes” vs. light wells for instance. When daylight comes out of the other end of a “light-tube” it is completely unrecognizable as daylight. A great dinner combines a range of different and complementary ingredients, enjoyed throughout the duration of the meal. Those ingredients could easily be put into a blender and would yield the same nutritional value. The thought isn’t too appealing unless it’s a smoothie we crave. If we let codes and standards dictate the way daylight is introduced into architecture by some formula or prescription, all of the nuances and beauty of daylight could be lost in the name of saving energy.

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California has requirements now that any interior space directly below a roof must be skylit. Generally this is a good idea. However, it also states that the skylight glazing must be translucent – crazy. Therefore we are benefitting only from the light energy it provides, and little else. A beautifully executed clerestory or redirected sunlight would not qualify. Where have we gone wrong?

When it comes to a quality meal, should we evaluate it based on calories per dollar? This may be the very idea behind an all-you-can-eat buffet. Should daylight simply be evaluated on number of footcandles at certain times of the year? If you only drink your wine from a box, don’t answer this last question.

Photo Credits: La Grande Farmers’ Market (1), Laura Padgett (2), Cygnus921 (3), Anyjazz65 (4)

Perception and Expectation

September 21, 2009 / no comments

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Light and color have historically been closely integrated with architecture and design, as they can completely change a viewer’s perception of form and space. Color around us is the simple consequence of reflected or transmitted light. It is not a characteristic of an object without light.

In Monet’s study of the Rouen Cathedral, his painting series depicts a perception of the Cathedral that dramatically changes as the lighting quality and colors vary. These different perceptions of the same Cathedral are due to the reflections of light, color, and relative brightness of the architectural form, caused by varying daylight conditions.

Light is a very descriptive tool: it creates shadow and depth, defines edges and boundaries, renders objects and people, and informs us of the conditions of our surroundings. With shifts of light, brightness/contrast ratios, and changing reflections, the “image” of the space transforms. This image or “perception” of space is an important biological need for humans, giving us not only the ability to perform specific tasks within that space, but also the important quality of visual, aesthetic, and psychological comfort.

Appropriate color of light is very important to the quality of lighting in a space. As humans, we have developed subjective expectations of what is appropriate, based upon previous experiences that have been mentally compiled. We process our visual field in comparison to other spaces that are “pleasing,” as well as to what we know of the exterior environment of that particular time of day or season. It’s important to recognize the change in color and intensity of light, from day to night and summer to winter, in artificial lighting designs, as those expectations are firmly set in our circadian rhythms.

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The Amenity Curve, developed by A.A. Kruithof, illustrates the idea that a “visually pleasing environment” is directly related to the “expected” color temperature of the light source. Typically, we expect lighting color temperatures in the warmer range for spaces with lower overall light levels, such as residential environments or lounge areas, whereas cooler color temperatures are expected for more public spaces that require higher light levels. “Warm” refers to light color temperatures between 2700K to 3000K. Incandescent sources are rich in red and yellow, which is similar to the familiar light of the sun, and of common candle flames. “Cool” refers to light color temperatures between 3600K to 5500K. These color temperatures are more closely related to the bluish color of skylight, around 6500K.

When our visual expectations and our need for information are satisfactorily met, then our environment is perceived as appropriate and comfortable, meaning that we measure “comfortable” lighting not by a strict allowance of footcandles, but as a balance of brightness and contrast throughout a space that meets our expectations, both physically and mentally.

These principles of light and color in architecture are the means by which architecture expresses its form and function to its occupants. Light communicates visual information to the viewer, and establishes how we perceive our environment.

Quality Trumps Efficiency in the Lighting Game

August 31, 2009 / no comments

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Today, after decades of conspicuous energy and material consumption, escalating energy and construction costs and the desire to be more environmentally sustainable are forcing designers to rethink their strategies and to ask how we can do more with less. More stringent energy codes and LEED energy targets are among the most challenging of all of the pressures facing us. For lighting designers, it is harder than ever to create pleasing spaces that meet the expectations of the owner, architect, and users with considerably less wattage per square foot.

The lighting community is responding to the need to reduce energy consumption in different ways. Some are focused on improving fixture efficiency, particularly for fluorescent fixtures, which is, of course, a fundamentally very good and necessary development. There are far too many commercial-grade fixtures on the market that are still in the 50% to 70% efficiency range.

Then there are those who focus on light source efficacy as the answer to the industry’s problems. Many are convinced that super-efficient, low-wattage LED fixtures in various arrays are the be-all and end-all cure for our energy problems. Just as the push to improve fixture efficiency is essential, the need to develop improved LED products and other high-efficiency sources is inarguably important.

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The danger here is becoming so fixated on fixture or source efficiency that people lose sight of the most important objective in lighting design, which is to create quality luminous environments for people, as opposed to for power-density targets. An energy-efficient design isn’t necessarily a quality design. As many designers have remarked, a bad lighting design made more efficient is still a bad design. So many people are rushing to get LED products on the market that corners are being cut in terms of glare control, color temperature, and overall dependability. In the end, a glare-producing LED downlight that sacrifices light quality and fixture dependability for the sake of efficiency or cost is no more desirable than an inefficient fluorescent downlight.

Before designers even consider fixture efficiencies or source efficacies, they should first evaluate application efficiency. This frequently overlooked attribute describes how proposed lighting strategies interact with the overall materials and building components in a space, in terms of reflectance, absorption, and distribution. For example, using an uplight, however efficient the fixture may be, to illuminate a dark wood ceiling is an incredibly inefficient strategy to achieve a comfortable ambient light level throughout a space. Application efficiency, in effect, compares the design of the space itself to that of a fixture or optical system.

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After the lighting concepts on a project have taken shape and the fixture selection and specification process begins, the designer must then take the time to review photometric reports and make sure that products under consideration are as efficient as reasonably possible for that particular application. In some cases, manufacturers may offer modified versions of fixtures that offer better efficiency.

Next, get samples of any new LED products being considered and test them out for glare control, color temperature and color rendition, multiple shadow problems, modular design that enables future servicing of key components, and serious heat sink design for longevity.

Common sense, practical applications, and due diligence need to prevail to produce lighting that is as pleasing and reliable as it is sustainable.

Photo Credits: Stephen M. Lee (1); Ste3ve (2); Ned Goodell / Machado and Silvetti Associates (3)

Achieving Transparency with “Solid” Materials

August 19, 2009 / no comments

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GKD Metal Fabrics is a manufacturer of interwoven metal meshes for large-scale architectural use. They have a great website with lots of project images that really show off the visual effects possible with woven or perforated surfaces.

Woven metal fabrics offer a wonderful visual inversion: when the primary illumination is on the viewer’s side, the surface appears solid. When the illumination is on objects or wall surfaces behind the fabric, the fabric appears transparent and, when viewed from a distance, can almost completely disappear.

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This is very much the same effect as that of a theatrical scrim: when light in front of the scrim fades down, and light on the scene behind the scrim is increased, the scene is “magically” revealed.

However, many designers don’t understand this concept and mistakenly try to backlight the metal mesh (or perforated metal panel, which is the same effect) in an attempt to make it “glow”. If you backlight a perforated solid object, there is no material to reflect, refract, or diffuse the light, so it looks dark even though lots of light might be streaming through the openings. At most, you might catch a little of the light on the lip of the openings if the material is thick enough, but this is generally not the intended effect.

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Light cannot diffuse through solid metal like it can through translucent glass or plastics. To create the impression of gauzy transparency with metal products, the surface must be mostly open (more like woven fabric rather than perforated panels) and the light on the front of the scrim must be approximately the same as the light on whatever is behind the surface.

Beyond a neat visual effect, metal mesh offers an intriguing way to control solar load and excessive daylight penetration, while helping a building take on a dynamic visual persona that changes from day to night.

Photo Credits: GKD Metal Fabrics

What’s “Efficient”?

July 13, 2009 / no comments

Candles

Today we’re barraged by claims of “efficient lighting” or criticisms of “inefficient lighting”, but what does that actually mean, or what should we actually be concerned about as designers?

In casual terms, we think of “efficient” lighting as using less energy to produce a given amount of light, or as producing more light for a given amount of energy. Technically, the term used to relate visible light produced to overall power consumed is “efficacy”. This is typically expressed as the ratio of visible light to electric power, or lumens per watt. But for practical purposes, efficiency means providing the useful light we seek for as little energy consumption as possible. Useless or wasted light doesn’t count. Or even more importantly, it should mean satisfying our visual needs using as little energy as possible. And that can’t be measured with a light meter.

With today’s emphasis on energy-efficiency, too often evaluating “efficiency” based strictly on light meter readings (or on calculated predicted meter readings) results in visual environments of poor quality. So the key question we need to ask about efficiency is: “efficient at what?” A bare light bulb hanging in your living room could be very efficient at registering on a light meter, but very inefficient at creating a comfortable visual environment.

If we do limit ourselves to what can be measured with a meter, for architectural lighting there are really four components to efficiency:

Lamp efficacy: how much visible light is our lamp (“bulb”) producing for each watt of electricity?

Control gear efficiency: with the exception of incandescent (including halogen), all modern light sources require some electrical components to get the lamp started and to provide the proper operating voltage and current. These ballasts, transformers, and LED drivers consume energy, sometimes a lot of it – they can use 10% or more as much energy as the lamp they serve. So we need to include this energy consumption in the overall lighting efficiency evaluation.

Luminaire efficiency: rarely does all the light from a lamp manage to get out of its light fixture. There are almost always shields, reflectors, lenses, etc. to shape and baffle the light output, and these block some of the light from escaping. Luminaire efficiency can range widely: for a good linear fluorescent indirect-direct pendant it might be over 90%; for a good compact fluorescent downlight it hovers only around 50%. (One of the advantages of LEDs is that, although their efficacy is not particularly high, because LED light output is intrinsically directional, luminaire efficiencies can be higher for direct, controlled beam applications).

Utilization: related to the antiquated “CU”, or coefficient of utilization, this is basically the fraction of light coming out of a luminaire which actually ends up doing something useful – lighting a surface we want to light. A good (or rather, bad) example is the typical dropped-lens cobra-head streetlight. What we want to light is the roadway and maybe the surrounding area or sidewalks. But, as anyone who has ever looked out of an airplane window knows, an awful lot of the light from cobra-heads goes right into the sky. This isn’t useful (in fact the opposite), so it doesn’t count in the “utilization” coefficient.

So we need to multiply all these four factors together to get even a simple numerical evaluation of a lighting system’s “efficiency”. There’s also a fifth, very important factor affecting energy use: controls – the most efficient light can be the one that’s turned off when it’s not needed.

But lastly and very importantly, we need to consider whether a good design can achieve an equally good, or better, visual environment while registering “less” on the light meter. There is no question that this is possible – it happens all the time. A study by the GSA of recently completed federal courtrooms (see link below) found that measured light levels had little to do with actual user satisfaction with the lighting. As another example, an environment with a substantial indirect lighting component can have lower measured light levels while actually providing better visibility and a greater sense of brightness and comfortable seeing. So let’s design for true efficiency: satisfaction per watt.

GSA COURTROOM LIGHTING CRITERIA EVALUATION AND ENERGY USE STUDY

Photo Credit: SwamiStream

LightSpotting: NeoCon 2009 Lighting Highlights

June 29, 2009 / no comments

I had the opportunity to walk the many, many floors of Chicago’s gigantic Merchandise Mart for the recent NeoCon trade show. While definitely focused on furniture and fabrics, the show offered some stunning showrooms with lots of lighting inspiration.

In general, it is really striking to see how modern office furniture has become so intensely open-plan. It is certainly not a stretch to proclaim “cubicle walls are dead” after seeing all the largest manufacturers featuring contemporary lines with low or no partition walls, translucent dividers, user-adjustable privacy dividers, etc. Also, the shift to lower ambient light levels with individually adjustable task lights was heavily promoted; each manufacturer offered a range of task fixtures.

Steelcase

Steelcase is clearly the “big dog” in the Merchandise Mart, with numerous showrooms for both its flagship brand, and for several sub-brands.

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The main showroom offered a dramatic, curving entrance wall with unusual faceted column covers.

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From the outside of the showroom, at first glance, this looked like a large window wall. In reality, it is entirely composed of plasma screens, tightly butted together for a stunning view.

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Steelcase created a unique, open partition wall of criss-crossing materials. Even with almost no direct lighting, it looks fantastic and models well.

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Note the trick detail: the glowing strip of light set into the floor underneath the curtain track.

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A nice solution for introducing a feeling of brightness into a workspace without increasing the overall lighting levels: positioning an under-cabinet fixture below the task plane.

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Elegant fixture design for personal task lighting that maintains a sense of openness in an office, but the fixture output suffered from the dreaded LED multi-shadows.

Steelcase Nurture

Steelcase had a stunning showroom for their Nurture brand. At first, it looks like a hospitality line, until you enter the showroom and realize it is intended for healthcare projects – shows how far the trend of hospitals-as-hotels has come.

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Lots of earth tones and natural materials throughout the showroom.

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Modern nurses’ station. Can you spot the task light?

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In a very cool detail, Steelcase incorporated an LED task light into the adjustable arm of a monitor stand.

Steelcase Coalesce

Coalesce had an absolutely gorgeous showroom that demonstrated fantastic use of dark materials throughout. While it is so easy to get caught up in trying to light every surface with uplights, wallwashers, task lights, and so forth, the Coalesce showroom reminds one of how eloquently a dark palette can be used to create visual focus and highlight.

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This image is deceptive: even the lightest material was actually a medium grey. Natural concrete floors, unfinished Homasote ceilings, natural metal trim and hardware, and dark gunmetal grey wall panels really make the furniture pieces pop.

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Dark ceilings and floors are contrasted with a rear-illuminated stretched fabric wall and translucent signage panels.

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Amid all the dark surfaces, one wall really popped with fabric samples. Lightly etched one-inch-thick acrylic is used with brilliant wall washers to command attention and create a neutral backdrop for the colorful samples.

Human Scale

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Human Scale was showing a line of fluorescent and LED adjustable arm-mounted task lights. In particular, their new LED task light was striking.

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A great example of using the inherent challenges of keeping LEDs running cool to create a striking design.

Three H

Three H showed a desk fixture with a softly glowing band on three sides.

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This is certainly one of the most distinctive concepts in task lights in a long time. While hard to photograph, the fixture created a wonderful feeling of brightness, and plenty of useable light on the desk.

Bernhardt

Bernhardt’s showroom features an extraordinarily elegant minimalism.

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The front entrance is visually framed with glowing reveals at the bottom of each wall, with a glowing reveal along the side wall that peels away as it progresses back.

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Behind the bar is a clean, discreet graze of light slipping down the back wall. To the right is a striking rear-illuminated texture wall, composed of sheet metal that was CNC-cut and backed with a translucent fabric, creating a brilliant, sparkling effect.

Herman Miller

Herman Miller had another massive showroom, with a striking entrance.

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A vivid orange cove shows how elegant a splash of color can be as a lighting effect, which is echoed in the showpiece wall behind the faceted glass entrance.

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The wall consists of three glass panels stacked at angles and curving around the length of the wall, with a sultry orange tint and grey frit texture. Lots of watts are needed, though, to bring out the orange; note the bands of continuous incandescent grazing lights above.

Allsteel

Allsteel’s showroom had a trio of competent, well-executed lighting features.

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Super-clean shelf lighting, with the light fixtures completely integrated into the thickness of the shelves.

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A series of fabric-wrapped cylindrical pendants gives the conference room an incredible feeling of softness and warmth.

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An internally glowing cube creates a nice visual punch under an oversized wood counter, with clusters of simple pendants above.

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Allsteel was showing a whimsical LED task light that looks like a retro-futuristic flying saucer; unfortunately, it produced little useable light and was too cool in color temperature.

3Form

Our architectural clients love 3Form materials, and 3Form has certainly been busy adding new materials and hardware to flush out a more complete service offering.

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They’ve recently launched a line of “light forms”, sculptural assemblies using their materials.

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They are also offering wood laminates with laser-cut patterns, which can be used to create fantastic luminous, backlit surfaces.

Inscape

Inscape’s showroom includes a signature lighting feature that works really well in an open office environment.

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A stretch fabric-wrapped internally lit structure runs the length of the space.

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The long, voluminous light source makes the space feel bright, with lots of useable, soft task light.

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Inscape also enlivened a windowless, internal conference room with a simple backlit wall that really makes the space.

Joel Berman Studio

Joel Berman had their traditional range of decorative art glass, but is also launching a new resin product.

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They were showcasing the new resin with an interesting decorative LED pendant that takes the limitations of LED point sources and artfully exploits them into a sparkling feature.

Molo

Molo is a company that makes folded paper walls, à la old 1960s papier-mâché party decorations.

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They were promoting a large wall complete with internal LED lighting. I didn’t get to see the source, but the effect of a huge, softly glowing, curving form was unique.

Teknion

Teknion’s showroom offered up a couple of great design solutions to enliven interior spaces with limited access to daylight.

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The lobby featured large, internally illuminated boxes concealing the structural columns, contrasting with rich, darkly finished wood floors and ceilings.

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The signature wall consisted of one-inch-thick recycled white plastic cut into a random criss-cross texture, set off by a few inches from an internally illuminated backing wall to create a tremendous feeling of depth.

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The glowing columns from the entrance were repeated throughout the space. Although the overall ambient levels were fairly low, the glowing columns really made the space feel visually bright.

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Much like the conference room at the Inscape showroom, an internal, windowless wall was enlivened with a backlit glass panel.

NeoCon offers an opportunity to view the latest products in hospitality, health care, retail and corporate interiors; while inspiring new and innovative ways to incorporate lighting into these creative settings.

Photo Credit: Brad Koerner / Lam Partners Inc – © 2009 All Rights Reserved

In Defense of Design

June 14, 2009 / no comments

Throughout my professional career I’ve always enjoyed making comparisons between good lighting and good food. We obviously need food to sustain our lives, as we need light to sustain our lives. But evaluating “good” lighting on simplistic numerical quantifications such as footcandles or lumens per watt is similar to evaluating a good meal on calories or nutrients alone. Although these metrics are important, they do not complete the overall picture.

Neon Pie

I just finished reading Michael Pollan’s book, “In Defense of Food”. Besides being a very enjoyable and enlightening read, I was struck by the parallels between the food industry and the architectural profession. It seems as “logical” beings, we are constantly trying to break down the components of complex systems in order to extract and identify the good or positive elements. Food scientists in the last hundred years or so have been able to identify parts of whole foods such as proteins and vitamins that are supposedly good for us, and to reintroduce them back into our refined and industrialized foods, since processing expels most of these nutrients. However studies have shown that even after adding all of these nutrients back into our processed foods, the original whole food is still more healthful. This scientific reductionism that breaks food into its component parts ignores subtle interactions and context. The whole is worth more than the sum of its parts.

Elevator Lobby

Architecture is also a complex system. There are a host of parallel professions involved with designing and constructing the built environment. Since humans spend a majority of their lives indoors or in a man-made world, architecture too has been analyzed and dissected. But when architecture is evaluated solely on the sum of its parts rather than its synergy of systems, we lose the soul of architecture, the thing that separates true architecture from, simply, a building.
Our latest architectural evaluation system is LEED, essentially a scorecard to evaluate a building’s sustainability. I’m not suggesting that LEED is a bad thing. It has identified many critical elements of design, and made the profession more aware of the importance of sustainability since we’ve been operating in a world of blissfully bountiful energy. But to evaluate architecture solely on its LEED score is like evaluating a meal at a restaurant by how many calories it contains.
Why is it that “eaters” trust scientists or food manufacturers for the “healthfulness” of our eating habits instead of our rich historic culture? Why does a client trust reams of calculations generated by a technician before trusting the good judgment of an architect? Why would a homeowner with a custom addition project hire a builder before (or instead of) hiring an architect? And why would an architect have an engineer or lighting manufacturer’s representative design their lighting?

Billy Wilder Theater

All of these specialists are important to the overall success of the project. But just as with architecture, lighting design is not only about the numbers. Sure, we have to satisfy certain illuminance and power density criteria, but real lighting design starts with design: a true understanding of the architectural concept and a constant weaving of lighting hardware into the architectural fabric so that, especially in the case of daylighting, the light and architecture are inseparable.
Oil subsidies and unnaturally low energy prices could be blamed for western industrialized food, energy-inefficient buildings, urban sprawl, and the general attitude of us all. Recycling, turning lights off, using public transportation – they’re all contributing to a more sustainable world. With the current economic situation, our design practices have geared up for new challenges in sustainability and energy savings. But designers cannot depend on emerging technologies alone. The real innovations will come from the architects and designers themselves and from how these technologies are creatively employed to produce wonderful environments where humans can flourish and live more harmoniously with nature. Long live design!

MIT Brain & Cog

Photo Credit: Keith Yancey / Lam Partners Inc (1), Stephen M. Lee (2), Wil Carson / Michael Maltzan Architecture (3), Peter Vanderwarker (4)