Student intern from GSD Assists in Daylighting Research

January 29, 2015 / no comments

Rufei Wang, a first year MDesS Energy and Environment student at the Graduate School of Design, joined Lam Partners for two weeks for Harvard GSD’s January Term Externship Program. Rufei worked on a research project with Lam Designer Kera Lagios, studying the relationship between automatic shades and building orientation.

Kera and Rufei will continue the research investigating relationships between daylighting, electric lighting, and energy. Stay tuned.

Anna Baranczak lights new exhibit at Harvard Semitic Museum

January 26, 2015 / no comments

The Semitic Museum, whose “focus is the Near East. Most of its 40,000-odd objects were obtained during museum-sponsored excavations in Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Tunisia, and Syria”, has opened a new exhibition on the creation of the museum itself by founder David Gordon Lyon in 1889. Titled “From the Nile to the Euphrates: Creating The Harvard Semitic Museum,” the show takes up a packed 2nd floor room in the museum, and all gallery and display lighting was designed and aimed by Anna Baranczak.

For more on the exhibit, check out Boston Globe’s article, the Harvard Gazette, and of course the museum’s very own website.

LEDs: Taking Control Published in Architectural Lighting Magazine

December 10, 2014 / no comments

Dan Weissman, Director of Lam Labs at Lam Partners, has published an article in Architectural Lighting Magazine demystifying controls in the new age of LEDs.


“The options are plentiful, but, in the end, most lighting control scenarios still boil down to the basic questions. When should the lights be turned on? How bright? When should they be turned off? What is their purpose? Ultimately, what we seek are integrated systems that provide the light we need at the times we need it, monitor and minimize energy use, and entertain us when the moment is right.”

Bill Lam Tribute, IES Banquet (May 24, 2012)

May 29, 2012 / no comments

William Lam

Bill Lam 1924-2012

It is wonderful to be in this room full of people who understand and care about the value of lighting.

I am sure that many of you here tonight knew Bill Lam and were saddened by the news of his passing. Bill was a true legend. He was one of the founders of modern lighting design. Bill was a pioneer, a teacher, a writer, and a great mentor for generations of architects and lighting designers. I suppose you could stay he was a real fixture in our industry, although he wouldn’t like that association with hardware. So I’ll just say he was a shining light.

Here is a little known fact; Bill Lam designed the Pantheon. Well, not really. But he admired the concept. And used it to illustrate an important point…

Before lighting design existed as a profession, and even before there was electric lighting, architects and master builders were lighting designers. They knew how to design with light. With limited resources, they understood techniques for creating wonderful spaces with natural light (the effective distribution of natural light) in ways that enhanced the architectural expression.

When electric lighting arrived on the scene, it was designed in conjunction with natural light and became yet another way to reinforce the architect’s vision. Then, at some point in the post-war boom of the last century, when buildings got a lot bigger, energy was cheap, and fluorescent lighting became widespread, architects began to give up control of the lighting in buildings. Work and school environments became generic spaces where visual comfort was replaced with acres of acoustical tile and uniformly high light levels from lensed fixtures. When the first computers arrived and reflected glare became an issue, these generic spaces went from excessively bright to excessively gloomy.

Integrated lighting? What’s that?!

Throughout Bill’s career, his most enduring message to architects was the need to take back the responsibility for lighting design. Don’t surrender lighting to others who only care about the numbers and who design for the lowest common denominator. His message, like his personality, was clear and persistent: integrate lighting with architectural form. It’s about seeing the light, not the hardware.

Bill’s focus was always on lighting architectural surfaces, including structure, and other features worth highlighting. This meant that the architect had to provide materials and details worth lighting, and also coordinate the mechanical and other systems to create lighting opportunities. It was all about the collaboration and the team process needed to produce the best spaces possible.

Bill considered the design for the Washington Metro one of his finest achievements.

Washington Metro station

Bill applied principles of visual perception to inform decisions about what should be illuminated and why. The principles that he developed and stood for, we take for granted today. Bill may not have invented indirect lighting, but he took it to a whole new level in his quest for glare free environments. Lighting surfaces, like ceilings and walls, expand space and create the perception of brightness, resulting in visual comfort and interest.

Bill was a big advocate for energy efficient lighting design way before it became a popular or a mandated thing to do. He promoted ambient/task solutions and fought the lighting establishment to reduce illuminance standards. The lighting standards we use today are the result of the criteria that Bill fought for and won years ago.

Bill was also a creative designer who could work at any scale. Early in his career, he designed several ingenious pieces of furniture. One of his tables is in the Museum of Modern Art. He was the first to experiment with and produce vacuum formed plastic shades for light fixtures. For the Montreal Expo in1967, Bill created a lighting master plan, which involved a huge array of tethered weather balloons floating over the expo, to be illuminated by spotlights at night so they could be seen all around the city.

Bill’s interest in using indirect lighting was stymied by a lack of available products. So he became a manufacturer of indirect lighting systems and founded Lam Inc in 1951. He developed some of the early modern fixture designs that became classics for schools and offices, establishing a new standard of quality for millions of spaces throughout the country. Some of you will remember the old Lam profile wall valence fixture. Other classic Lam fixture designs included a variety of extruded aluminum uplights and the original hockey puck, which you can still find in gyms and indoor tennis clubs.

In 1959 Bill changed his role from a designer/manufacturer to an architectural lighting consultant. During the course of his career, he collaborated with architects, landscape architects, and urban planners on several thousand projects all over the world. His legacy also includes innovative approaches to building systems and effective strategies for sunlighting design. For those of us who were fortunate enough to work for Bill, he left a lasting impression, sort of like a branding iron! There is a certain distinctive Lam Way of approaching lighting that characterized Bill’s work and can be traced through all of those who worked for Bill.

Some of the principles that Bill promoted have become standards in our industry for describing good lighting.. His lighting principles were illustrated in his 2 books; Perception and Lighting as Formgivers for Architecture, and Sunlighting as Formgiver for Architecture.

We take these principles for granted today.

  • Light the things you want to see and need to see.
  • Put the light where you want it.
  • The quality of illumination is more important than the quantity.
  • Maximize the visual signals, minimize the visual noise.
  • Use lighting for wayfinding.
  • Use task/ambient lighting solutions to save energy.
  • Lighting is applied perception psychology. We see with our brains, not our eyes.
  • Light sources, or apparent light sources, should be things worth looking at.
  • Lighting is like music and food. More isn’t better if the quality is bad. (Our version of that one is: Lighting shouldn’t be an all you can eat buffet in a greasy spoon.)

Industry had Henry Ford. Jazz had Charlie Parker. Food had Julia Child. Lighting had Bill Lam.

Bill was one of those rare individuals who transformed his chosen profession, took it in an unexpected and original direction, and changed the way everyone since has viewed lighting. We embraced the principles he developed. Bill set high standards in his determination to bring lighting back as an integral part of architectural design, making indoor and outdoor environments better with light. In a sense, we are all keeping his legacy alive, and bringing it forward into the future.

He will be missed.

Photo credits: Kwai Lam (c) 2008 (1), O Palsson (2)

Happy Winter Solstice

December 23, 2011 / no comments

Lam Partners

Yesterday was the winter solstice. It is a time that we often associate with Christmas, Yuletide, Hanukkah, or the Feast of Saint Lucia. Candles are lit, trees and rooftops are decorated with strings of light, parties are held, and gifts are exchanged. The lighting of lights to relieve the cold and dark of this time of year symbolizes hope and perseverance. It might be surprising, then, to learn some of the other ways that the longest night is celebrated throughout the world.

Lam Partners

The word “solstice” is derived from Latin words meaning “the standing still of the sun”. While the winter version is most commonly referred to as the shortest day of the year, it is actually a point of inflection which occurs at a specific time: this year it was December 22 at 5:30 UTC. The time refers to the precise moment when the northern hemisphere has reached its furthest distance from the sun before dramatically shifting directions.

Historically, celebrations surrounding the solstice are as much about this critical turning point as they are about darkness and light. Many, such as Goru among the Dogon people of Mali, mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter.

Other traditions, however, reflect the transition by taking on a subversive form, where participants engage in activities that upend the standard order. Bacchanalian festivals in Ancient Rome and Greece such as Brumali or Saturnalia were times of casting off social restraints, of drinking and merriment, and of some other, more unusual, customs: slaves would enjoy a banquet served to them by their masters.

Lam Partners

Lam Partners

This reversal of order is achieved elsewhere by wearing disguises. In the Junkanoo festivals celebrated in the Carribbean, parades feature elaborate, symbolic costumes. The Cornish custom on Mummer’s Day is to march through town with blackened faces or masks. In several traditions, ghost stories are told, and spirits are said to haunt the living, as in the Scandinavian Feast of Saint Lucia, during which the demon Lussi is said to frighten children who have not been good.

Lam Partners

Lam Partners

Other cultures simply embrace the longest night by staying awake for its duration, such as the Persian festival Yalda, or Shab-e Chelleh, in which families gather together to feast on pomegranates and dried fruits, stay up all night, and listen to poetry. Celebrating throughout the night was also the custom of the Inca and of the Mapuche of Chile (though their rituals for the longest night of the year in the southern hemisphere took place on the opposite solstice in June). The observers would stay up several nights waiting for sunrise, celebrating the assurance that the sun would return.

The eventual triumph of light over darkness and the symbolism of renewal are some of the strongest themes prevalent in these celebrations. Sol Invictus from the Roman Empire translates as “the undefeated sun”. The Kurdish _ewy Yelda portrays the sun as being reborn after the solstice. In contrast, Dong Zhi in China celebrates the “arrival of winter” and the interrelationship between darkness and light as part of the yin and yang philosophy. Families gather, and a sweet soup made with pink and white rice dumplings is served.


While we often think of the winter solstice as simply the shortest period of daylight in the year, throughout history and the world, there is a richer picture. However you are celebrating, have a happy solstice.

Photo Credits: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (1), Andrea Rota (2), Antoine-François Callet – Musée du Louvre (3), MissChatter (4), Fredrik Magnusson (5), Eliza Tasbihi (6), Oranje (7)

Dispatches from Lightfair

May 31, 2011 / no comments

Every year, many of us here at Lam attend Lightfair® International, an annual lighting trade show and conference, allowing us to keep up to date with products from hundreds of lighting manufacturers, as well as design tools and technologies, standards and practices, and industry-wide trends and innovations.

The following are some of our impressions of this year’s event:


Lightfair seems to be turning into more of an electronics show than a lighting show. But, I saw a lot of LED products this year that gave me hope about LED lighting in general. My favorite: retrofit LED lamps that are actually a good replacement for incandescent lamps! Sure, these things have been around for years now. They cost a fortune, last about a month, produce hardly any light, and the light they do produce is garish. But what I saw at Lightfair was lamps that dim, have good color, produce useful light, and are affordable! This is very encouraging. There are lots of wonderful products that can produce a low-power-density lighting design for a new project – but the majority of square footage in the world is not new, it’s existing. Affordable retrofit products that are actually starting to look good is a great step forward. We may even be able to reach the Architecture 2030 Challenge!

Other LED products I saw that give me hope are interchangeable light engines. They’re like LED light bulbs. There’s an industry-wide movement, called Zhaga, that is trying to standardize the specifications for the interfaces of these light engines. So instead of throwing the whole luminaire into a landfill, we can now recycle and replace just the LED module.

The trade show itself was also encouraging. I was in New Orleans to attend the AIA convention the week prior, where the floor was dead compared to Lightfair. Is it because architecture is still hurting economically and there were just not as many people attending? Or is it that architects are chasing CEUs and attending more seminars rather than walking the trade show floor? Either way, Lightfair was wonderfully crowded and vibrant this year. People in almost every booth gave me hope that the industry is coming back. I ran into a lot of colleagues who said work was picking up, or that they were very busy. A sense of optimism seemed to be the brightest luminaire at Lightfair this year.

– Keith

I had two basic missions at Lightfair. The first was to check out innovations in current and upcoming lighting design software, and the second was to attend the IES Daylighting Metrics Committee meeting.

Tools to evaluate lighting are in a state of flux. Some lighting and daylighting metrics have progressed in sophistication, but the software has not yet been developed to employ all of them. Revit is becoming not only popular, but required on many projects, however, coordination of lighting into Revit models is still far from commonplace. This was clear in the short session I attended about BIM modeling, which showed many important capabilities of a variety of softwares, while also showing that in practice, transferring information between programs can be tedious and time-consuming (though one particularly bright spot revealed at Lightfair is a plug-in being developed for Revit which allows lighting analysis of Revit models without manually transferring the model into AGi32 and back).

On the other hand, there are good software tools available, but most designers have not yet learned how to use them. Researchers have developed robust and valuable new daylighting metrics that can only be used by a select few with advanced expertise of difficult, esoteric software. This is especially problematic when working with codes like IgCC and LEED. Better metrics can help foster better design, but it’s impractical to require compliance based on software that’s not widely known or easily available. Furthermore, as the Daylighting Metrics Committee discussed, there is a need to standardize metrics so that everyone is working from the same basic assumptions.

The rise of Revit and BIM provides new opportunities as well as challenges. In principle, it should facilitate coordination among architects, engineers, and consultants, but in its nascent stages, there are still a lot of hurdles to clear.

– Kera

After walking the many aisles of lighting booths at Lightfair, I was left with a feeling of brightness. Not with a sense of novelty or originality, but literally, glaring brightness. There was a vast display of LED site lighting pole fixtures looming above, packed with bright LEDs, and causing overpowering glare at almost every corner. As manufacturers touted the universal suitability of LEDs, the fixtures actually on display overwhelmingly revealed some of their biggest disadvantages, with high-angle glare and excessively cool color temperatures.

Even though it was slightly frustrating to walk around the exhibition hall, squinting my eyes to dodge bright LED fixtures, I found the experience to be, in a way, eye-opening, as the ever-present LEDs on display demonstrated the need for much continuing development and innovation before these products become practical.

On the other hand, it was interesting to see some of the manufacturers that are implementing LEDs into thin forms and planar fixtures, taking advantage of LEDs’ unique characteristics and compact quality.

The part of Lightfair I enjoyed the most, the part that left the biggest impression on me, was the keynote speaker luncheons. I enjoyed the camaraderie of sharing design experiences, and learning about the design process from visualization to concept to schematics, mock-ups, and final design. It’s great to simply get to know other designers, and to appreciate the projects from various points of view, with more than just a final photo of the result.

– Amber

My biggest impression at Lightfair was “who are these guys”? There were so many companies that I had never heard of. Seems like everyone sees this big market opportunity in LEDs, and if they can stick a chip into something and make it glow, they are a lighting company!

I was happy to see the development of small-aperture LED recessed fixtures with a choice of beam-spreads, as an alternative to MR halogen fixtures. They are still much more expensive, but the price should come down, and potential payback in energy savings can help. Of course, the lack of standardization in outputs and beam-spreads continues to be frustrating.

Speaking of lack of standards, let’s talk about controls. Unfortunately in this country there is no standard lighting control architecture or protocol. Add to this some really fascinating out-there control systems (low-voltage DC power, power-line carrier, wireless) and it gets really crazy. It will be interesting to see how this will settle out – but in the meantime, we’ve got to design control systems… sigh.

As usual I was disappointed by the lack of new, innovative fixture designs – sure, there were a few things, but none of my colleagues I bumped into were saying “you’ve got to go see this!”. And when it comes to LED (which is pretty much all anyone was showing), this means that I saw very few fixtures that took advantage of the unique form and electrical characteristics of LED. Sure, we need (cost-effective) LED downlights and troffers – but come on guys, use a little imagination!

– Glenn

Meh. Let me put my curmudgeon hat on:

Unfortunately, I feel this way more and more about each successive Lightfair I attend. Perhaps it’s because Lightfair happens too often (try a two-year rotation), but the last three I’ve seen have been dominated by the same theme: everyone trying to convert their standard products to LEDs. The problem is that LEDs are STILL only half-baked as replacements for standard sources and, until the industry agrees on some basic standards (like a replaceable LED module), it’s just the Wild West out there.

What’s more is that everyone is jumping on the bandwagon and copying everyone else. Where there were once two or three LED downlights, now there are 50, all making crazy claims of energy savings and unrealistic lifespans. The copy-catting was so bad this year that I had to walk up and down the aisles ignoring any company I hadn’t heard of before, because the probability is high that you won’t see them at the next Lightfair.

It’s not even a fad, it’s a frenzy. Most don’t even try to innovate – they just use the same old housings and stuff LEDs into them. Those that did their LED homework and are doing some ground-breaking stuff command some respect, and I was impressed to see their recent improvements. Still others, who have built their companies around standard light sources, are proceeding more cautiously, and I can respect them for that as well. But those that simply do it because everyone else is doing it – both specifiers and manufacturers – may end up getting burned in five years when everything needs to be replaced. There will be a glut of crap out there for several years to come. I’m not an LED hater. They have their time and place, but proceed with caution – now more than ever.

Curmudgeon hat off, optimist hat on:

I did see noted improvement in the more design-ey LED stuff. Some manufacturers have embraced the LED’s discreet nature and have developed fixtures around new forms. I saw some three-dimensional forms, curves, planes, stuff sandwiched between panes of glass, and other crazy shapes that really catch your eye (not like those that try to snare you into their booths by impairing your vision with LED headlights). That’s the kind of ingenuity we need to see.

As for controls, I saw a marked improvement in promotion of digital addressable systems, which are definitely game-changing technology. Just like for LEDs, there is currently no regulation or standardization out there, but those manufacturers that really get it are making significant headway. It’s a lot to sort out, but we’re finally seeing progress where for twenty years there had been none. Keep it coming.

– Matt

Image credit: LIGHTFAIR® International (photo by Lam Partners)

Season’s Energy Code Greetings

December 13, 2010 / no comments


With the onset of the holiday season, we have also come to the end of the three-year energy code development season. The new 2010 version of ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1 has been published, and IECC-2012 will be published in April 2011. (No, that’s not a typo. IECC-2012 will be published in 2011. Don’t ask, I have no idea.)

It will be a while – years, probably – before IECC-2012 is adopted by states, and at least a year before 90.1-2010 is incorporated into LEED, but the code development community is already looking towards the next versions of these model energy codes: 90.1-2013 and IECC-2015. So, while designers are currently practicing under energy codes that are at least three years old, code geeks have their heads three years in the future. So, what gifts might the next code development season bring us?

Watch the IECC

Historically, the IECC relied on 90.1 for energy code content. With IECC-2012, the IECC lighting section takes on a life of its own. Expect that trend to continue. While 90.1 will likely remain influential, since the IECC is the actual code that states adopt, the IECC may be where the action is in the future.

Stretch Your Codes

Energy codes only set a minimum acceptable performance (the worst possible building that you can legally build?). Institutions, corporations, and governments that understand this are looking for ways to push their energy use even lower. One way to do this is with “stretch codes” such as the Massachusetts Stretch Energy Code which has been adopted by over forty Massachusetts communities. This Stretch Code is an appendix to IECC-2009 that increases stringency.

Another way to go beyond the minimum is through green building codes such as the new International Green Construction Code (IGCC). Green building codes are intended to have energy performance provisions that are more stringent than base energy codes. Because of this, new energy regulation ideas are being proposed in the IGCC development process. Keeping an eye on the development of the IGCC’s energy chapter may give us an idea of what future energy codes will look like.

These advanced code programs, if adopted widely, will make the designer’s job more complex. Not only will they have to keep track of the applicable energy code in each state, but they will have to know if the municipality is using a stretch energy code or has adopted a green building code with its own separate energy provisions. And they may struggle to design to different and potentially conflicting requirements.

Squeeze Out More – a Lot More!

The pressure is on and will almost certainly continue for the energy codes to be more “efficient”. For the last code cycle, the goal was 30% more “efficient” than 90.1-2004. We don’t know what the target off of 90.1-2010/IECC-2012 will be, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a proposed target of 30%. Those of us who have been thinking about this don’t see how this will be possible with typical building technology, design solutions, and energy code methodology.

Lighting Power Density is currently the preeminent tool for regulating lighting energy use. The push for more efficiency in codes means pressure to lower LPDs even more. But barring an unforeseen leap in technology, we can probably only squeeze a little bit more out of LPDs if we are to maintain high-quality lighting. We may be able to eke out some more savings by expanding even further the requirements for occupancy sensors and daylight responsive controls. But how do we make big reductions – 30%, 50%, eventually all the way down to net-zero?! Daylighting.

In order to significantly reduce lighting energy use, we’re going to have to really use daylight to extensively light our buildings. If codes require this, a radical change in mindset will need to take place – resulting in major changes in building footprints, orientation, and envelope design.

Guaranteeing the Outcomes?

If energy codes are supposed to reduce building energy use, then shouldn’t we be directly regulating it? The common prescriptive code methods use blunt instruments such as LPDs, minimum equipment efficiencies, and R-values to affect how a building is designed. These methods do indirectly affect the energy use of the building, but the energy use itself (how the building is operated) is not regulated.

In an ideal world, the energy code should just tell us what the end result needs to be, and let us decide how to get there. Expect to hear more about EUI (Energy Use Intensity), measured in kBtu per square foot per year. An effective building energy performance-based code will require more robust, but easier to use, energy modeling software. It will also require a change in the way we design buildings – with a truly integrated design process where the whole design team is working together to get the most out of a limited building energy budget.

EUI may be the way to make the codes much more “efficient” and still allow high-quality buildings to be built – but many details, such as dealing with occupancy/operating hours, will have to be worked out. Look for energy codes to start requiring a building energy performance method for buildings of certain types or sizes.

Even if you perform complete energy modeling, and design to a specific annual building energy use limit, all you are doing is predicting how much energy the building will use on the day it opens, if properly commissioned and operated. Every lighting designer has their horror stories of carefully designed (and expensive!) lighting control systems that were never commissioned and/or operated correctly, leaving all the lights on, even when daylight is streaming in or when no one is around. The building meets energy code, but if it isn’t operated correctly and becomes an energy guzzler, then the code is ineffective. Realizing this, code geeks are starting to look at “outcome-based” codes.

An outcome-based code might require building owners to certify actual annual energy use. How will an outcome-based code be enforced? Will buildings someday need to get an annual energy certificate just like an elevator or health department inspection? And what would the penalties be for non-compliance? Will design professionals be held responsible for the performance of a building that they designed but do not operate?

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

As you can see, energy codes are likely to get tougher, get more complicated, and adopt unfamiliar new methods. Building design professional organizations such as the IALD, AIA, IES, and ASHRAE are all actively involved with energy code development. If you are interested in getting involved with code development and are a member of one of these organizations, you can contribute. Happy holidays!

Photo Credit: Phillie Casablanca