Project Profile: Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

October 22, 2012 / no comments


The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts houses a state-of-the-art concert hall and
performing arts theater, wrapped by a soaring glass-enclosed lobby.

A striking new addition to the Kansas City skyline, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts houses a state-of-the-art concert hall and performing arts theater, wrapped by a soaring glass-enclosed lobby. Safdie Architects worked with BNIM Architects to design the approximately 285,000 square-foot structure. In addition to beautiful performance spaces, the Kauffman Center also contains offices, rehearsal space, warm-up rooms, and dressing rooms.

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Basic Sustainable Lighting Concepts: On Lighting Controls

September 26, 2011 / no comments

Part 4 of an ongoing series outlining design principles for sustainable lighting design: here are a few ideas regarding daylighting, to help navigate the greenwash.


Controls: use them!

It’s really not acceptable to use simple switches and whole-floor relays anymore. Some energy codes may still allow it, but that doesn’t mean it’s good practice. Have you ever walked around a city at night and looked up at the skyscrapers to see entire floors, or even whole buildings, with all the lights on late at night? Chances are there are only a handful of people there, or none at all. Sensor technology has improved a lot over the years and should be applied liberally to take care of all those lights that no one is there to use. It not only saves electricity, but the time, effort, and additional energy it takes to replace lamps that burned out too soon from overuse.

Make sure you use sensors correctly, too. If a sensor is placed behind a bookshelf, it’s doing no good back there. If you put one right in front of a door and the light stays on all the time, how it that helping? There are a few simple tricks that the manufacturers can educate you about to create good sensor design.

And, consolidate your sensors. Most sensors can be used for both lighting control and HVAC control. Instead of two sensors in a space, use one.

K.I.S.S. – keep it simple, stupid!

Lighting controls can be daunting. Even the simplest systems have gadgets, widgets, and enough wiring diagrams to make the savviest engineer’s eyes go crossed. When selecting the system you want to use, make sure that price isn’t your only deciding factor – consider how easy it is to design, install, and program. Making people’s lives easier will result in a higher probability of your controls design being implemented the way you designed it.

Minimize the amount of wiring you need to make your system work correctly. Wiring in any given building can add up to hundreds or even thousands of miles, if you tied it together and stretched it out. Any way to reduce that raw material used (and the energy used to make it) helps. If one system uses 40% less branch wiring than another, consider it.

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)

A DALI Checklist: Things to Keep in Mind

January 5, 2011 / no comments

DALI checklist_lam.jpg

DALI is one of the latest buzz words in the lighting industry. Widely used in Europe, DALI is still in its infancy in the U.S., even though it was first introduced in the late ’90s. DALI stands for “digital addressable lighting interface”, a control protocol based on digital commands that are sent between ballasts and the control system. DALI has many benefits which make it a very attractive system for commercial lighting applications, however, there are a number of things to keep in mind when designing a DALI system.

How does DALI work? DALI is a standard digital communication protocol which allows DALI-compliant devices, regardless of manufacturer, to talk to one another. These devices include controllers, ballasts, switches and sensors. Since DALI is an open protocol rather than a proprietary system, there are a number of ballast manufacturers and control companies that offer DALI products.

A DALI system can include up to 64 individual DALI devices on a single loop, with each device having its own address. DALI ballasts can be individually configured, and that custom configuration resides in the electronics within the ballast itself. DALI ballasts are able to set light levels, fade time and fade rate, and individual address. These ballasts are able to be configured as part of multiple lighting scenes which can be selected by wallbox control devices or a central control system.

DALI ballasts feature two-way communication, which means that they receive digital signals from the control system telling them how to operate, while also allowing the ballast to provide feedback through the network, for instance, indicating if the ballast is on or off, how much energy it is using, and whether the lamp and ballast are functioning.

DALI systems have many attributes which make them worthy of consideration for commercial applications:

  • With DALI, wiring is easier than in a traditional system and there is less of it. The electricians don’t have to care about how they circuit the fixtures. They just run power to fixtures the easiest way they can until they load up a circuit. Fixtures are controlled solely through the digital control wire, which can also be run arbitrarily to each device.
  • The ballasts are individually addressable, allowing for control zones to be configured in the field – rather than on paper, prior to construction. Because control zones are not hard-wired, they can be easily reconfigured based on real usage. Programming zones and scenes is done through software, regardless of how the fixtures are circuited.
  • DALI ballasts can be tied into Building Management Systems, which can monitor energy usage and identify lamp failures, making DALI an ideal system for clients interested in sustainability.
  • DALI ballasts can dim to 1% for linear lamps and 3% for compact fluorescent lamps – this is of particular interest when considering daylight dimming along perimeter zones.

While there are quite a few positive features to a DALI system, there are a number of things to keep in mind when designing such a system:

  • At the moment, there are a limited number of ballast types available. While the choices are vast in Europe, as of this writing, U.S. manufacturers only offer DALI ballasts for four-foot linear fluorescent lamps (T8, T5, and T5H0), two-foot T5 lamps, 18/26/32-watt quad- and triple-tube compact fluorescent lamps, and 40-watt biax lamps. There are no manufacturers in the U.S. currently offering a three-foot linear fluorescent DALI ballast. This proves problematic if designing continuous coves or slots, which can require three-foot units to make up a continuous lighted run.
  • Something else to consider is the inability to locate a DALI-compliant ballast remotely. Lighting fixtures are becoming smaller and smaller due to the demands of both designers and architects, and in some cases the ballasts just don’t fit inside the fixture housings. For a DALI system, designers can select only fixtures with integral ballasts, because as of this writing, DALI ballasts cannot be located outside the fixture.
  • Another factor is that many people are hesitant about implementing a DALI system because they just don’t know enough about how it works. There is the notion that a DALI system will cost more than a traditional system, however, one must consider the lower cost of installation and simplified wiring configurations.

While DALI might not be right for every application, and it does indeed have some drawbacks, the time might be right for more DALI installations in the U.S., and perhaps the U.S. ballast manufacturers will soon start developing and offering more options for DALI ballast/lamp combinations – especially when it comes to three-foot lamps!

Photo Credit: © Carlene Geraci/Lam Partners

The Rise of DALI – again?

June 22, 2009 / no comments

More often than not, if you ask a lighting designer or engineer what DALI is and if they specify it, you’ll get a puzzled look or a chuckle. Some designers are dipping their toes in the pond, but most are waiting to see what the other guys are doing, not wanting to be the first for fear of getting burned on an unproven technology. The truth is, however, that while the U.S. has been plodding along with good old switching relays, 0-10V, and line-voltage dimming, the European design community has already taken lighting control into the digital age and embraced DALI as the preeminent, universal lighting control language.

While those traditional technologies are tried and true, complacency does not constitute a reason to ignore a proven system which has the potential to save time, money, and energy, while increasing beneficial functionality. Here are a few points that examine why DALI has potential and why we aren’t using it enough.

First though, we need to know what exactly DALI is. DALI (not Salvador Dalí) stands for “Digital Addressable Lighting Interface”, and is basically the computer language that devices send and respond to, kind of like Morse code for lighting. The DALI control signals are transmitted over two low-voltage wires that connect to each DALI ballast or relay, each of which has a unique address. Control commands are sent out over the wires to tell individual devices or groups of devices to turn on and off, dim up and down, etc. The devices even have the ability to report back to the controller indicating a lamp failure or how much power they are using. This kind of send-and-receive communication is analogous to a teacher (controller) and classroom full of students (ballasts and relays). The teacher gives instructions to the students (which they obediently obey), and each can answer questions when called on.

What does DALI have that your current controls systems don’t have?

DALI systems can use up to 60% less branch wiring than traditional controls

That’s a strong assertion, but if you lay out the wiring for a traditional system and measure it, for any typical room you would see that by the time those switch legs go down and back up the wall and then out to each controlled zone you have quite a bit of wire. Don’t forget to consider the conduit – lots of metal! Now, if you lay out the same space with a DALI system, you simply don’t have all those switch legs to contend with. The branch circuit flies into the room from the adjacent space, hits each light fixture or addressable relay, and continues on to the next room. All switching and dimming is done in the ceiling at each fixture, not in a wallbox or remote cabinet. While there is some control wiring that connects all the controlled fixtures into a loop, that wiring can be Class 2, run without conduit, (or Class 1 that runs in the same conduit – still cost less than switch legs) and results in much less material, labor, and cost.

DALI wiring diagram

DALI is based on an open protocol

Using an open protocol means that anyone can develop their own DALI devices, ballasts, relays, sensors, etc. The programming language is freely available to anyone that wants it.

That also means that it has the potential to be a universal language for the lighting industry (as has happened already in the EU), so Brand X DALI light fixtures will work with Brand Y DALI control systems. You don’t need to worry about compatibility and which type of dimmer to use anymore.

DALI is easy to specify

Whether the lighting designer or engineer does it, someone has to figure out which traditional dimming ballast or transformer to use with which traditional dimmer. With DALI, it’s simply DALI – DALI ballasts with DALI controllers. Most of the major ballast and gear manufacturers have DALI ballasts already available, and their product offerings continue to expand. Even better, most ballasts, DALI or otherwise, are now universal voltage – you don’t even need to coordinate that!

The proliferation of DALI will also allow for three-name ballast specifications again, unlike the forced specification of a proprietary technology caused by no two systems being alike.

DALI is easy to install

A light fixture gets power (120 or 277 volts – it doesn’t matter as far as the control is concerned) and control wires – that’s it. The rest is in the programming. The control wires are polarity-free, so it’s virtually impossible to wire a fixture incorrectly, unless you forget to. Once contractors understand how easy the installation really is, and they get past the “new technology” hesitation, they should be jumping for such an easy system. Some already have.


So why hasn’t the U.S. embraced this technology yet? Some of the reasons are more complex than others, but there are many possibilities:

Lack of specifier demand

This is simply a chicken-or-the-egg question. If specifiers don’t know about it or don’t understand it, how would they know to ask for it?

The perceived complexity of digital communication and control is something that might be hard for specifiers to wrap their heads around. It’s certainly a lot different from switching and dimming line voltage we’ve been using for the past 40 years. Since there are few manufacturers with front end systems, thus far, education has been lax.

Manufacturer hesitation

For the same reason that specifiers are hesitant to specify it before the competition weathers the “new technology” first, manufacturers are wary of investing in the development of a new system that is so different from what they already offer. They want someone else to do it first to see if it takes off or flops.

There are a few manufacturers that have come up with quasi-digitally-based systems but they’re mostly proprietary, operate in different ways (i.e. cannot be listed as equals), and usually end up converting a digital signal to analog. Unless these systems permeate throughout the industry, their fate will be to persist as a minority, or they will cease to exist.

Sometimes DALI is even discredited as “slow”, “old”, and “expensive”, rejected for specific business interests and investments in competing technologies. A lot of time and money has gone into developing all those other control systems, and to simply adopt DALI, the universal open protocol, would almost certainly cut into profit margins. This may be the single biggest hesitation factor in the U.S.

So what’s next for DALI? Will it ever fully take off in the U.S.? There certainly is vast potential for any manufacturer that wants to take up the technology. It makes sense from so many angles, and if we could just get everyone to agree to adopt it we’d really have something, but that’s a bit like herding cats – good luck!

Photos credit: Matt Latchford / Lam Partners Inc