Strengthening a Relationship

August 27, 2012 / no comments

Lighting designers, at some point during a project, are going to interface with electrical engineers. Historically, this hasn’t always been an easy process for many reasons. Very often vagueness in scope and deliverables means frantic last-minute scrambles to fill in gaps in the lighting package by one or both disciplines. It also seems like the transfer of infomation back and forth between lighting designers and engineers suffers, particularly with regards to out-of-date architectural backgrounds. It’s not unusual for the engineer to receive them less than 2 weeks before final documents are due which is understandably a very uncomfortable situation.

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Interestingly, I have noticed that our office’s foray into Revit has provided a strengthening aspect to our relationships with electrical engineers. In an effort to better understand their Revit workflow, I have interviewed several engineers in my network and it has been an eye-opening experience. Quickly I understood how much additional, and unnecessary, work they must do when presented with a rudimentary lighting model in Revit. Like architects, most engineering firms have large libraries of families, including lighting fixture families. The difference is that, typically, architects’ families are simpler with little embedded parameter info (no offense, they just don’t need it for their work). This type of family forces the engineer to map all the architect’s fixture families to their own families that have the correct parameter info. This mapping procedure is time-consuming and prone to problems during the copy/monitor process.

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It became clear that if we can provide lighting models with fixture families that match the engineer’s family parameters, the entire mapping process can be eliminated. Furthermore, if we can include the electrical connector component, the workflow is improved even more.

While this may sound like more work for the lighting designer, it’s actually the same amount of information we’re expected to be providing in our fixture schedules, just in a different format. Taking the time to match and fill out the lighting fixture family parameters gives us more control over our specs and sets us up nicely for future Revit-based fixture schedules.

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Additionally, the improved relationship with the electrical engineers can result in their recommending us for future work because they can depend on a smoother transfer of information. This can also build trust and encourage more collaboration within the project team. My experience is that many electrical engineers welcome the opportunity to pass off work to lighting designers, therefore lighting designers that are willing to match their workflow would be more valuable.

Image Credits: Justin Brown/Lam Partners

Animation as a Lighting Design Tool

November 28, 2011 / no comments


No one can dispute that AGi32, Photoshop, and Illustrator are a lighting designer’s best friends, but as we strive to give clients more reasons to demand lighting design, we should be looking at new ways to convey lighting design’s importance.

Many visualization techniques have been adopted from architectural conventions, but, as we all know, light and lighting present different and unique challenges to representation. Given that light is immaterial, dynamic, and ephemeral, designing with light means contending with aspects of time, intensity, and gradients. All these elements elude the static formats of drawings or diagrams. Especially when it comes to daylighting, giving a client a complete idea of lighting performance in a space is almost impossible without resorting to a stupefying series of image after image, calc after calc.

Until a few years ago, animation or video seemed too expensive and impractical for all but the most critical circumstances. Today, however, these are becoming integral tools of our trade. Tools and techniques are becoming available that previously only highly skilled animators and film editors had at their disposal, and they are easier to use than ever before. Software like QuickTime and Photoshop allows easy access to impressive tools for composing ideas into dynamic form. More sophisticated software like After Effects and 3ds Max allows limitless possibilities. Documentation of elements in the analog environment can also be helpful and illuminating. Most digital cameras and phones have video capabilities, making it easy to spontaneously capture anything.

There are a range of out-of-the-box animation tools readily accessible today. Shadow studies are one of the most effective means of beginning a discussion about daylighting strategies with a client. These simple studies can be performed in any number of programs like Google SketchUp, AGi32 , or Revit. Photoshop and QuickTime have functions which allow the user to string a series of still images together to form an animation. For example, they can be used to show design variants, transitions from daylighting to electric lighting schemes, different lighting scenes over the course of a day or night, or the effects of colored light on a space. Programs like 3ds Max, DIVA-for-Grasshopper, and After Effects or Premiere allow even more options.

Another reason we should be looking to new methods of representation is that clients are desirous of information about performance and appearance. As the time of day changes, the lighting and the performance change. Being able to visually convey these changes is extremely helpful to clients, and is a service that other consultants may not be able to provide. Animation may even help us to provide lighting design services in new ways and to fill new market needs.

The economics of animation and video can still be a challenge. It is difficult to set aside time on a project to learn and employ new methods, but while we always have to keep the bottom line in mind, animation can be a more efficient way to convey information. The video format may elucidate questions the client hasn’t formulated or uncover costly issues that might otherwise come up later. Like the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” perhaps, literally and figuratively, a video is worth a thousand pictures.

While it is true that new technologies always involve some level of time invested in learning them, I would argue that it seems well worth it, given the obvious needs in our industry, and these new techniques may eventually make getting your point across to the client more timely and efficient. Animation can help build a client’s confidence in a design, and it can reveal lighting’s capacity to alter the feeling of a space dynamically, in ways that the client may not have imagined.

Image and video credits: Kera Lagios / Lam Partners

Lighting Design and Revit: Part 2

October 17, 2011 / no comments


Continued from Lighting Design and Revit: Part 1.

Earlier versions of Revit were not really optimized for use in a linked, work-sharing environment; even so, architects, engineers and other consultants in the design trades quickly recognized its value. Strategies for linking each other’s models together efficiently and effectively had to be worked out very early on in a project to keep the design process unimpeded. Later improvements in the software indicated that the developers were aware of the demand for better work-sharing tools and implementation. Now in version 2012, Revit has many new features and functions that greatly improve the ability to host elements to linked geometry.

This makes hosting light fixture families to the geometry of an architect’s model vastly easier, however, it also points out areas that still need attention, namely the fixture families themselves that manufacturers are making available. Previously, before work-sharing was prevalent, many lighting fixture manufacturers only offered ceiling- or wall-hosted families that would not work within a linked model. As it becomes understood that outside consultants now have the ability to host fixtures to linked models, manufacturers are beginning to offer face-based fixture families as well.

Despite all these recent improvements, there is still a tremendous amount of work to do and uncharted territory for lighting designers to navigate. Fixture families from outside sources almost always require modification, shared parameters need to be established with the electrical engineer, a usable fixture schedule needs to be generated, and in-house standards are needed that can be easily adapted for various projects – these are just a few examples. Each project team is still going to have a unique dynamic, with each team member offering different skills, so some flexibility is necessary to truly optimize workflow.

After recently completing what can be called our first Revit project, I realized that we provided all the same information to our client as with previous non-Revit jobs, but in a format that required a lot more upfront consideration and a more thorough understanding of the building’s geometry. Stepping back, I can see that our design is cohesive and well-considered; there’s a connectivity throughout that I think is due in part to the nature of the software.

Now to work on customization and templates to get Revit to better match our project management style!


Image credit: Jenny Cestnik


Lighting Design and Revit: Part 1

July 25, 2011 / no comments


Like it or not, BIM – by which I mean Revit – is here to stay. For smaller firms, Revit may represent a daunting hurdle to overcome, in terms of both cost and learning curve. While I agree the cost is high, once I began to understand how the software functions, I realized it actually forces the entire design team to work in a much closer and more collaborative way; in other words, more like how projects were done before computers.

While claiming that an expensive software platform can actually replicate the design process of yesteryear may seem like a bit of stretch, there are some interesting parallels. Revit functions as a stand-alone tool, but really shines when all the team members using it interact and communicate regularly. Until a project can live reliably on a cloud server so all team members can access the model simultaneously as originally intended, the various disciplines now work on separate models that get linked together on a regular basis to coordinate and resolve conflicts. This regular interaction enables team members to observe each other’s progress, gaining valuable intimacy with the entire project, not just his or her own area.

This current process works reasonably well for the main players on a project – the architect and MEP and structural engineers – but what about lighting, which is such a critical component of a successful project? Shouldn’t lighting also take advantage of Revit? How can a lighting design firm effectively interact in an increasingly BIM-oriented work environment?

As I quickly found out, nobody had really thought much about how smaller consultants could successfully provide Revit deliverables, so we continued to issue 2D CAD lighting layouts that were then recreated in the model by the architect. Eventually it became apparent that this method didn’t make sense, and we began to actively explore a simple and effective workflow with our clients using Revit.

Next month: Part 2.

Image credits: Jonathan LaRocca (1,2)