Illuminating applications

Three projects illustrate how energy-conscious lighting can showcase design details
August 11, 2010

If a firm designs a great building and no one notices, does it matter? Brilliant details may not be visible if they are hidden in shadow. Lighting that is so intense that it repels the eyes, or causes the building owner to turn off the switch after he receives his first electric bill, is also unsatisfactory. Good lighting design can make building design and execution matter by showing people what to see.

Well-designed lighting need not overpower the senses or be expensive to operate. The design teams of three new buildings weighed numerous options before specifying lighting that enhances their projects.

Subtle lighting invites closer inspection

Designers of the new headquarters building of the California Environmental Protection Agency in downtown Sacramento had two key goals for its lighting plan: Give the building a nighttime presence, and conserve energy.

"The concept was one of highlighting a couple of specific elements that became integral to the architecture," explains Kenneth Lewis, president of Los Angeles-based A/E AC Martin Partners. Francis Krahe & Associates (FKA) of Laguna Beach, Calif., was the headquarters' lighting designer.

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs), arranged in a pattern, highlight the exterior of the building's top six floors. Approximately 100 of the circular, 21/2-in.-diameter LEDs are used, according to John Fox, an associate with FKA.

LEDs have the advantages of requiring no enclosure and nothing that can burn out. They can exceed 100,000 hours of use under normal conditions. "They'll last as long as the building," Fox observed. "The electronics that operate the system are the only thing that could fail."

Fox notes that LED technology originated in the electronics field. It was initially used for applications such as readouts on equipment and auto dashboards. Today's LEDs are able to produce 10 times more light than earlier versions.

The LEDs also use a minimal amount of electricity-an appropriate feature for a building that houses the offices of a state environmental protection agency.

"The subtle, sophisticated treatment of the exterior night lighting contrasts with the simplistic approach of just blasting with light," says Lewis. "The result is a building that draws interest from a distance but is not understood until one is more at close range."

The lighting system is one of a number of energy-saving techniques designed into the building that make it 25 percent more efficient than California's Title 24 energy regulations require. "Lighting, daylighting and mechanical system design have to be looked at as a collective idea," Lewis adds.

Control options: Sophisticated to simple

Efficient lighting goes beyond the use of efficient products. It also involves selecting the most appropriate technology, even if that consists of a simple on/off switch instead of an electronic dimmer.

This is the route being taken by consulting firm Steven Winter Associates Inc. (SWA), architect Polshek Partnership and engineer Flack & Kurtz Inc. in designing the 47,000-sq.-ft. extension of the New York (City) Hall of Science. Office spaces will have automated controls that provide continuous daylight dimming down to 28 percent of power in windowed offices, and offices will have occupancy sensors.

The permanent exhibit space, on the other hand, will use on/off daylighting controls. Dimming is not needed in these areas because a semitransparent roof provides ample light. Electronic dimming ballasts for the offices, while an energy saver, also are much more expensive than on/off switches. "You don't need to do the dimming if you always have enough light," says SWA principal Adrian Tuluca.

The permanent exhibit space is being designed as an open, airy venue, where shadows are allowed to roam and light can work naturally. Visitors will feel like they're outdoors even when they're not, making their experience more enjoyable. "What they have here is something quite extraordinary because in most museums the curators and the exhibit designers insist on having a very controlled lighting environment," says Tuluca, adding that this is sometimes necessary to protect exhibits from ultraviolet light. "What you get is a tomb-like environment that really gets on your nerves after a couple minutes," he says.

Not here. At the New York Hall of Science expansion, visitors will feel the aesthetic effects of good lighting choices, office employees will work comfortably and productively, and the facilities team will relax in an easy-to-maintain, cost-effective environment.

Good lighting enhances aesthetics

When a goal of a building design is to pay homage to its setting, the lighting system must respect both the building and the environment.

Such is the case at the Greenbelt Cultural Center, a 7,300-sq.-ft. multipurpose facility in North Chicago, Ill. It was designed to complement its natural setting and to provide functional, flexible space, says Siva K. Haran, lighting designer and electrical engineer with Chicago-based Teng & Associates, the project's architect and engineer.

Recessed, ground-mounted metal halide lamps along exterior walls create a light-and-shadow display. "We wanted to bring out the true texture of the exterior of the building," Haran explains. An incandescent source could have been chosen to bring out the color of the stone, but the metal halides were much more energy efficient, he says. The metal halides also bring out the warm nature of the stone.

Inside the building, cove and general lighting give directional cues while low-voltage suspended track lights accentuate the exhibits. "The inside lighting in the gallery is state-of-the-art," says Greenbelt manager Chris Ayers. "All our artists have remarked about how the lighting helps to bring out the colors in their paintings. The small design makes them almost disappear and keeps the focus where it should be-on the artwork."

In the multipurpose hall, lighting integrates well with design features such as high ceilings and a wall of windows. Pendant fluorescent fixtures with electronic dimmable ballasts illuminate evenly, while supplying the flexibility the room requires. They're also energy-efficient.

Center designers proved that good lighting can enhance the aesthetics of a building without losing sight of energy efficiency. Good lighting does not have to be a proposition of obtaining either aesthetics or cost-effectiveness. Lighting technologies have come a long way, and continue to advance. With so many options available, it is possible to obtain products that are appropriate for both design and energy goals.

Maureen Patterson is a freelance writer based in Iowa City, Iowa.

         
 

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