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Fiber Optic Skylight Illuminates Maryland's EnviroCenter

Fiber Optic Skylight Illuminates Maryland's EnviroCenter

A new fiber optic daylighting system brightens an architect's own green office building.

By By Jay W. Schneider, Senior Editor | August 11, 2010
This article first appeared in the 200804 issue of BD+C.
A pendant fixture over the EnviroCenter’s reception desk receives sunlight via fiber optics. Daytime light meter readings are around 41 foot candles. PHOTOS: ERIC G. HUFFMAN

A pendant light fixture trained on the building's reception desk dims as clouds pass overhead, then brightens again in full sunlight—an effect that never fails to surprise visitors to the EnviroCenter building in Jessup, Md.

“People are always very interested in where that light comes from,” says Stan Sersen, owner of the EnviroCenter and founder of ASG Inc., the architecture firm that developed and designed the 5,000-sf center. “It's pure, natural sunlight, and people are surprised it's not a typical light fixture.”

Not typical at all. The fixture's sole light source is the sun, and the undiluted daylight is delivered to the building's interior via thin fiber optic strands bundled into cables 6 mm in diameter. The cables are connected to an outside panel with 64 Fresnel lenses that track the sun throughout the day and act as magnifying lenses to focus and direct the light.
This is the first U.S. installation of the Parans Fiber Optic Skylight system, a technology developed in Sweden and now available stateside through Huvco Daylighting Solutions, Rohrersville, Md. (
The EnviroCenter's original wood-frame structure, built in 1905, started out as an office for a lumber yard and had been expanded several times over the years. Sersen purchased the property in 2004, tore down the additions, and incorporated the recycled material into the reconstructed EnviroCenter. The building's green features include natural ventilation, rainwater reclamation, photovoltaic panels, low-VOC products made from rapidly renewable resources, and, of course, daylighting.

Huvco was already supplying the center's daylighting tubes and shafts, so Huvco VP Eric G. Huffman felt confident approaching Sersen about trying the fiber optic system. Sure enough, the idea piqued Sersen's interest, and he installed one of the one-meter-square panels right outside the main entrance. “We wanted it to be front and center so everyone would see it,” says Sersen.

EnviroCenter tenants include the nonprofit Green Building Institute, an educational outreach organization that holds green building courses in the building, and four other companies involved in supplying solar, water, and wind energy.

While most of the tenant spaces are flooded with natural light, some interior locations needed a boost, including the reception area, interior offices, and the mechanical room. Since the exterior panel can accommodate four fiber optic cable connections up to 60 feet from the source, Sersen located the fixtures (of various styles) throughout the facility, snaking the cables through the walls and ceilings. “I used it in areas where you just can't get daylight tubes down to or where we didn't want to cut into the roof for the daylight shafts, which can take up valuable real estate,” says Sersen.

The EnviroCenter is currently undergoing a 15,000-sf expansion aimed at achieving a LEED Platinum rating. As before, the new fiber optic lighting will be part of the daylighting plan. “It fits right in with our mission,” says Sersen.

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