How quality lighting design can transform your space

When it comes to lighting, there’s the good, bad and the ugly. It can be difficult to feel the difference unless there’s a side-by-side comparison, says Sean Keenan, associate principal and chief electrical engineer at Bialosky Cleveland. Temperature, intensity and the blend of electrical and natural light can dramatically impact your employees and customers.

“Studies show that natural light directly influences productivity, wellness and mood” Keenan says. “Light that is too bright or too dim can fatigue your eyes, making it uncomfortable to work. You may not notice it when you first walk in, but you and your employees will after a couple of eight-hour days.”

Both interior lighting and exterior lighting have profound impacts on how we experience space. Light can help direct movement, such as wayfinding, or create shadows and silhouettes that add depth to architectural features. Whatever the application, a successful lighting design should serve the end user while reinforcing the intent of the architecture.

Smart Business spoke with Keenan about the importance of quality lighting design.

What are the current lighting trends for commercial and workplace environments?
Up until recently, calculations for fixtures, distribution and lighting levels were based on horizontal surfaces, such as desks and tables. A shift in how we work is causing vertical lighting to become deeply important.

Employees use pen and paper far less than their predecessors, and therefore look down at their desk less often. They focus on vertical surfaces like computer screens or people’s faces. Light can be used purposefully, with low ambient lighting and task lighting that people can turn on and off.

Many building designs today employ a vast amount of glass in an effort to use natural light, which creates a welcoming, healthy and productive space. One technique is daylight harvesting, where artificial lights dim or turn off once the natural light reaches a certain threshold.

When traditional skylights or windows aren’t viable, tubular daylighting devices, or ‘light tubes,’ pull daylight into interior spaces with the help of reflectors.

For all commercial construction projects, stricter energy codes mandate reduced energy for lighting, and vary by state and building type. Lighting fixtures are already about as efficient as possible, with regards to lumens per watt or light per unit of energy, so designs are reflecting this need for lower energy. In addition, if a renovation changes more than 10 percent of the building’s lighting, everything must be brought up to code.

Why does lighting design often get changed from the plans?
Even after the design is finalized, the owner and/or contractor will look to reduce the budget, which is called a ‘valued-added engineering’ effort. Lighting is usually the primary candidate for scaling back, which drastically compromises performance. A less expensive fixture probably isn’t equal in light output or color temperature.

On smaller projects, substitutions may even happen without an owner’s approval.

It is important to consider both cost and value. Cheaper fixtures often lead to higher energy bills and more frequent maintenance — all hidden costs for owners that aren’t apparent upfront. Lighting professionals can educate owners about the thought behind the design — distribution patterns, vertical surfaces, source types, lensing, trying to conceal sources, etc. It’s best to discuss this early with your designer to avoid adding time and work to the project.

How can building owners, employers and designers explore and experiment with lighting qualities?
While a design can be calculated and modeled, it’s very important to actually experience the lighting. In a lighting lab, light can be adjusted with different correlated color temperatures (CCT) and color rendering indexes (CRI), which could increase the space’s visual acuity.

You can clearly see the difference between a low and high CRI, for example, or bring in materials and paint to test how they look under the prescribed lighting conditions. Such an exercise can truly be eye opening and help individuals understand the value of a quality lighting design.

Insights Architecture & Design is brought to you by Bialosky Cleveland