Improving light quality evident in emerging LED-based projects (MAGAZINE)

Feb. 25, 2020
Designers and specifiers have an incredibly diverse set of options in solid-state lighting (SSL) products these days — small form factor, improved quality of light, and controllability. MAURY WRIGHT surveys projects across the application spectrum.

We’ve been championing the theme for more than a year now that better light quality is incredibly important — to those who live and work under artificial lighting and to those manufacturers and designers/specifiers running businesses in the LED era. The LED’s unique characteristics as a small, mostly directional source presented the solid-state lighting (SSL) community real challenges as prior technologies produced blobs of omnidirectional light. We believe that the industry is learning to harness the LED and to value LED components that enable higher-quality light output. To truly show the range of what’s being done indoors, we decided to use this roundup to feature a broad set of application scenarios set all over the globe. Both the products in these application scenarios and the design techniques in play reveal the best in SSL.

St. Peter’s Basilica

We will start with what is perhaps the highest profile indoor lighting project of the last several years, the retrofit of lighting in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, Rome, Italy. Planning and execution of the project took several years and was finally revealed in early 2019. The project was incredibly important and also problematic for many reasons. The Basilica is among the most treasured churches anywhere, especially for practitioners of Catholicism. The facility is huge, measuring 22,000m2 with very high ceilings and an unusual floorplan with a number of large naves. And the Basilica is home to historic art from Michelangelo, Bernini, and more. Indeed, while caretakers of the Basilica hoped to save energy with the retrofit, energy efficiency was a secondary consideration to exposing the fine details in the architecture and art. For example, the mosaics are said to now reveal detail never seen before. Osram developed a custom luminaire for the project and installed 780 of them throughout the Basilica, all connected with a network capable of autonomous and programmatic control. “We are very proud of this lighting masterpiece in St. Peter’s Basilica,” said Olaf Berlien, CEO of Osram Licht AG. “The project demonstrates just how history and high tech can be combined in the best possible way by using the right expertise. More than 500 years of history are now being bathed in digitally-controlled LED light.” Even with fewer luminaires installed after the retrofit, the system is capable of far greater lumen output relative to the legacy lighting. But the controls set levels appropriate to the activity at hand. And for special services such as Christmas Eve, the lighting enables higher-quality HDTV broadcasts. As for viewing the art, Osram before and after photos tell the story clearly. The lighting even eliminates shadows on the circular inscriptions carved into the wall below cornices. It turns out the project has delivered 85–90% energy savings when the controls are added to the evaluation. And visitors can easily see mosaics that were simply not visible before.

Fiat Chrysler automotive factory

How, you may ask, can we smoothly transition from a passage focused on St. Peter’s Basilica to one focused on automotive and truck manufacturing plants owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA)? Well, quality of light matters a lot in many manufacturing applications and perhaps in automotive manufacturing more than most. The vehicles move along the production line where workers must correctly install and inspect various elements while making sure not to damage the vehicle in any way. Both high light levels and excellent color rendering come into play, and both of those characteristics equate to lower efficacy in general. Still, better energy efficiency was a goal for FCA. The company hoped to slash energy usage by 50% and perhaps even more through the use of networked controls. “Making the move now to the most advanced LED lights with wireless control capabilities gives us the ability to track our real-time consumption and react, respond, and customize our energy use quicker than ever before,” said Kevin Dunbar, corporate energy manager at FCA. “LEDs also mimic natural light, which has shown to increase our employees’ comfort and productivity. This transition is just one element that helps modernize our operations while also reducing our environmental footprint and operational costs.” FCA has transitioned more than half of its North American facilities to SSL using high-bay fixtures from GE Current. The company has also retrofitted many of its corporate-owned dealerships with LEDs, which can save energy and make the autos pop during a customer visit.

Michael Best Law Firm tunable SSL

How does quality of light impact an office space? Many students and workers in commercial spaces have been stuck with very poor linear fluorescent lighting for years, with building owners and facility managers prioritizing energy efficiency and up-front cost as far more valuable than truly comfortable lighting. We believe that trend is in the early stages of change as business owners learn that quality lighting can boost productivity in the employee force and increase the overall sense of wellbeing among employees. The Washington, DC law firm Michael Best LLC believed in the potential quality of lighting when it decided to relocate two local offices and consolidate the employees in one new office. The firm chose space at the hopping District Wharf development on the waterfront with lifestyle possibilities that pleased employees choosing to live nearby. The office also had floor-to-ceiling windows for plenty of natural light and the firm charged contractor Harvey-Cleary builders to install tunable lighting that enabled the white spectra from the artificial light to more closely match the daylight. The contractor worked with architect One Source Associates to deploy a Hubbell SpectraSync system and a variety of Hubbell SSL products. Now lighting spectra in work spaces is set programmatically based on time of day and year, although employees can override the system locally — for example, choosing a cooler spectral power distribution (SPD) for an afternoon meeting where rapt attention is required. The nearby images show the coolest setting called Focus and a mid-level warm setting called Calm.

Herstedlund Primary School

Similar techniques are being applied in schools as what is generally called lighting for health and wellbeing, or human-centric lighting. The theory is that cooler blue energy energizes in the morning and warm energy late in the day prepares a human for proper rest. Research is ongoing, as we’ve covered before, and there are many trial installations around the world. You can learn more in coverage from our Lighting for Health and Wellbeing conference. Zumtobel has supplied tunable lighting technology to the new primary school in Albertslund, Denmark. The lighting manufacturer worked with researchers from the University of Aalborg and other partners to develop the school system. Generally, teachers use a cooler SPD first thing in the morning to give the students an energy boost. Later in the morning, the SPD is warmed — for example, providing more visual comfort for classes that make use of a whiteboard. The teachers often return to the cooler SPD to get through the lunch lull and then warm the lighting later in the day. In the Zumtobel project, usage patterns by teachers and behavioral patterns among students were studied in detail once the system was in place. The teachers did actively use the system whereas some early tunable platforms were deemed simply too complicated by teachers. The students adapted to changes in the lighting spectra as a demarcation point for changes in activity. And qualitatively, the system seemed to improve wellbeing and sleep patterns.

22 Bishopsgate London

Of course, paying attention just to lighting in building out a space is not sufficient to guarantee that occupants of the space will be comfortable, especially in commercial settings comprising many floors in a high rise and a relatively dense population of workers. Real estate developer and manager AXA IM is behind the 278m tower that will offer 130,000m2 of space in London. The building was approached holistically from an employee wellbeing perspective with a gym and climbing window on level 25 and a wellbeing retreat on level 41. AXA IM has applied for Delos WELL Building recognition — the first UK-based developer to do so. As we have written, top levels of WELL require high-quality lighting but also elements such as handling to optimize air quality. The lighting is also top quality. Custom-fixtures manufactured by Future Designs yielded the planar recessed linear luminaires that the company designed in conjunction with engineering firm HDR | Hurley Palmer Flatt and 22 Bishopsgate’s architects PLP. The air handling system was handled by a consultancy called BSRIA and documented to meet WELL requirements.

The Kape Dubai Design District

Whereas in projects such as the prior Bishopgate building, SSL fixtures are often intended to be unnoticed — hiding in plain sight, if you will, but delivering pleasing quality light. Other applications such as high-end retail often want luminaires in a space to make a bold statement, such as in The Kape female fashion store located in the Dubai Design District. Dubai, of course, has become one of the truly avant-garde cities in the world. So it’s not surprising to see a fashion store with a unique look. Italian design studio Superfuturedesign was behind the project and Buzzi & Buzzi provided the luminaires. The studio intended a minimalist space with expressiveness in furniture and fittings. The luminaires are intended to be clearly visible in the space and to put the best possible light on the goods for sale and on customers being fitted with a product. The Q2 track luminaires lead the way with mechanical components accentuated and flexibility in the size of the mounting arm and the optics. The retail store can adapt the lighting to new arrivals.

Little Rock middle school

The allure of bold, in-your-face LED lighting, however, is not limited to high-end retail stores where most of us will never visit. Increasingly, designers and specifiers are seeking to create some buzz in much more mundane spaces such as the Joe T. Robinson Middle School in Little Rock, AR. While there are probably worthy task and ambient lighting stories in the project, designers from WER Architects/Planners sought to really make the public areas of the school stand out and relied on geometric principles and innovative luminaires from A-Light (part of The Luminaires Group and now owned by Acuity). The architecture was amenable to making a statement with high ceilings and an open feel. “We were looking for a way to add interest to the large expanse of ceiling and A-Light’s products enabled us to create a one-of-a-kind-effect in the large open space,” said Russel Fason, principal at WER Architects/Planners. The luminaire customized for installation in the lobby and staircase area is a prime example. The design transitions from wall mount, to suspended mount, or surface mount yet provides a clean, unified effect, and light direction transitions with the changes in the luminaires.

Carné Bakery, Terrassa, Spain

Turning to the hospitality space, restaurants, especially smaller venues, present a unique challenge for lighting. Designers want to make a space look as inviting as possible, leading to lower light levels and maybe warmer CCT for ambience, while also allowing customers to clearly see what they order and experience the allure of the meal on the plate. The Carné Bakery in Terrassa, Spain was especially challenged because the fast-casual establishment had a counter near the front of the space, and a narrow passage back into the dining space. Spanish manufacturer Lamp S.A. sought to provide lighting at the counter that clearly revealed the bakery products, a linear luminaire connecting the front and the back, and theme lighting in the sitting area with Bluetooth controls capability. The designer still used a relatively warm 2700K CCT color temperature in the front, saying it best matched the colors in the bread products. LED strips provide supplemental lighting. The transition area features a linear run of Lamp’s Ocult Systems. In the rear, Lamp developed a custom planar skylight using a material called Barrisol Stretched Ceiling. The luminaire utilizes Bluetooth Low Energy controls and can be programmed to CCTs between 2700K to 6500K. Meanwhile, bakers’ tools are used to hide some of the task lighting and recycled plastic bottles were used in the wall treatments. Interior design was done by Xavi Anglada.

T. rex at the Chicago Field Museum

We will finish up this article somewhat near where we started — lighting historical works and figures and fossils. Indeed, the St. Peter’s project is probably more significant in terms of lighting art than of lighting space. Sue, the T. rex fossil went back on display at the Chicago Field Museum last year after a move into the new Griffin Halls of Evolving Planet and an LED lighting retrofit by Xicato. SSL has been a runaway success in museum lighting because it better renders intricate details of paintings and specimens. Moreover, the SPD does not generally degrade works on exhibit. The Field Museum was one of the first museums that we covered using LED lighting all the way back in 2010. Today most all museum lighting is SSL. Just recently, we covered a project at the Spanish Guggenheim museum. Back to Sue, though, the 40-ft fossil is the largest, mostly intact dinosaur specimen in the world. And now visitors can more fully appreciate the specimen. The new lighting is based on Xicato LED light engines with integrated Bluetooth controls. Xicato worked with theatrical-lighting firm ETC to create a dynamic show with Sue as the central character. LSI provided the luminaires that house the Xicato light engines, which have long been known for high-quality light and for color consistency.