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A Crash Course in Lighting Science

With lighting evolving as quickly as other forms of technology, it’s important to keep a few key pieces of information in mind to create the best spaces possible.

06/02/2017 By Kadie Yale

Lighting plays a vital, yet sometimes overlooked, role in the transformation of an interior space. While a fixture may be aesthetically perfect in a room, failing to take into account the light it radiates can create bigger issues. “Traditionally some luminaires and lighting schemes have been designed from an aesthetic standpoint, with form arguably coming before function, or from a regulatory one, to ensure that they tick the boxes of regulations,” said Sam Bernard, Global Category director for Dyson Professional. “But this approach can leave the end user out of the picture, with problems such as glare from exposed light sources or a uniform blanket of light ‘bleaching out’ spaces.”

Robert Sonneman, CEO of SONNEMAN, stated, “Lighting is the universally essential element in any space, defining visibility and the emotional response to an environment. Critical attention to lighting design is essential to directing attention to key areas and focal points, receding less critical areas from the priority of view.

“The lighting scheme should be integral to the project scheme from first concept,” he added.

First Steps: When approaching a new project, pay special attention to where light and shadows exist throughout the day, and what the room will be used for. “Consider how the products will help achieve the type of light that will be optimum for the occupants of their space and their activities,” Bernard said. “It’s also important to consider whether the lighting scheme will offer flexibility for spaces which are used in different ways at different times throughout the day.” If possible, view the space during different times of day, taking note of how light filters through the windows throughout. Also keep in mind that the sun moves in the sky according to season—a space that provides nice natural light during the winter can be glaring in the summer.

Keep Wattage in Mind: Despite choosing a stunning lighting fixture for your design, not paying attention to the wattage can create lighting challenges. “An architect or designer could be picking out a 200 watt beautiful, decorative chandelier, but it’s going to be over the watts required for that specific room type,” said Lauren Roberts, LC, EDAC, IES, Healthcare Market Development manager for Visa Lighting. “In certain spaces, like corridors, decorative lighting is going away because you’re only allowed a certain watt per square foot. It’s hard to get to that wattage with decorative fixtures.”

Roberts’ suggestion: “If you’re meeting your wattage required and have a little extra room, then you should put in decorative lighting, but they have to work together with the functional lighting that’s needed in each space.”

Lighting has a Significant Effect on Health: “People are now starting to recognize that light is effectively a drug,” Bernard said. “It can directly influence your physical and mental wellbeing.” For Dyson, the future of lighting lies in wellness. Nav Sooch, CEO of Ketra, a natural light and integrated control system company, and Shant Madjarian of Juniper Lighting agree on this. “There is technology that can change the temperature of the lights in response to the time of day,” Madjarian explained. “This can help improve productivity and mental health by matching ambient light with our natural circadian rhythm.”

Sooch added, “Lighting impacts our health and enjoyment of a space more than just about any other factor.” Throughout the day, natural lighting provides a spectrum of wavelengths, resulting in subtle changes in color: Light in the middle of the day contains more blue energy, while it is more orange at night.

However, because of an increase of screens in our environment—which emit a blue light—circadian lighting is important in helping us wind down at the end of the day. “You need blue light to be taken away so your body starts producing melatonin to allow you to rest,” he noted. The Circadian Stimulus Score (CS Score) was created to more easily determine how well a lighting source is able to simulate natural lighting.

Color Temperature Sets the Tone: In addition to the importance of light color to one’s health, specifying the correct color temperature for a space sets the tone and can eliminate any issues in visibility. “You wouldn’t do an exam room in a warm light because you lose visual acuity when you’re trying to see the patient,” Roberts said. “However, you would want to use warm light in family areas, waiting spaces, places like that.”

Madjarian added that one downside of integrating new lighting technologies is that, when color is disregarded, it can look too uptight. “It is important to note that technology should not, and does not, substitute good design, nor should lighting that adopts new technology feel techy or sterile,” he explained. “This actually presents an opportunity for us in the design industry to combine craft and Old World influences with the technologies that are guiding the industry to create functional lighting with a strong underlying aesthetic narrative.”

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