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Great lighting design—a key to an immersive experience and occupant well-being

February 27, 2020

By Rachel Fitzgerald

When working as part of a collaborative team, lighting designers can maximize the overall impact and functionality of building projects

Nothing makes—or breaks—a mood like lighting. It plays a vital role in the way we experience and navigate the built environment. Whether an interior space is lit naturally or artificially, light is the medium that draws attention to colors, textures, and forms. It sets the emotional tone for a space.

Great lighting isn’t just about decorative fixtures, wattage consumption, or buzzwords like “circadian.” It’s about achieving the right balance between aesthetics, function, and efficiency while complementing and enhancing the overall design vision.

While interior designers have an appreciation for lighting, sometimes the design team starts working with a lighting manufacturer’s rep only after the design concept is fully baked. The problem with this approach is that we are missing opportunities to maximize the impact of our designs.

Collaborative work spaces in the Xero headquarters in Denver, Colorado, have light features that build on the firm’s brand—highlighting “X” patterns.

The solution? Meet your new best friend: the lighting designer. By involving a lighting design pro in the early stages of the design process, the results can be transformational for your project.

Drawing on my experience as a senior lighting designer, I can attest to the power of a collaborative approach from the onset of a project. As the following examples illustrate, integrating the lighting designer early on can help you maximize the wow factor of a design, create a more immersive experiential design, and support better occupant health and well-being—all within the project’s budget.

We harmonized the lighting systems with the space’s layout to support different levels of activity and work styles.

Empowering a next-generation tech workforce

To attract and keep top talent in today’s wildly competitive job market, our clients at the global tech company Xero understood that their workplace needed to do more than provide basic functionality. Together, we sought to create a headquarters space that would empower their team to do their job when, where, and how it best suited them.

Recognizing that light plays such a huge part of smart, people-centered design and impacts everything from health and wellness to productivity, we teamed the lighting and interior design from the start. Understanding what the team at Xero needed to be happy and successful allowed us to turn the workplace into a more powerful tool for their business.

Together, we harmonized the lighting systems with the space’s layout to support different levels of activity and work styles—from bright and playful spaces to quiet areas for focus. We harvested both daylight and artificial light in intentional ways to support the design goals. Throughout the office, controls allow employees to adjust the lighting to meet their preferences while conserving energy.

The lounge spaces in the Xero headquarters feature “O’s” in the form of decorative glass balls.

We further used lighting to reinforce Xero’s brand throughout the space. Lighting elements reflecting “X” and “O” shapes—derived from the company’s brand—define the varied work spaces, adding visual interest while minimizing eye strain.

Even the floor plan looks like an extrapolated X. That was a call the lighting and interiors teams were able to make by teaming up early on. The lighting team suggested turning the layout on a 45-degree angle so we could achieve an X pattern with the recessed linear lines of light that define the office’s open spaces.

Tailored “X” pendants also punctuate the collaboration spaces, creating a more informal ambiance than the bright open work spaces. The lounge spaces feature “O’s” in the form of decorative glass balls, adding warmth to the casual collaboration spaces.

The resulting space is an inspiring and energetic representation of the company and its innovative employees. 

At Lakehouse, a new 196-unit building, the interior design and lighting team worked hand in hand to establish the foundation for healthier living.

Supporting health and well-being for residents

Today, wellness is a word in danger of overuse to the point of meaninglessness. To design spaces that are truly wellness-focused, it is essential to first understand the factors that go into creating an environment that supports human and environmental health.

New standards such as the International WELL Building Institute’s WELL Building Standard put meaningful metrics to wellness. Those standards ensure wellness is more than just a fe­­­eling—it’s a measurable outcome. This performance-based system measures, certifies, and monitors features of the built environment focusing on seven components: air, water, nourishment, fitness, comfort, mind and—you guessed it—light.

Lakehouse is piloting the WELL Multifamily program in Colorado and is the first project seeking such a certification in the state. Lighting was a critical component considered in every aspect of the design of the 196-unit building. The interior design and lighting team worked hand in hand to establish the foundation for healthier living. Among the key discussions: early evaluation of massing, consideration of WELL Building Standards and daylight studies, selection of glazing, and placement of windows.

At Lakehouse in Denver, sophisticated lighting systems that are sensitive to our circadian-based sleep cycles were seamlessly integrated into the interiors.

Sophisticated lighting systems that are sensitive to our circadian-based sleep cycles were seamlessly integrated into the interiors. Floor-to-ceiling windows were specified with blackout shades in the bedrooms to mitigate disruption to the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle. Daylight and beautiful mountain, lake, and cityscape views were optimized to create strong connections to nature.

Throughout the units, concealed lighting sources reduce glare to support resident comfort. The result is a completely cohesive interior design that enhances the occupants experience in ways we couldn’t have imagined.

The right light to unlock a building’s potential

The speed at which lighting technology and our understanding of the impact of light on human health is changing all the time. As designers, it can be hard to keep up, and we don’t know what we don’t know, which makes it easiest to default to whatever the IES handbook says about prescribed lighting levels. The handbook isn’t always up to date and does not reflect leading research, which leaves so much potential for positive impact on the table.

Bottom line: You don’t have to go it alone. The lighting designer truly can be your most valuable partner, unlocking transformative opportunities on your projects—no matter what the design goal.

  • Rachel Fitzgerald

    A senior lighting designer with our team in Denver, Rachel has over 15 years of experience providing exterior and interior lighting designs for hospitality, mixed-use, retail, corporate, civic/government, religious, and recreation facilities.

    Contact Rachel
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