Opportunities and Challenges in Modern Lighting: A Design Perspective

Opportunities and Challenges in Modern Lighting: A Design Perspective

This piece was originally published in the February 2017 issue of electroindustry. 

David Ghatan, President, CM Kling + Associates Inc.

The lighting systems market holds opportunities and barriers for designers, as systems integrate and communicate more comprehensively than ever. Without standard protocols and hardware, however, they’re hard to understand, specify, and maintain, and they don’t always work as intended.

Lighting designers troubleshoot solutions and patchwork communications to achieve desired results. The time required to understand the systems is significant and often beyond the normal scope of a design contract. With increasingly complicated system options, pairing clients with a lighting system that fits their needs and abilities is time-consuming. The design role has changed within the last few years, and firms are stretched to do more on shorter deadlines. While incredible tools are available to designers, the expertise required to work with those tools is considerably greater and more nuanced.

Lighting control systems are more robust, offer a multitude of integration options (e.g., receiving signals from the building management systems), and may use a building’s Wi-Fi for a master controller. These systems can provide significant user data feedback on space usage, occupancy settings, and other systems. The difficulty lies in who manages and aggregates the data once it’s collected by the systems.

Obstacles include working with systems and protocols that cannot control the lights because of a lack of information or standards. Each project becomes a custom fit. Integrating lighting systems is complicated, with multiple system languages for controls protocols and, separately, the system itself. Once the system is in place, it is challenging to get everything to work the way it has been planned due to complicated programming. Too often, “working” is a moving target, and designers spend valuable time determining realistic expectations.

Even within the lighting system, commissioning systems doesn’t always work as planned.  Drivers don’t always dim consistently across multiple luminaires, even when the specs and wiring are identical; for example, 0–10 V protocols offer stated dimming ranges from 0.1 percent to 30 percent low-end dimming. But it is not always clear what those dimming percentages mean when applied to specific products and whether the dimming system itself can be programmed to handle an analog dimming signal below 1.

Designers address challenges by dedicating time to understanding the systems and working closely with commissioning. An industry standard can help when applied to wiring and compatibility. In other areas of the system, an industry standard would stifle innovation and lead us toward a one-size-fits-all solution. That won’t work. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Three recently completed projects demonstrate how light-emitting diode (LED) lighting systems work with lighting controls systems to produce dazzling results. 

Boston Park Plaza

Boston Park Plaza Lobby, Boston, Massachusetts | Photographer: Colin Miller

Renovations to the Boston Park Plaza incorporate a modern feel into a traditional landmark. Lighting in the lobby and bar shifts throughout the day, from bright morning to dusky evening to moody nighttime. The historic charm feels fresh and new with airy, modern, geometric chandeliers to anchor the high ceilings. The open, luminous bars are a modern take on a historic idea, creating sparkle and grandeur. Two-story curtains in the lobby create intimate spaces and, depending on the time of day, moods.

Original millwork behind the bar was rediscovered during construction. The lighting draws attention to the architectural details, and a custom-made backlit clock pays homage to the original design. The lighting systems in the hotel are preset so that daily transitions happen without any effort from hotel staff. It was important to work with high-quality, low-end dimming drivers to achieve the smooth diming and dramatic transition of the space.

Newport Marriott

Newport Marriott Hotel Bar, Newport, RI | Photographer: Roberto Farren Photography

The waterfront Marriott Hotel in Newport, Rhode Island, has a fresh and modern nautical-themed look, following an ambitious renovation project. The primary focus was finding an efficient lighting system that was powerful yet subtle, to create a dramatic effect and fit with the overall architecture.

The lighting system provides a broad dimming range and a hint of color. In the hotel’s atrium—an impressively tall space—cove fixtures are installed in the wave-like undulating niche in the wall. RGBW fixtures (i.e., those with red, green, blue, and white LEDs) are programmed with a variety of presets, including watercolor hues for most days and red and rich amber hues during the sunset hour. Incorporating the color-changing lights into the architecture helped bring the lighting down and create an experience on a human scale.

Lighting plays a key role in the transformation of the space. All the elements come alive after dark, and the magic of the new lighting shines, resulting in a modern elegance, while remaining faithful to the city’s seaside character.

Sands Capitol, Custom Chandelier

Sands Capital Offices, Washington, D.C. | Photographer: Eric Laignel

The Washington, D.C., office of Sands Capital features a custom-made chandelier. The designer worked closely with the manufacturer to drape in the stairwell at a height equivalent to four floors. This chandelier required more than 600 diodes with identical output and appearance. Each custom-made LED chip is mounted behind a specially made crystal in the bespoke chandelier. The controls required special DMX interfaces to allow for the proper power and dimming. These added layers of integration, which necessitated the design team, contractor team, and manufacturer to be in sync

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