Lighting Design Reflects Unique Culture of State-of-the-Art San Francisco Office

Lighting Design Reflects Unique Culture of State-of-the-Art San Francisco Office

Photos courtesy of Acuity Brands

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

In designing the interior of its new San Francisco office, Perkins+Will, a global leader in architecture and design, did not get every single item on its wish list. As so often happens, external factors tamed early expectations.

You would never know that when touring the office today. A visitor is easily wowed by the gracious, sunlit space, with its open plan, high-performance features, and striking views of the San Francisco Bay. One key to the space’s success, and to the well-being of its employees, is an impressive, interoperable lighting system.

Lighting Solutions for Wide Open Spaces

In seeking to demonstrate its commitment to environmental stewardship while also creating a corporate showplace for clients, the internationally renowned firm selected a 21,000-square-foot space at 2 Bryant on the Embarcadero—prime real estate just beneath the Bay Bridge.

Open floor plans are hot in corporate environments, and Perkins+Will’s office shows why. Still, while open space is alluring, it represents a challenge for lighting designers. With few physical features to delineate workspaces, light fixtures must help define each area, highlight task areas, and direct traffic, all while being unobtrusive and easily managed.

Larry French, MIES, LC, FIALD, of Auerbach Glasow French, has been in the lighting design business for more than 30 years. He was able to provide lighting solutions for Perkins+Will in collaboration with sales agents at sixteen5hundred, a representative for architectural, commercial, institutional, industrial, and residential lighting and lighting controls manufacturers.

Mr. French required fixtures with integrated controls that were beautiful; easy to map, install, and use; and, particularly crucial in California, energy-efficient. He specified a mix of LED luminaires and controls from Acuity Brands.

“We proposed fixtures to meet the design intent of the project team,” said Heather Mabley, a controls specialist at sixteen5hundred.

Integrated LED Versatility

In planning for open space, lighting designers consider the contribution of daylight and balancing low-energy solutions with uniformity of artificial light across the space. The best plans apply controls for lighting in zones, allowing for flexibility when office space needs to be reconfigured. The use of sensors allows electric lighting to respond to stimuli such as natural light levels and occupancy.

The design laid out four primary areas for deploying the fixtures: an open office where the designers work; meeting spaces; a high-profile entry lobby; and several back-of-house rooms for copy, mail, supply, and storage.

The office has immense windows overlooking the water, creating enormous daylight potential, yet it still required a high number of fixtures, making price and flexibility especially important. A crucial decision was whether to use LED lighting.

“Until very recently, LED products did not do all they were touted to do,” Mr. French explained. “Companies would cram the light source into existing fixtures. It’s been challenging to find product that really does work universally and does a better job than its predecessor. It’s the wild, wild West out there.”

Ultimately, the design team chose high-performing LED luminaires, with an integrated digital lighting control system that uses time, daylight, sensors, and manual input for maximum flexibility. When the California sun is shining and the shades are up, the lights dim or turn off completely. When the San Francisco fog rolls in, lighting turns up. The LED fixtures feature drivers that fully dim with no flicker.

The suspended and wall luminaires produce comfortable, glare-free illumination with built-in controls that allow for good output variation. They throw the light wide and far, allowing designers to space the fixtures out without jeopardizing uniformity. At the core of the office, the fixtures had to stretch through three programming and zoning areas—including across partitions set for breakout meetings—yet still function as a single unit. Controls help delineate the spaces and determine lighting across zones.

The lobby features recessed downlights. The third-floor reception area, a focal point of the office, combines LEDs and a unique pendant. Storage areas were treated with brushed-aluminum pendants and ceiling-mounted LED luminaires, as well as edge-lit exit signs with LED lamps for emergency.

“Good design has the ability to disappear.”

Making an Impression

Drake Hawthorne and Reinhardt Muir of Perkins+Will say the Acuity fixtures and systems are meeting high expectations. “The lighting is amazing. We are very impressed with the occupancy and daylighting system,” said Muir.

Perkins+Will’s staff give clients tours through the office regularly and the lighting is part of the narrative. For staff members, the new space’s clean look came with some variability that presented an adjustment period—some lights are on, some are off, and some are dimmed.

“If I stop by on a Saturday night and I walk to my desk, it’s like a movie—the lights turn on rapid-fire. Or, if you pull down a shade, the light at the window turns on gradually,” said Mr. Hawthorne. “The beauty is that the lighting doesn’t bring attention to itself. Good design has the ability to disappear.”

Since the original move-in, the firm has already reshuffled the office floorplan. “We were able to readjust everything without having to interrupt the lighting. This lighting is very uniform, and not having to change it was quite a benefit,” said Mr. Muir.

Going Green and Fast

In the Golden State, Title 24, which governs construction, can create challenges for commercial builders. Regulations limit watts per square foot of energy consumption and require a minimum lumen output per watt. The code also requires commercial buildings to use lighting with dimming capability and photocell control. Builders who choose to add dimming ballasts to existing fluorescent fixtures do not reap all of the benefits of LED.

“LEDs are meant to be systems, not components, which provide durable, energy-efficient lighting without flicker or glare. If they are not designed as a system, buyers beware,” said Mr. French.

Perkins+Will was running a tight schedule. Mr. French said, “We often tell clients a minimum of 12 weeks. I think this project came in at about six weeks. It was fast and all pretty cutting-edge.”

The complete system of lighting and controls is helping Perkins+Will achieve LEED platinum certification for the space. “Perkins+Will wanted to be as far into the future as they could be. We were fortunate to be partnered with Acuity for that extra support,” said Ms. Mabley.

Acuity fixtures and systems work together properly, optimizing for the LED source in uniformity and interoperability. Light monitors patterns of use and occupancy, providing meaningful green value through energy savings and user configurability.

Hitting the Mark

As workers and visitors would affirm, 2 Bryant represents another win for Perkins+Will. Its flexible, beautiful, and energy-efficient lighting system is a model for next-generation workplaces.

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