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What's new in lighting?

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Exciting and fast-moving developments are afoot in the world of lighting that will have far-reaching implications for the way we design buildings, writes BDP’s head of lighting, Mark Ridler

In UNESCO’s International Year of Light, it is an exhilarating time to be involved in lighting, because change is on all fronts and exponential.

Daylight is first up. Surely the sun hasn’t changed? I hear you ask and, no, that hasn’t; but the way we calculate its distribution in buildings has, and a very good thing this is, too. We used to use Daylight Factors, but generally these are poorly comprehended and only really apply to cloudy days in northern latitudes. These are being supplanted by Climate Based Daylight Modelling (CBDM). CBDM provides far greater detail about light distribution and intensity, which allows a building design to be optimised to maximise the use of sunlight and daylight. Real climate files areused to calculate useable light levels and these are expressed in more familiar and useful lux levels. Architects involved in the EFA schools programme may be familiar with this already, but it is coming to all sectors soon, in part because of its power but also because it is referred to in building regulations (Part L), BS 12464 (workplace lighting), and CIBSE’s Lighting Guides.


Pendant lights and chandeliers at the Atrium showroom in London

Alongside improvements in predicting daylight in buildings comes an increasing understanding about light, health and circadian rhythms. Anyone who listened to the recent BBC Radio 4 documentaries on shift patterns and sleep studies will have appreciated that our body clocks are regulated by access to light (both colour and amount). If we get this wrong over long periods, the potential harm to health is very serious. Even in the short term, the effects on alertness, concentration and productivity are profound. Research is intensive but as yet inconclusive as to whether we can compensate for daylight with artificial light. There are many false claims, so beware. We have long known that an understanding of daylight is essential to architecture for reasons of energy conservation and aesthetics, but now we should add health and wellbeing.

A store in Australia is using light as a data stream to customers’ smart phones

In artificial lighting technology, LEDs are still developing fast. They are getting smaller, more efficient and, in some cases, are of higher quality and more consistent, too. There are still major pitfalls regarding quality, warranties and replacement strategies for the unwary, but the technology is leading to innovative forms of luminaire, and smaller architectural details in which to hide and integrate them. The real revolution, however, has nothing to do with the light itself but with the Internet of Things. This will be profound and very fast-moving. Essentially, everyone is frustrated with lighting control: it overpromises, is difficult to implement and even harder to change in use. Now we have the prospect of intuitive control via smart phones/tablets, wireless wall plates and the like. We will be able to control and monitor the lights from outside a building and the whole process of commissioning and adapting an installation will be very much simpler. But it doesn’t stop there. Lights are going to have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, cameras, thermometers and all sorts of presence detectors incorporated. One manufacturer already has a working prototype that BDP is beta testing. A store in Australia is using light as a data stream to customers’ phones, transmitting location-specific information to ‘enhance the shopping experience’. The implication of this is that lights are gathering and emitting data as well as light and, because they are so ubiquitous, that’s BIG data. No wonder the likes of Google and Facebook are circling in the water.


Point source lights articulate the canopy at Trinity Leeds

Talking of data, are you drawing in a data-rich environment? Yes I’m talking BIM, which is coming lighting’s way, too. The dream is that we compose, visualise, calculate, draft and collaborate in one programme, but frankly the technology is not there yet. There are many very gifted designers out there without the capital or training resources to invest in the necessary BIM tools and it would make us all poorer if they are prevented from working due to a process requirement.

On the manufacturing side, small innovative companies may not be getting onto specifications because the larger companies can produce complete Revit families. The resultant risk is poorer-quality design, so it is important when assembling teams and negotiating contracts to consider whether a fully co-ordinated BIM model incorporating all disciplines is going to provide the client true value at the end of the project.


Integrated lighting at the British Pavilion at Expo 2015

There are other legislative moves, but not quite as profound as those of the past couple of years. BS EN 15193-1 (Energy performance of buildings – Requirements for Lighting) is up for review and will be looking at LENI (the Lighting Energy Numeric Indicator) that is currently referred to in Part L, as is the EN 13201 series of standards that underpin BS 5489-1 (Street lighting), with a new part 5 discussing energy efficiency. The SLL is planning to revise LG7: Lighting for Offices, LG6: Lighting the Outdoor Environment and LG14: Lighting for Transportation in the coming year.

Lighting design is both an art and a science, and while these developments are genuinely very exciting, we should never lose sight of what we do and why we do it. We could easily all get lost in a plethora of numbers and codes, chasing the false god of compliance. Art requires sympathy, imagination, delicacy, texture, time, intuition and vision, none of which can be calibrated or enshrined in regulation. At the heart of our enterprise should be a profound respect for architecture rooted in a desire to reveal and support architectural form, the ideas that underpin it and the functions it serves. Light and lighting should ultimately serve those people that interact with this surrounding architectural and landscape environment.

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