The concept of lighting design as a true form of design involves many challenges and obstacles, from concept to implementation. Recent changes to the building code, requiring lighting designers to meet ASHRAE 90.1-2010 requirements and LEED compliance, have taken the ability for lighting to accentuate architectural landscapes, and handcuffed it with stringent guidelines. The City of Vancouver now mandates that all new construction projects be minimum LEED Gold equivalent, which imposes strict energy consumption models on new proposed buildings.
One of the LEED requirements for lighting is the Light Pollution Credit, which restricts the use of exterior lighting in terms of locations, mounting, and lumen output for building facades and landscape areas. The credit’s intent is to minimize light trespass from the site, but this hinders options of accentuating architectural features of buildings. Cities such as Las Vegas, Shanghai, and Hong Kong have not only embraced lighting design, it is used as a powerful accent in the dark.
The difficulty of attaining LEED points to achieve Gold almost unilaterally obligate builders to pursue the light pollution credit to achieve the required points to comply. In today’s budget conscious construction and development world, architectural lighting and any feature lighting is all too frequently looked at as a nice to have and more often than not, limited to necessity only.
Since the implementation of the new ASHRAE, there are significant cost increases in lighting budgets in areas such as parkades, where the beauty of lighting as an art form is completely lost. The new requirements dictate that every single luminaire in the parkade must be individually controlled, accruing additional costs for occupancy sensors, wiring, and programming. To this point the increasing complexity of lighting technology such as LED, and new switching systems for interior and exterior lighting alter costs, efficiency, payback, and performance. Lighting designers are forced to stay ahead of the rapid pace in the evolution of construction developments by having to integrate changing technologies with advancements in mechanical technologies.
The new ASHRAE implementation also increases the challenge to meet lower watts per square feet for all space types. Watts per square foot isn’t front of mind when looking at a space, only how it feels. The lighting quality of any given space must be balanced with the energy restrictions and code compliance in order to pass, limiting lighting design or choices in lamping and layout.
Lighting designers are now more tasked to educate clients, architects, and interior designers in the requirements of the new code and how to meet them for all spaces. Lighting professionals have an additional responsibility to guide the client in allocation of budgetary resources for lighting in order to get the most sparkle for money spent. Initially there were significant rebate incentives for clients and developers to reduce energy consumption, but the margin has narrowed as the new code comes into effect. The programs that were put in place to generate cost incentives and rebates are harder to achieve as the previous baseline are the new code requirement. The client’s ability to be lower than the new standard and achieve rebates is far more difficult to ascertain.
Inevitably these factors drive the change in focus from design to cost efficiency, payback, and performance in all but the highest end budget allocations. The projects overall lighting budget must shoulder these costs, detracting from the areas of the building where lighting can demonstrate itself as an art form. Clients prefer that the money being spent on a project’s lighting create tangible results focusing the lighting budgets where it can be seen; such as building exteriors, architectural lighting, and conceptual focal points. Lighting design must provide the delicate balance between the cost demands and the art of lighting spaces for people.
There are upsides to the new requirements, and all is not negative. The new guidelines have driven lighting designers to adapt and explore new ways to integrate concept, design, and functionality by being more efficient and conscious about where lighting is placed and implementing lighting directly into architecture. New opportunities present themselves as manufacturers look to fine tune lighting to suit project requirements and are becoming more adaptable to customized solutions to meet code requirements and lighting design concepts. It’s no longer just about a light bulb, at least not in the City of Vancouver.
Daisy Chan, LC, B.A., D.I.D., LEED AP is a lighting designer at Lucent Design Group.