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The importance of balancing outdoor lighting

Using LED lighting and control options can help satisfy the competing demands of stakeholders
Friday, December 13, 2013
By Brad Gibson & Trevor Cleall

Lighting designers working with public spaces face heightened regulatory and public scrutiny. Consequently, those working with lighting must plan comprehensive designs that take a variety of factors into consideration.

While large facades with excessive theatrical-style colour washes are still part of many spectacle-type projects, there is less acceptance of this approach in many areas throughout North America.

When designing lighting for the public realm, designers must now satisfy dark sky compliance, aesthetics, safety, security and sustainability.

However, there can be contradictions between some of these design considerations. A focus on security can lead to increased light levels at the expense of glare and sustainability on some projects. Meanwhile, dark sky compliance may be radically interpreted to the detriment of safety and a structure’s nighttime aesthetic.

The good news is that lighting designers have more tools, techniques and products (TT&P) available to approach the many concerns of stakeholders. The key part of the TT&P triumvirate is the products. While computer modeling, modulation and colour have been available for years, the results sometimes did not quite match the vision.

Modern LED products are now allowing the lighting designer to look like a rock star. However, this will not last for long. Unless designers ramp up product knowledge, stay on top of the craft with relevant and regular continuing education, and learn more about controls, they will become irrelevant. Lighting designers are at the beginning of a new normal for outdoor and public space lighting; what looks special today is going to be ordinary in five years.

There are different design principles around outdoor lighting that designers can adopt to stay relevant. The first of these is to ensure that all fixtures in designs will LEDs. There are simply few reasons not to use LEDs. From a colour, life cycle, control and controllability standpoints, there is a better chance of achieving balance in designs when using LEDs. Many jurisdictions have regulations in place that mandate new LED fixtures. But where they are not required by rule, LED-based fixtures are still the right choice. There are exceptions, of course. Sports fields come to mind, but even in this space, the landscape is shifting toward LEDs.

Secondly, ground-based flood lighting should rarely be applied. Wide area illumination of vertical surfaces can usually be achieved with contemporary edge lights or with fixtures utilizing highly tuned optics. The object here is to reduce the light pollution. The benefits are less energy, more detail, enhanced safety and reduced glare.

A third rule is to embrace the idea that the model fixtures at the schematic and development stages of design are subject to change. Technological change in terms of luminous efficacy and light output is constant, so again, lighting designers should remember that continuing education is important. Substituting a bollard with a self-dimming option or an overhead light with motion detection where it was not initially planned can be a highly beneficial change, provided the additional factor of cost is also considered.

A key differentiator in achieving good balance is in presentation material. There is much discussion about design renderings with a view to influencing what appears on those canvasses. Presenting idealized building visions with imaginary light sources can be difficult to replicate in the actual design. The goal is to be able to realistically deliver on the initial vision. To do that, designers need to demonstrate a solid understanding of lighting principles with software modeling and mock-ups at the earliest stage of design. Designers should then constantly seek the best technology for executing the final build.

Brad Gibson, P.Eng., is a national principal for electrical engineering at Dialog. Trevor Cleall, P.Eng., is an associate at Dialog and lighting certified by the Illuminating Engineering Society.

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