An engaging session at LightFair 2015 in New York included leading lighting designer Jim Benya and two of his favorite architect collaborators – Kent Duffy, FAIA of SRG Partnership, and James Theimer, AIA, of Trilogy Architecture. They discussed the state of the art in daylighting and architecture and how closer collaboration between disciplines can result in better buildings. Susan S. Szenasy, the publisher/editor in chief of Metropolis Magazine, moderated.

We might blame a lot of the mistakes we make in architecture on a problem that is one of neither design per se nor technology, but of behavioral economics – the “siloing” of professional disciplines. Jim, Kent, and James’ close professional relationships, built around several projects they’ve done together, have allowed them to step outside their “assigned” disciplines and collaborate fully. We all benefit when architects know and care more about lighting and lighting designers know and care more about architecture.

The lively discussion centered around the proper use of daylighting and balancing it with electric lighting. This is a particularly relevant topic today because of the need to drive energy efficiency. But pursuing it to the exclusion of comfort, health and other crucial factors is becoming less and less viable: Mr. Duffy said that a net-zero building is not necessarily a healthy one. And as Mr. Benya has pointed out before, the dramatically declining energy use with SSL means that energy will soon become a less important economic driver of quality in buildings.

Another important theme was user behavior. Mr. Duffy and Mr. Theimer related stories of highly efficient and well lit classrooms that they had designed where students and teachers would still leave the lights on all day without realizing that they weren’t needed. Mr. Benya cited well known studies of productivity in daylit classrooms that, when reexamined, indicated that views were more important that daylighting. There is a general lack of good research, evidence, and analysis of behavioral factors in the built environment, especially around lighting.

Mr. Theimer said that we have lost the holistic practice of traditional architecture, developed over millennia, that made buildings with passive systems that provided excellent light, heating, cooling, and ventilation long before the advent of energy intensive mechanical and lighting systems. One of the key practices of sustainable building is to study the local climate and use the environmental assets on a site first – such as daylight, wind, water, geothermal – before designing systems. This is not common practice in lighting yet and should be. I was thrilled to hear an architect, (Mr. Theimer) utter the following in the context of this discussion: “make the glass walls go away,” referring to the need to mitigate the overuse of glass in architecture today in the service of balancing our often conflicting needs for aesthetics, energy efficiency, comfort, health, cost, and resilience.

It’s encouraging and refreshing to encounter this kind of dialog today in lighting – it underscores the fact that the solutions we need today are not necessarily technical (in fact we need solutions to the new problems created by technology). The design and building professions need to, in the words of Mr. Benya, “celebrate the difference between night and day,” and they need to normalize the integrated design process, where more communication and collaboration between disciplines earlier in the design process results in better buildings.

Clifton Stanley Lemon

About Clifton Stanley Lemon

Clifton Stanley Lemon is CEO of Clifton Lemon Associates, a consultancy providing strategy, product development, marketing and education services to manufacturers and firms in the lighting and energy sectors. He was formerly marketing communications manager for Soraa, director of business development at Integral Group in Oakland, and founder and CEO of BrandSequence, a customer research and brand management firm. He is an active writer and speaker, with extensive experience in event production and curriculum for professional development. He is president of the Illuminating Engineering Society San Francisco Section and sits on the advisory boards of Lighting Facts, Strategies in Light and LightShow West.

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