Stephen Selkowitz has been at the forefront of building science, daylighting, and energy performance discussions for more than 35 years. He graduated with a degree in physics from Harvard and continued his graduate work at CalArts. While teaching at CalArts and SCI-Arc, he started his own consulting firm. Focusing on how to make structures more efficient—a hotbed issue, as it was the time of the energy crises—took him to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), in Berkeley, Calif., where a new group, led by building science specialist Art Rosenfeld and physicist Sam Berman, was starting to look at how science might address energy issues. With early funding for the group’s research from the Energy Research and Development Administration (one of the precursor agencies to the U.S. Department of Energy) he focused on daylighting and façade performance. Selkowitz has led LBNL’s Building Technologies Department for more than 20 years and continues as group leader for Windows and Building Envelope Materials and as a senior adviser for Building Science. His contributions cannot be underestimated, as they have helped shape the integration of energy-performance concepts into contemporary building design.
Can energy-related issues and design find common ground in lighting discussions?
In the energy world, we tend to talk about watts per square foot, kilowatt-hours, and footcandles. On the other side of the lighting world, we talk about beauty, appearance, and, of late, health, well-being, and performance. Closing that gap is where the interesting research is happening.
How has daylighting research evolved?
There has been a philosophical and pragmatic change rooted in a shift away from the original idea of minimum codes to the current, more nuanced sustainable designs.
Where does sustainability fit in the lighting conversation?
When you work in the lighting–energy world you are always bumping up against limits. It’s important to look at a broader set of performance issues. Sustainable designs are not just about energy savings but include human factors, comfort, and productivity.
What’s the greatest change you’ve witnessed in how we think about building systems?
We live in a world that’s complex and dynamic. Building systems are both part of the problem and the opportunity. A key challenge is how to provide lighting and daylighting solutions for ever-changing building operating conditions.
“The divergence between the physical, measurable world and the perceptual world is really an opportunity to use technology to our advantage. It shouldn’t be an excuse to say we can’t create beautiful well-lit buildings that are also environmentally friendly.” -- Stephen Selkowitz, Department Head, Building Technologies Department; Group Leader, Windows and Building Envelope Materials Group; and Senior Adviser for Building Science at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory