A view of Cleveland's downtown Public Square, site of the 2014 IES Research Symposium.
Erik Drost/Flickr A view of Cleveland's downtown Public Square, site of the 2014 IES Research Symposium.

Developments in light-source technology have afforded researchers and designers the opportunity to look beyond illumination’s heavily investigated impact on how we work to also consider how we sleep and play. As a result, designers must address not only color temperature and lumen output, but also issues such as the length of occupants’ exposure to light, the balance of natural daylight and electric illumination, and the need for integrated and customizable lighting controls.

Lighting designers, researchers, educators, engineers, and others gathered in Cleveland on April 6, 7, and 8 to evaluate light’s impact on human behavior as part of the Illuminating Engineering Society’s second biennial research symposium, titled Light + Behavior—Light’s Influence on Human Behavior. The event followed the inaugural 2012 version, which focused on issues faced by aging adults in regards to illumination, such as glare and color perception.

This year’s symposium focused on three topics—education, healthcare, and the urban environment—that brought together speakers from diverse industry backgrounds. The event opened with keynote presentations by Paul Gregory, founder and president at Focus Lighting, and Robert Davis, a senior staff lighting engineer at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Gregory began by discussing opportunities for lighting designers to bring illumination into a project at the schematic design phase. The architect, he says, “is really more a team leader than a design leader.” It’s up to the lighting designer “to take the visual image and play it back to the team over and over and over,” he says. “We are the creator of the visual impact. We are the ones who keep track of it through the entire project.” Following Gregory, Davis used his talk to explain the research of the late John Flynn to a multidisciplinary audience that included designers, contractors, and code officials. Flynn’s seminal work—including his “Interim Study of Procedures for Investigating the Effect of Light on Impression and Behavior” (October 1973) and “A Guide to Methodology Procedures for Measuring Subjective Impressions in Lighting” (January 1979)—explores how different light sources are perceived by building occupants, but due to Flynn’s death in August 1980, he was not able to expand it to develop links to cognitive theory.

A few presentations stood out among the three case studies, which focused on issue topics rather than specific projects or installations. Dr. Arnold Wilkins, a professor of psychology at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom and whose work includes visual perception, explained how stimuli such as high-contrast patterns require more brain power to visually process compared to natural patterns such as a view of an outdoor landscape. In lighting applications, for example, he says the effect is apparent in luminaire grills and LED arrays. Dr. Mariana Figuerio, an associate program director at the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., discussed what she calls the “non-visual effects” of lighting—particularly, how the level and dosage of illumination in a space effects its occupants’ sleep-wake, or circadian, cycles. Exposure at night to a lamp whose spectrum is adjusted to contain too much blue light inhibits the production of sleep-enhancing melatonin; exposing individuals to light with less blue light at night helps them fall asleep at their natural bedtime, though the prevalence of personal electronic devices such as laptops and tablets, which emit blue light, are one hindrance.

Kevin Flynn, chair of the 2014 IES Research Symposium steering committee and executive vice president at Kiku Obata & Company in St. Louis, introduces the April 7 afternoon session focusing on lighting and the urban environment.
Hallie Busta Kevin Flynn, chair of the 2014 IES Research Symposium steering committee and executive vice president at Kiku Obata & Company in St. Louis, introduces the April 7 afternoon session focusing on lighting and the urban environment.

Lighting designers Randy Burkett, president of Randy Burkett Lighting Design in St. Louis, and Nancy Clanton, president at Clanton & Associates in Boulder, Colo., were joined by Steve Fotios, professor of lighting and visual perception, at the University of Sheffield in the U.K., and Jack Nasar, a professor in the department of city and regional planning at the Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture at The Ohio State University, to discuss lighting’s impact on urban environments. Among the concerns expressed by the panel was the need to combine requests by a space’s occupants for safety and by the client for an architectural design without contributing to issues such as light pollution. Burkett referenced his firm’s work on the 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C., for which they were tasked with dramatically accenting the $120 million outdoor project that includes a 30-foot-tall granite statue of Dr. King, without disorienting users in regards to safety, security, and wayfinding. The project was led by D.C.-based design-build firm McKissack & McKissack.

The symposium wrapped up with a “straw-man” rebuttal led by Dr. Peter Boyce, a professor emeritus at Rensselaer, and Dr. Jennifer Veitch, a principal research officer at the National Research Council of Canada. The pair prompted members of the audience to call out areas for further investigation from the topics covered by the event’s presentations. Among them: including lighting plans in a project’s schematic design, simplifying controls, improving existing lighting products to eliminate flicker, implementing lighting in medical or other 24-hour applications to help regulate the circadian cycles of third-shift workers, and incorporating lighting and other environmental factors into post-occupancy evaluations of buildings.

Image courtesy Flickr user Erik Drost via a Creative Commons license.