No matter the time or circumstance, certain issues have remained at the heart of lighting discussions: energy output, lighting quality, and how to achieve a balance between the two. While each of these topics is a lengthy debate unto itself, it is important to consider the trio collectively. Find a solution to one, and you find a solution to all three.
How much energy do we expend when it comes to lighting usage? Energy codes have grappled with this dilemma for decades. As responsible standards are sought and maintained for our workplaces, homes, and streets, current conservation-minded codes have reduced light levels to the most diffi cult of thresholds verging on the point of darkness. Lighting designers' projects are now at the point of jeopardy, as there soon will be no way to comfortably reconcile the demands of creativity with those of minimal energy usage. I reached a decisive moment in my thinking on energy output earlier this summer during the judging of the A|L Light & Architecture Design Awards. How ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING should discuss and present this issue has been on my mind ever since (and on the minds of several readers as well, given the letters I received questioning some of the award selections).
In fact, while appearances may seem to the contrary, there was a vigorous debate among the jurors about to what degree a project's energy code compliance should be factored into its award evaluation and how that should be done. No jury in my six-year tenure at A|L has given the topic such careful consideration. How could the jury reward a project for its artistic achievements if it failed to meet its jurisdiction's energy requirements? The group was deadlocked and so in the middle of the jury proceedings, I called the architects and lighting designers of the projects for which the jury requested further clarification. The additional information aided some projects, but not others, as the jury made its final selection.
What criteria should projects published on the pages of A|L be held to? Should we talk only about work that is code compliant? That really doesn't address the issue. All it means is that a project has met the numbers set by a regulating body (typically not versed in the nuances of lighting), but it doesn't say anything about the design, the quality of light, or the resulting atmosphere. Ultimately, to be built and pass ispection in the real world, a project must be code compliant and incorporate a design sensibility. We do a disservice to lighting if we, the lighting press, were to only discuss projects based on a narrow selection criteria of energy compliant versus non-energy compliant work.
So then is there some other metric the lighting community needs to be using to determine energy adherence other than just watts per square foot, which has been the default based on existing code standards and evaluation systems? Is there something that could more accurately represent the nuances of connected load versus live load?
As lighting regulations have become more stringent, this question increasingly has stumped the lighting community. In the past year there has been some discussion in the lighting press on the subject of light quantity versus quality of light. Some individuals have argued that there should be a specific way to measure what represents "good" lighting, but that sounds like we'd be entering some murky waters. Labeling lighting "good" or "bad" is purely a subjective call. What is comfortable and appeals to one person can be wildly unpleasant to another. To start regulating lighting in this way would be to dictate aesthetics—very dangerous territory, in my opinion.
Rather, what we need is a series of guides that would contribute to an overall project evaluation of energy compliance, one based on several factors such as frequency of use, operational cost over time, visual comfort, occupant productivity, and a project's specific design parameters. This would allow for a much more thorough evaluation and understanding of light, and in turn establish a database of realtime occupancy usage and behavior patterns.
However, it's not likely that there will be a solution that is cut and dry, or that will please everyone. Lighting practitioners and manufacturers are grappling with this issue on a daily basis as they deal with the new realities of energy supply and demand, and the associated costs. The evolution of lighting tools and technologies—for example, the introduction of LED sources along with more sophisticated lighting controls—may offer some answers about how to restructure the system. But one thing is for sure: current metrics for evaluating the balance between lighting efficiency and lighting quality are missing the mark.