A focus on daylighting often is not a part of an architectural curriculum. But the Daylectric Integrated Design Studio, offered at Ball State University's College of Architecture and Planning, shows that the integrated approach of lighting and architecture can be a richly rewarding course of study for students and faculty alike.

The studio, which was launched in 2006 with a $20,000 grant from the Nuckolls Fund for Lighting Education, was offered for the third time this past spring. The 15-week, semester-long comprehensive class is a natural outgrowth of professor of architecture Robert Koester's work as the founding director of CERES—the Center for Energy Research/Education/Service, an independent body in the university focused on energy and conservation issues. Staffed by architects, the university-level group has collaborated with other departments—such as technology, psychology, physics, and natural resources—and schools, including the Miller College of Business and the Teachers College.

Its facilities for daylighting studies are quite extensive and feature a testing deck, a ring heliodon, a tabletop heliodon, an artificial sky chamber, a mapping table, and a computer lab. In its early years—the post oil embargo days—“the CERES testing lab was one of the first five in the country accredited by the Solar Rating and Certification Corp. for determining the efficiency of solar collectors,” says Koester, who notes that CERES' entrepreneurial bent leads to a constantly changing roster of work for various groups inside and outside the university. Currently, it focuses on empirical evaluations of design-for-sustainability.

Koester is the faculty lead for the daylectric studio that meets every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. He is joined by CERES staff members, operations manager Jeffrey Culp and professor of architecture Robert Fisher, in addition to a roster of visiting critics, who are a group of notable lighting and architectural practitioners from across the country including James R. Benya, Joel Loveland, Gary Steffy, Paul Zaferiou, and David Eijadi. The studio is a vertical mix of fourth-year undergraduates and first-year graduate students. The spring 2009 studio had 14 students, separated into teams of two or three, each tackling the studio project: the design of a 6,800-square-foot, two-story library in downtown Muncie, Ind. “Most team projects aren't structured in a way that frees students to be productive,” Koester says. However, to ensure the students' success in this rigorous and fast-paced studio, the Ball State professors have developed a strategy that establishes clear presentation and submission requirements at the beginning and breaks the semester into a series of three-week charrettes. If a group fails to collaborate productively, they won't meet the deadlines. “They're in a [constant] minicharrette mode,” Koester says. “At the end of each three weeks, they have a level of achievement as a team, which is rewarding.”

Organizing the studio into three-week segments streamlines the design process, pushing the students to establish their building concepts quickly. The teams have three days to develop the parti, and then they need to focus on the lighting issues in detail. Schematic designs are developed from a menu of building options, which include three basic building footprints, a series of generic structural systems, and material palettes. The choices are purposefully specific and limiting so the students can make their basic design decisions quickly in order to dive into an advanced level of project detail. Although the students assemble their buildings from a kind of kit of parts, nothing is made easy, and they still have to figure out how all the pieces connect.

Of the five projects from the spring 2009 class, the design from the group referred to as “Team NaCK” (an amalgamation of the students' names—Nick Alexander, Kate Lengacher, and Chris Rhoads) was particularly accomplished and its development instructive of the studio's overall process. Team NaCK's two-story structure is organized around a series of limestone piers, creating a layered southern façade that mediates daylight through the shaded canopies the piers support. Breaking the singular building volume into two helps position the structure so as to differentiate between morning and afternoon light on the exterior as well as interior spaces.

Understanding how light interacts with the architecture, and moves through the building apertures at various times of the year, begins in the early stages of the design. The teams build physical models of a sample space and gather empirical data using the center's daylight chamber and heliodon. Light measurement instruments connected to a computer allow the students to generate spreadsheets that map the light in the space. Daylighting goals and objectives also are resolved through sectional building development and the modulation of wall openings and angles.

These early exercises using physical models are followed by computer modeling and rendering using AGi32, a powerful software for daylight and electric light simulation. “We give them one long weekend to learn AGi32,” Koester says. “They pick it up quickly.” It was during this stage of the project that Team NaCK team began developing its building cross section to utilize the reflective properties of the selected materials (limestone, beechwood, copper, terra-cotta, stucco, and brushed metal) to respond to daylight distribution. “The railing system on the second floor changed dramatically based on realizations they made about its transparency,” Koester says. Eventually this building element was designed to integrate custom light fixtures as well.

The next stage of the studio project incorporated the team's electric lighting objectives with detailed sectional drawings, reflected ceiling plans, and luminaire selection. Koester points out that the student's initial assumptions about the lighting and light fixtures included patterns and placements that are obviously architectural—in line with columns, for example. But as the Team NaCK students prepared their computer simulations, they discovered that placing luminaires under a beam didn't provide sufficient illumination. Rather, the beam acted as an obstruction and shadowed the ceiling surfaces. “They realized the architectural gesture had to respond to the more substantive lighting gesture,” Koester says. In turn, they kept their light fixture design but moved it by half a bay so it could light the ceiling surface.

At this point, it would seem that Team NaCK's design was complete, and by most standards it would be, but this is where the daylectric studio approach differs most from a typical studio. “There are many more cycles to go,” Koester told the student teams.

Next up was the development of complete control systems that provide switching scaled to the activities in a space and are modulated relative to the amount of natural light. Additionally, using LEED as a guide, the students established energy and power budgets to evaluate just how much more work was required to bring their luminaires, controls, and energy budgets into alignment. Ann Arbor, Mich.–based lighting designer Gary Steffy was present for these classes and offered insights on solving the complex variables.

The final level of project documentation is remarkable—far more detailed lighting schemes than many practicing architects might produce in a career. “We emphasize that this class is not just about how to calculate a footcandle,” Koester states. “This is about architecture.” By creating an intensive studio environment where the students need to constantly re-evaluate their evolving designs against empirical lighting data—from daylight to luminaires to control systems to energy usage—Ball State University's Daylectric Integrated Design Studio students see architecture in a far more sophisticated light.

Studio Daylectric Integrated Design Studio
Semester Spring 2009
School Ball State University, College of Architecture and Planning, Center for Energy Research/Education/Service (CERES), Muncie, Ind.
Faculty Members Professor Robert Koester, director of CERES; Professor Robert Fisher and Jeffrey Culp
Visiting Critics James R. Benya, David Eijadi, Joel Loveland, Gary Steffy, Paul Zaferiou
Students Team NaCK: Nick Alexander, Kate Lengacher, Chris Rhoads
Images Courtesy of Ball State University