Energy conservation is finding its way into industry and commerce across America. As more and more businesses and buildings “go green,” companies are looking for ways to reduce energy consumption and the waste produced by daily operations. One of the best ways to conserve energy is to reduce the daily total lighting load within a building. Chicago's Merchandise Mart is a 25-story-tall building that occupies two city blocks, houses 10 floors of office space, 11 floors of permanent showrooms along with retail shops for gifts, residential, casual and contract furnishings equaling 4.2 million gross square feet. As one of the world's largest commercial buildings, energy usage is not a casual consideration.

In November 2007, the Merchandise Mart, owned and managed by Merchandise Mart Properties, attained Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - Existing Building (LEED-EB) Silver certification as part of a continuing effort to promote exemplary green building practices and environmental stewardship. As a component of the certification, a building seeking LEED-EB must create a plan for reducing energy consumption and demonstrate energy efficiency at least 19 percent better than buildings of a similar type. A typical existing showroom in the mart facility maintains a lighting power density (LPD) of about 4.5 watts per square foot. Based on the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), new and renovated spaces must sustain an LPD of fewer than 2.4 watts per square foot. Adhering to this new LPD level coincides with the mart's larger long-term plan to reduce environmental impacts associated with high-energy use. TG Couture, a new high-end modern furniture showroom in the Merchandise Mart, worked within these lighting energy guidelines to display a stunning collection just in time for NeoCon—June 9–11, 2008—the commercial furnishings industry's prestigious trade show held annually at the complex.

PROJECT INCEPTION The TG Couture collection is a subsidiary furniture company developed in 2007 by Gary Lee Partners, a Chicago-based architecture and interior design firm. By January 2008, a showroom was planned for the mart to open in time for NeoCon. Lindsay Maki, associate designer at Gary Lee Partners, called on Mark Loeffler, director of lighting at Atelier Ten in New Haven, Conn., with whom she had worked on several other projects, to develop a lighting concept for the furniture showroom that would meet Chicago's energy guidelines.

TG Couture's showroom is a large rectangular space enclosed by glass walls on two sides. Within this envelope are five 20-foot by 20-foot areas separated by gray fabric curtains and divided into different vignettes showing possible living arrangements and furniture layouts. Along the front of the showroom space, adjacent to a glass wall, is a parade of chairs. The furniture line was inspired by couture fashion, composed of handcrafted pieces with vintage garment upholstery. Using fashion as a guide, the designers developed a lighting scheme that would selectively highlight and sculpt the furniture while maintaining low light levels in the circulation areas. Because Maki and Loeffler wanted the scheme to be energy efficient and environmentally responsible, the designers set an ambitious target of 1.1 watts per square foot, or roughly 200 watts per vignette. Maki and Loeffler worked together for four months to choose light sources for the showroom that would keep within this wattage allowance.

DESIGNER COLLABORATION Both designers participated in three rounds of mock-ups to examine the interaction of different light sources on various materials and how that would reveal the color and texture of the upholstery and furniture. Loeffler wished to push the envelope of traditional retail design, creating what he refers to as “cutting-edge lighting for cutting-edge furniture.” The mock-up results also showed the designers that dimming would not be necessary, as the quality of light could be controlled with beam distribution, lenses, and focusing. Maki and Loeffler chose 20W T4 ceramic metal halide sources to illuminate the furniture because of the lamp's color rendering, point source qualities, and low wattages. To light the rear walls of the showroom, which were to be painted white, the team settled on T5HO fluorescents. The designers sought the feeling of a raw space by using tones of taupe and gray because Maki felt the contrast of the industrial materials would help the furniture stand out. After careful consideration of potential materials and finishes, all conducted under the metal halide and fluorescent sources, a new concrete floor was poured and shimmering gray taffeta silk draperies were selected.

DESIGN FLEXIBILITY Because of the rotating nature of items in a showroom, Maki required flexibility built into the lighting system so the spatial configuration could shift with the furniture. Loeffler and his design team created a layout with four lengths of surface-mounted track on the ceiling of each vignette, and one long length above the runway. The nature of track lighting allows the fixtures to be reconfigured within the display as needed. The location of the track segments gave the lighting design team the high angle accent lighting desired for the “runway” of chairs, and conveniently powered both the ceramic metal halide and fluorescent sources. Once the new lighting scheme was in place with final focusing, Maki notes that the lighting “completely changed the environment,” reaching “the ethereal quality” she had wanted.

YIELDING RESULTS To highlight the furniture, track heads in a 15 degree spot and a 25 degree narrow flood were precisely focused on each piece. T5HO fluorescent wallwashers illuminate the rear walls of the vignettes, providing a wash of light on prints hung as part of each display. Each vignette adhered to the 200W allowance, including all of the decorative fixtures such as the cut-glass chandelier over the dining table and the bird's nest sculpture in the entry. With the total showroom square footage equaling 3,000 feet, TG Couture achieved less than 1 watt per square foot, which betters the IECC energy code of 2.4 watts per square foot and far exceeds most showrooms in the Merchandise Mart.

Loeffler recounts that when the project was complete, he and Maki both agreed that it looked exactly like they had wanted. Throughout the process, the designers remained committed to the efficient approach, both ethereal and dramatic, convinced by the mock-ups that the lighting and furniture would come together. The acceptance and thoughtful use of nondimming ceramic metal halide sources in the showroom provided high color rendering for the furniture, while the low wattages allowed the right amount of fixtures needed to craft the desired stylized look without exceeding the designers' power limits. The integration of energy conservation into the design concept at inception is a realistic and achievable practice all designers can strive toward in the global effort to be more environmentally conscious and energy efficient.

Project TG Couture Location Merchandise Mart, Chicago Design Team Gary Lee Partners Architecture + Design, Chicago (interiors); Atelier Ten Environmental Consulting Designers, New Haven, Conn. (lighting design) Photographer Tony Soluri, Chicago Project Size 3,000 square feet Watts Per Square Foot .95 Manufacturers GE, Lightolier, Osram Sylvania