Lighting the workplace well

HARRY BARNITT argues that following standard lighting guidance results in poor installations. One of the main reasons is the failure to put any light on the ceiling.There is lighting a workplace – and there is lighting a workplace well. Providing adequate lighting levels to enable people to work is a basic necessity, but good lighting which considers both the physiological and psychological needs of people will create an environment which is welcoming, energising, uplifting, and — ultimately — more productive. Research New research carried out in the USA provides objective and measurable proof of the physiological effect of different lighting types for the first time. Varying the lighting scheme proved to have a significant impact on the accuracy and motivation with which people work. In these experiments carried out by the Light Right Consortium, staff also proved to have strongly expressed views on the type of lighting they preferred. 91% opted for a system of direct/indirect lighting, including wall washers and with some individual dimming control — precisely the arrangement that also helps them to work more productively. These results are not really a surprise. It has been obvious for years that an environment in which ceilings and walls are lit as well as work surfaces, and which employs a range of different light fittings, looks and feels better than one lit purely by recessed downlights. The satisfaction comes from the fact that the relationship between lighting type and productivity is now objectively proven. Outdated Sadly, lighting guidance in the UK has tended historically to focus on calculating light levels on a notional working plane and on the possible reflection problems caused by computer screens — both of which are, at best, outdated and, at worst, simply misleading objectives (as the screen testing carried out in our own facility has proved). The result has been the proliferation of boring rows of recessed louvred downlights which are not only an outrage against any kind of aesthetic sensibility but also provide a frankly substandard quality of lighting. One of the main reasons for this is that such luminaires fail to put any light on the ceiling. The effect of a dark ceiling is instantly oppressive (think thundery sky or cave roof) and has an immediate impact on the emotional reaction to a space. Even a room with a comparatively low ceiling can appear to be bright, spacious and airy if the ceiling is lit sufficiently. If the ceiling is relatively high, easily the best solution is provided by suspended fittings that combine direct and indirect lighting components to provide all-round illumination which is both effective and pleasant. Where ceilings are lower, a recessed fitting may be the only option. In this case it is important to choose a self-luminous fitting. The effect is to provide areas of brightness across the ceiling space contributing to an overall visual impression of brightness — an effect that Zumtobel Staff has calculated and expresses as ‘ceiling brightness impression’ or CBI for short. Intuitive It is a completely intuitive rationale. Compare an environment lit with louvred recessed fittings in which no light is visible to one lit with self-luminous luminaires and it is self-evident that the latter appears to be brighter. Wall washers and accent lighting also contribute to the overall quality of the lit environment, while research carried out in Zurich indicates that lighting levels and ratios should ideally change throughout the day. This research revealed how people’s mood, motivation and performance varies and how this variance is linked both to people’s own biological rhythms and to the lighting levels to which they are exposed. Changing the lighting level, direction and colour temperature can help to keep people motivated, alert and productive throughout the working day. Intuitive There are very good physiological reasons for these effects, some of which have only very recently been identified. It is important that the lighting designer should have at least a broad understanding of these principles in order to provide an environment in which people are both content and productive. In our opinion, the UK is badly served by its regulatory and advisory groups, and there is currently no independent guidance that effectively takes into account both new and accepted theories on lighting design. Frustration with this situation has led Zumtobel Staff to produce its own book ‘Lighting for the workplace’ to present the latest research findings and discuss how they should impact on the design of office lighting.* Seminars are also being run to explain the principles to non-lighting specialists; places on these CPD-accredited sessions can be booked using the same contact points. Harry Barnitt is marketing manager with Zumtobel Staff Lighting Ltd, Unit 4, The Argent Centre, Pump Lane, Hayes, Middx UB3 3BL *Copies of ‘Lighting for the workplace’ are available from tel. 020 8589 1852 or from roberts@uk.zumtobelstaff.co.at
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