The Future of Smart Lighting: Coffee break with Brad Koerner, Koerner Design

By Andrew McCoy and Fred Sargent | Apr 15, 2024
The Future of Smart Lighting
As we peer into the future of smart lighting, we must ask how service and maintenance contractors can guide their organizations through the uncharted waters of the years ahead.




As we peer into the future of smart lighting, we must ask how service and maintenance contractors can guide their organizations through the uncharted waters of the years ahead.

With that thought in mind, we reached across the Atlantic Ocean to the Netherlands to have a conversation with Brad Koerner, principal at Koerner Design and thought leader in Amsterdam.

Lighting fixtures today are descendants of gas lamps, candles and others that lit building interiors for centuries. Is it fair to imagine that in the future, many indoor spaces will be lit by wall- or ceiling-mounted luminous panels?

First, consider LEDs. In the past two decades, LEDs have “dematerialized” electric lighting. LEDs are now literally as small as grains of sand. And LEDs have also reached unprecedented high efficacies, with today’s off-the-shelf LEDs easily achieving over 200 lumens per watt and soon reaching up to 300 lumens per watt.

So, with these tiny, high-efficacy LED light sources, we no longer need bulky heat sinks. That means power consumption so low that Class 2 low-voltage DC power systems make sense for the majority of lighting applications. We can use lots of tiny LEDs for new light distributions today without expensive and complex optics.

Contractors have already seen this transformation with the widespread adoption of LED tape strips in numerous applications. Troffers have shrunk to ¼-inch thick panels. Cove lights are now barely bigger than a ½-inch diameter dowel. Linear architectural fixtures are slimmer than ever.

You advocate that we should think of light as an “architectural material” with which we can cover entire walls and ceilings with pixelated imagery.

As more and more designers are concerned about circadian lighting for healthy interiors, and brand-conscious companies use more digital signage features, a large percentage of the lighting for interior applications will be produced by bright, dynamic, luminous surfaces. Those walls will directly integrate decorative patterns of light, planes of light and digital displays.

Today, retrofitting office buildings into residential units is a hot topic. But office floor plans are generally too deep, resulting in residential rooms on the interior core with no windows. Why not use luminous LED wall surfaces to make secondary rooms like bathrooms, master closets, home offices or exercise rooms feel bright and wonderful?

And as LCD and micro-LED displays continue to plummet in cost, large-format, wall-size digital displays could become virtual windows.

So, thanks to digital technology, we could now employ millions of pixels—similar to the way French Impressionists used thousands of paint dabs—to make impressions on building inhabitants or outside visitors.

I’ve said over the years that “every light is a pixel, and every pixel is a light.” What I’m talking about is the fusion of LED lighting and IP-based digital display technologies.

Did you ever stop and think that a 4K display is actually just 24.8 million individual lights? 4K is 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. Each pixel is three individual RGB lights. You can get a networked, distributed 4K signage player for not much more than $100. Ask a traditional lighting controls company to spec a lighting system that can handle 24.8 million lights, can handle modern digital media, will update at 24 frames per second, and is fully ethernet-based and cloud-connected. See how fast you are laughed out of the room!

Installing this kind of smart lighting should be, and hopefully remain, the province of electrical service and maintenance contractors. What should they be doing now to make sure things turn out that way?

For starters, consider what’s going on in Europe and the rest of the world, where DALI—short for Digital Addressable Lighting Interface—has been a widely-adopted, cheap commodity lighting control standard for decades. In Europe and Asia, it is a standard option for nearly every light fixture sold. Everyone there knows how to use DALI—that is, how to spec it, how to buy it, how to install it and how to commission it.

We know your vision embraces far more than just smart lighting systems.

Yes, I believe that with the growing demand for net-zero buildings, which have their own PV solar systems on the roof and battery storage in the basement, DC power will revolutionize building systems. Everything in a modern building is already consuming DC. (Hey, I dare you to think of one device installed in a modern building that doesn’t use a power supply of some sort!) So, we will have these DC-islanded buildings where an AC grid connection becomes a secondary, supplemental power source. DC distribution will become primary for most buildings. Above all, it promises to be far more efficient.

To see examples of the advanced lighting Koerner advocates, visit his site,

About The Author

MCCOY is Beliveau professor in the Dept. of Building Construction, associate director of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction and director of the Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech. Contact him at [email protected].


SARGENT heads Great Service Forums℠, which offers networking opportunities, business development and professional education to its membership of service-oriented contractors. Email him at [email protected].





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