Lighting the Innovative Office

With the evolution of business management models over the last several decades, new planning philosophies for addressing workplace space issues have emerged. Concepts such as alternative officing, hoteling, desk sharing, or Just-In-Time (JIT) are becoming commonplace. JIT spaces are shared office spaces scheduled for use on a demand basis. They can be reserved by an individual or by a team and can also be completely outfitted with walls, furniture, computers, telephones, faxes, etc. While these trends may provide for more efficient management of people and their time, they may hinder direct physical or electronic communications with colleagues. Furthermore, employee salaries are the major expense in operating a commercial space. One salary equals the cost of electricity to light a person’s office for one year. Therefore, the furniture layout and the lighting must work in concert to allow workers to achieve maximum productivity. To accommodate employees’ intellectual capabilities and creativity, today’s office environments need to be multi-functional. Their physical environments should be functionally configured and within easy reach of furnishings and equipment. Planning the space Traditional space planning. This approach accommodates the needs of a vertical organization, allocating space based on an individual worker’s role and status. Activity-based space planning. These designs match alternative office concepts such as universal plan, open plan, private office, team space, and hoteling. Concepts can change over time as the functions and interactions change. Flexible space planning. Flexible space planning is based on the fact that 50 percent of people move and change working environments every six to 12 months. If sections of the building and office construction have an infrastructure that permits flexibility, adaptability, and mobility, the flexible space planning concept can accommodate the changing needs of the people and groups who work in that space. Neighborhood design This more flexible approach to space planning addresses group activities, individual needs, and the dynamic behavior of today’s organizations. The “neighborhood” approach may be better suited to today’s more flexible, multi-functional office spaces. Whatever the design, the employee, the furniture, and the space must be considered. The employee. Height, width, and proportion of furniture and architectural elements are not assigned for purely aesthetic reasons. These dimensional decisions are also based on the employees’ required functions and relationships in a particular space. The furniture. The furniture and complimentary architectural elements have people-based dimensions, which establish the design grid for structural connections between these products. They provide the infrastructure for access to power and communication. The space. The dimensional logic here ensures flexibility among modular or singular furniture, architectural elements, raised or standard flooring, drop or open ceilings, moveable or fixed walls. Everything is predetermined. Lighting objectives Although today’s multi-functional office spaces provide workers with the flexible furniture designs to easily interface with associates, lighting design for these spaces is challenging. Considerations include: • The architecture of the space or the total office environment. • The people who occupy the space. • The owners cost of light. • The tasks. • Space functionality and flexibility. • The proper quality and quantity of illumination. Additionally, controlled lighting is needed at workstations to ensure a balanced brightness and reduce reflection from computer screens. General or ambient light The newer lighting technologies, such as T8 and T5 fluorescent lamps, more optically efficient luminaries, and multi-functional lighting controls provide energy-efficient and cost-effective lighting solutions for general or ambient lighting. The energy analysis above illustrates the benefits of T8 and T5 systems: Even though the two-lamp T5HO has the highest system watts, it produces more “usable” lumens; thus, requiring fewer lamps and luminaires. Additionally, savings may be realized on both the initial costs and in the cost of lighting maintenance. Task lighting This supplementary source of illumination can be supplied from an overhead luminaire, a lighting fixture mounted on a partition-controlled by the occupant, or a luminaire integrated or attached to the furniture. Accent lighting Accent lighting can be achieved with downlights or track lighting and is a subtle way of highlighting items placed in the office environment. It can also provide visual queues, indicating a transition from space to space. Perimeter lighting By lighting vertical surfaces, the space can be made to appear larger while providing appropriate brightness ratios. Lighting controls At the nerve center of a lighting system are the controls, which manipulate the level of illumination in each space. The basic control strategies to save energy, enhance performance, and offer convenient light level changes are occupancy sensing, scheduling, daylight dimming, tuning, and preset dimming. • Occupancy sensing and scheduling limit the hours of lighting to the hours of occupancy. • Daylight dimming aims to dim electrical light as available daylight enters a space to achieve a constant light level. • Tuning and preset dimming allow the user to change light levels for specific tasks or events. Designing today’s offices will be a team approach. The engineer, architect, interior designer, and lighting designer will work together, using the new technologies from furniture and lighting manufacturers to provide aesthetic and functional designs. PRINT is director of sales development and lighting education for Lightolier. He can be reached at or (508) 646-3103. For more information, visit the company’s Web site at

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