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lighting design

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Tapping Into the Darkside of Light

Darkside Scientific LumiLor
Darkside Scientific LumiLor

What will a revolution in lighting look like? New technologies are dramatically changing how we design, build, and maintain the built environment. But introducing an innovation to an established industry is no easy task, especially when you consider the complexity of larger systems. Lighting, for example, traditionally works in concert with wiring, fixtures and ballasts, light bulbs, and electricity. Launching a new standalone component is seldom adequate for a lighting technology to succeed. Developments in lighting have been received in the marketplace with tempered enthusiasm in recent years. While architects and lighting designers wish for better lighting, they are hesitant to be the early adopters. Client expectations in illumination quality, control, brightness, distribution, and efficiency are well established; it seems there is little tolerance for variance. Additionally, any change within an existing system requires a parallel adjustment in the support network and preparation of trained professionals to service the technology over time.

So let's consider how to get closer to the Naked Value of illumination. Is it possible to deliver light without light bulbs?

One pattern that we have observed in innovation is the translation of tools or technologies from one industrial sector to another. Darkside Scientific is a company that delivers light in the form of paint. The company's flagship product LumiLor is making light possible where it hasn’t been possible before. Darkside's patented electroluminescent coating system can be spray-painted on flat, curved, or uneven surfaces to turn nearly anything into a light. The technology does not emit light like conventional light sources. Its brightness per square area makes it ideal for many applications, including road signs, which are often over lit. LumiLor also has the potential to be the primary light source in bulbless lamps, accent lighting, and special effect or stage lighting. But this is just the beginning of how lighting is being redefined. Darkside is pursuing opportunities to lightweight airplanes, where any object can become a light source, meaning the elimination of current lighting infrastructure and subsequent weight and fuel savings.

Though the technology is still dependent on a wired electrical switch, it is not unrealistic to believe that DIY custom lights without wiring, fixtures, light bulbs or electricians are within our future. As lighting moves toward modular, flexible and structural integration, we will eventually see painted “light walls” designed into our homes and offices, saving resources that would otherwise be embedded in structures.

As technological problems are overcome, our imagination will remain as the single greatest limitation. We are excited to watch the lighting industry as the convergence of spray-on solar cells, spray-on batteries, and now spray-on light, make their way into our lives.

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In Praise of Old Windows

Daylight is one of the most desirable qualities for any building, especially a green building.  From my Base Zero lighting design perspective (follow the link for my previous blog), daylight is fundamental. An aperture in a roof or wall introduces daytime illuminance into an otherwise dark enclosure. But there is an art and a science to optimizing that raw light into a usable resource that is visually comfortable. The successful placement, size, and design of skylights and windows depends on an understanding of location, orientation, climate, and solar positioning as well as glazing qualities such as visual transmittance, shading coefficient, emissivity, tint, spectral selectivity, and U-value or heat transfer coefficient of the glazing. It also requires considerations of visual task requirements, occupant preferences, interior finishes, and space planning. In other words, a window is highly desirable but deciding on the right window can be complicated.

Windows for historic buildings present a particular challenge. From the perspective of lighting quality, the design, size, and placement of these windows was most likely based on very well-understood principles for bringing light effectively into pre-20th century buildings that otherwise depended on feeble candlelight, torchlight, oil lanterns, gaslight, or early incandescent illumination. If operable, these same windows were essential for also ventilating the building on pleasant days. But these apertures were also likely drafty and offered little insulation against winter chill or summer heat.

From a dMass perspective, the preservation of an existing building is highly desirable, as long as the building can perform up to modern energy efficiency standards. A common "green building" assumption has been that historic windows should be replaced with new high-performance windows to improve thermal performance and energy efficiency. However, that assumption is too hasty and, in many cases, wrong. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has recently published some compelling information and case studies indicating that the careful restoration and weatherization of existing windows and/or the addition of well-designed storm windows can result in better energy performance than replacement windows.

Wood casement windows, prevalent in 19th to mid-20th century US residential construction can be refurbished and augmented with new storm windows to provide insulating values comparable to or better than new aluminum or vinyl replacement windows. This saves the historic integrity of the building exterior and avoids the use of environmentally questionable new materials and the energy and resources used to manufacture new windows.

For more complex restoration projects, there are technologies such as Insulated Glazing Units (IGUs) that can replace old single-pane clear glass with new double-paned IGUs to greatly improve the thermal performance of the building envelope while preserving the historic façade. However, IGUs are substantially thicker than original window glass, often precluding their use in delicate frames. In those cases there are a variety of film products that can be applied to windows to filter light and heat. There are also many window manufacturers that specialize in replicating historic windows to recreate mullion patterns and frame designs that meet preservation approval. Fortunately, there is some good information available from reliable sources to help owners and architects make good decisions regarding window restorations.  (For more reading, see "What Replacement Windows Can’t Replace: The Real Cost of Removing Historic Windows" (PDF), "The Effects of Energy Efficiency Treatments on Historic Windows" (PDF), and "Getting the Most from Old Windows: A Tale of Attachments."

For Yale University's Stoeckel Hall (PDF), a late 19th century Venetian-style building, the intricate stone-framed decorative windows were carefully rebuilt using IGUs. The deteriorating rectangular wooden windows were exchanged with operable replica windows with double-pane, low-emissivity glazing. This met preservation goals, reduced energy consumption, and helped the building achieve a LEED Gold rating.

In other words, historic building performance and preservation are compatible principles, especially when it comes to windows. Old windows are valuable. The bigger challenge will be the rehabilitation of buildings constructed after 1950. The vast majority of buildings now in existence were built after World War II. Many suffer from failing envelopes including substandard windows. Next time, I'll explore what's happening with new window technology to improve daylighting performance in those existing, but not quite beloved, historic buildings. Stay tuned.

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