[Landscape Northwest]
March 31, 1998

Integrated lighting brings high returns


Picture yourself on a forest path skirted by the foliage of native plants, listening to the sounds of a cascading waterfall, anticipating an exhilarating test-drive of the latest model mountain bike. No, you're not on a weekend trek in the mountains, it's just another day at the REI flagship store in Seattle.

Like REI, an increasing number of corporations and commercial building developers are realizing that investing in landscape architecture and specialized exterior lighting for retail stores and office headquarters/campuses can benefit the company, community and environment.

Taking advantage of the latest exterior lighting technologies can enable building owners and developers to obtain a high return on investment in landscape architecture.

The biggest challenges for the design team -- including the building owner, building and landscape architects, engineers and lighting design consultants -- are to find unique ways to incorporate safety features particularly for after-dark users and to optimize both the building's architectural style and scenic surroundings in an environmentally-conscious manner.

Investing in an integrated landscape architecture and lighting plan is good for business. Sales at the REI flagship store are 60 percent ahead of projections, and the unique setting is expected to draw two million visitors from around the world this year, according to the Washington Landscape Architect January newsletter. The site's landscaping, designed by The Berger Partnership, plays a major role in attracting all this attention.

The REI site's exterior lighting highlights both the grounds and the building itself. A well-lit, safe urban park showcases the beauty of native foliage and promotes conservation, perceived by the public as good for both the community and the environment. The lighting fixtures highlight the playful industrial look of the building at night and accent the grounds' natural beauty, making it easy for REI's security staff to scan the 2.1-acre site after dark.

Using new technologies

New exterior lighting technologies are resulting in increased safety, lower maintenance costs, and enhanced design capabilities. For example, five years ago the bright yellowish-pink light provided by high pressure sodium lamps was commonly used in lighting for streets and parking lots. Recent research has confirmed that people can better distinguish colors and are more receptive to the blue-white light of metal halide lamps at night. Now, metal halide lamps have all but replaced high pressure sodium for exterior lighting in new construction.

Lighting evaluation toolkit

The Lighting Research Center (LRC), based at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, has developed a series of toolkits to allow building owners to measure the quality, energy efficiency, lighting level and compliance to code of lighting installations. The latest toolkit is the Exterior Lighting Evaluation Toolkit, priced at $800 to $1,000.

"We designed this kit so that building owners can evaluate functional exterior lighting installations to assess the safety of people using the site, as well as building security," says Peter Boyce, at the LRC.

The Exterior Lighting Evaluation Toolkit contains a questionnaire used to gauge the sense of security felt by people who use the site, as well as a high quality illuminance meter and spectroscope to measure:

  • Power density of the installation.

  • Average illuminance on the pavement.

  • Illuminance uniformity on the pavement.

  • Level of glare.

  • Color rendering of the light source.

  • State of maintenance of the installation.

For further information on the Exterior Lighting Evaluation Toolkit, call Peter Boyce at the LRC at: (518) 276-8717, or send an e-mail to: lrc@rpi.edu.

The wave of the future for decorative lighting of commercial properties is fiber optic lighting. Until recently, the intensity of the light source hasn't been strong enough to handle large-scale projects, but manufacturers are rapidly developing ways to ramp-up the illumination power of this flexible, low-maintenance lighting medium.

The actual source of light, the illuminator box, is housed in an electrical closet, which makes changing light bulbs easy from one central location for many illumination points. Fiber optic cables run underground from the illuminator box and are brought up into the foliage or other point of illumination. Light is literally pushed from the source through the cable to a small flexible fixture attached at the other end. Contributing to ease-of-maintenance, the fiber cable itself is inactive so it doesn't deteriorate and need replacement.

Fiber optic uses are limited only by the imagination. For example, for a new retail project in California, fiber optic cables will be used to light the tips of cantilevered arms that project off the face of a building. This kind of creative lighting will come into play more in architectural landscape design as the technology for fiber optics continues to improve.

Balancing safety and aesthetics

For many local office campuses, round-the-clock usage is a key consideration. Employees need to feel safe walking between the office and the cafeteria or another office building after dark, or even sitting in a courtyard in groups during a warm summer evening. Pathways and outside common spaces need to be well-lit, but at the same time, the lighting fixtures should accent and not over-power the natural beauty of gardens and forested areas, grassy open spaces and courtyard fountains.

With many offices having a view of the grounds, it is important that the scenery be as beautiful after dark as during the day. Lighting design techniques enhancing evening views include low-level lights that softly spotlight a group of trees at a building entrance, emphasize a spot of color on a pathway, or play off a fountain's water features so that staff can see playful movement at night.

Lighting fixtures at these campuses are carefully hidden by low-level planting or tucked under the edges of a fountain. As for effective yet unobtrusive lighting of walkways between buildings, high lamp posts with shielded light sources that eliminate glare are often used. This type of diffused light source illuminates the pathway and approaching walkers so they can be easily identified.

Shedding new light on an existing site

When Safeco decided to expand its Redmond business campus, security was of the utmost concern. The goal was to ascertain weak spots in the current site, such as areas that are heavily traveled and need high visibility, as well as areas where the company wants to dissuade employees from traveling at night by limiting roadway and pathway lighting.

The Safeco site is so large that there needed to be a hierarchy of pathways established for daytime, evening and limited travel. The design team came up with a corresponding hierarchy of lighting, topography, and exterior structures. The total effect is enhanced safety and scenic beauty.

The QL lamp

One new exterior lighting technology that several corporate clients are considering using is the Philips QL lamp, which lasts five to ten times longer than other current fluorescent or HID (high intensity discharge) light sources. This long-lasting lamp is based on induction technology. It has no filament or electrode to burn out, enabling a lifetime of up to 100,000 hours. The lighting quality provided by induction technology is excellent, plus there's no warm-up time. When changing a lamp becomes an expensive venture for an owner, such as on a bridge or in the roof eaves of a shopping mall, long life is a critical consideration.

Exterior lighting technologies -- whether they are in common use like the metal halide lamp or emerging players such as fiber optics and the Phillips Q-L lamp -- are helping to redefine the nature of landscape architecture, increasing both the level of creativity and functionality allowed. Corporate building owners and developers are responding by investing more dollars into integrating the right exterior lighting technologies with landscape architecture. Careful planning can result in a balance of security, functionality and long-lasting scenic beauty.

Denise B. Fong, is principal of Candela, the architectural lighting division of Sparling in Seattle.

Copyright © 1998 Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce.