Getting flexible with lighting

It’s probably true to say that the best lighting installations take account of all the options available in the context of the needs of the workforce and the client’s commercial and environmental imperatives. However, it’s equally true to observe that those lighting installations that fail to deliver best value are those that follow a formulaic approach with little regard to the specifics of the project.

This was certainly the case in the bad old days of ‘Cat 2 with everything’ when the EC Workstation Directive came into force and people didn’t dare innovate in case they fell foul of the Directive. Thankfully, developments such as CIBSE LG7 have helped to liberate the lighting designer’s options and in general lighting has got a lot better. Nevertheless, there are still many situations that are perfect for freestanding uplighting, possibly combined with directional task lighting, that miss this opportunity.

There are a number of key reasons for adopting a more flexible approach to lighting, ranging from improved visual comfort for staff through to reduced energy and maintenance costs – and freestanding lighting offers a very practical solution.

For example, the majority of fixed lighting is designed to provide a constant illuminance on the working plane, irrespective of the tasks being performed. Or, if it is adjustable, the user is required to access a complex lighting management system to make adjustments. And, very often, those adjustments will impact on a zone of luminaires and affect people at adjacent workstations.

In parallel, there is considerably more churn in workplaces than used to be the case, and as different individuals move into a space, the lighting requirements change. In order to address this fluid situation, the lighting needs to not only offer a level of flexibility, but it also needs to make it easy for individuals to adjust their personal lighting.

A flexible lighting system that centres on either freestanding fittings adjacent to the furniture, or fittings attached to the furniture, offers a great deal of flexibility. It can be configured to provide just uplighting, or a combination of uplighting and directional downlighting – the latter making use of microprism louvres to provide precise control of light distribution.

This approach uses the ceiling as an extensive reflector to create a bright and spacious feel in the space, and can therefore be an effective alternative to fixed ceiling lighting. It also corresponds to the greater emphasis placed on uplighting in CIBSE LG7.

At the same time, the directional component can be controlled to adjust the level and direction of light incident on the work surface. In this way, the users can adjust the lighting to suit their tasks and personal preferences. Because of the location of the fitting, all of the operating controls and power displays are at working height for easy access and visibility.

Alternatively, freestanding uplighting can be used in conjunction with separate task lighting, so the benefits of the uplighting are retained while the user has control of their individual lighting from the task lighting. In this case, complementary styles of the different fittings help to retain a consistent family feel to the lighting throughout the space.

In parallel with the staff churn mentioned above is an increase in the volume of office moves. Research shows that more than a third of workspaces are changed around at least once a year, and as the workstations move the lighting needs to be adapted to the new configuration. With fixed lighting this will often require re-location of luminaires and cabling – a costly and disruptive process.

Furthermore, it is equally easy to add freestanding lighting to an existing workspace, to enhance or complement the existing lighting. So, for example, the existing ceiling lighting could be dimmed or switched off when not required and then switched on to provide lower ambient light levels when cleaners are working in the space. Similarly, freestanding lighting is fully compatible with common control protocols such as DALI, so it is easily integrated into a lighting management regime.

A further cost of ownership benefit is that the lamps are located within easy reach, so re-lamping is very straightforward and does not require specialist access equipment.

There are some very strong arguments for considering the use of freestanding lighting – from the early design stages of a new build or refurbishment project. It won’t be ideal in every situation but it has great potential that is all too often overlooked.

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