Lighting up the way to success
As homes, workplaces and public spaces become smarter and more connected, the role of lighting within the built environment looks set to change significantly. Optelma Architectural Lighting is at the heart of this evolution, where innovation is taking different forms to those you might expect. Optelma’s Director, Julian Birch, told Breakthrough magazine more.
Lighting is often taken for granted. It is there, and, often, as long it illuminates the area adequately it is rarely given much more thought. However, it is, in fact, a sector where a significant amount of innovation is taking place. Now UK-based, the industrial and commercial lighting manufacturer, Optelma, were originally founded in Switzerland over 60 years ago. Today, the company is developing sector leading innovations with some high profile projects for blue-chip clients such as Bose, The National Theatre and Habitat.
On a typical project Optelma will need to consider the requirements of an architect, a lighting design consultant and the end user. It is also often a complex balance between the visual aesthetics, legislative compliance and, of course, cost - with the company's role being to make those competing dynamics work.
Julian explained how the relationships work. "An architect will typically start with a vision for a space, and we will have to create that feel for them. A recent example at Bloomingdales in Kuwait called for a moving ceiling that was tunable, in colour terms, to simulate the exterior lighting. The architect wanted to make the ceiling look like a giant skylight window and mask the fact that it was, in effect, underground.
"But technically we also have to meet a range of standards that may conflict with the architect's vision. The Bloomingdales example was a retail environment, so, the lighting also had to support the practical requirements of the space and its users. Then regardless of the project, we also need to bring in the control and efficiency requirements. Optelma’s role is to ensure all these areas come together to satisfy all the stakeholders, keeping the need for compromise to a minimum."
The more well-known aspects of innovation in lighting involve the introduction and development of LED technologies, which has had a massive impact on the sector with both the energy and cost savings it can offer.
Increasingly, however, control technology is also bringing new capabilities into the sector, and this is also the focus of a lot of innovation activity. A widely used control technology, known as DALI (Digital Addressable Lighting Interface) has traditionally been hard-wired. Today, it is increasingly being given Bluetooth connectivity, to enable remote control. This capability is a particular advantage for installations in spaces where adding additional cabling is an issue - perhaps due to it being a listed building.
This type of development, where the lighting takes on a more connected form, opens up a potential role for lighting that may be less obvious - integration with other smart systems. This move builds on the fact that lighting systems can also provide an ideal carrier for other technologies and functions within a building. They are powered, so can also supply the power for other systems more easily and cost-effectively than running new supplies. Plus, lighting systems are already widespread in a typical building, offering a broad range of locations for integrated systems.
This integration was first employed by Optelma on a project for the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. Julian explained: "We incorporated passive infrared detectors into the light fittings at the library. Initially, the technology gave the library the ability to only light where it was needed - switching off the fittings in empty rooms and areas of the building.
"But, the detectors were also able to capture valuable information about how visitors were using the library, as they tracked traffic flows around the site. This helped to inform how the library laid its books out and structured visitor flow around the space."
Another project that involved integrating the lighting with other systems - for entirely different reasons - was lighting the concourse as part of the refurbishment of Paddington Station.
The design of the station incorporates many hard materials. This is a real advantage regarding fire safety, an aspect that is an important criterion for well-used public spaces. However, an unintended consequence the material choice can have is the impact on the site's acoustics. This has a significant knock-on impact on the tannoy systems, which of course are a vital aspect of a busy transport hub.
The contractors working on behalf of Crossrail approached Optelma and asked the company to investigate how acoustic deadening could be incorporated within the luminaires they were due to manufacture and install across the concourse.
The luminaires already had a complex lighting function to perform. But, on top of this, Optelma's designers had to spend a lot of time working with an acoustics company to understand how they should incorporate baffling materials, looking at how much should be open to the air and how much could be integrated inside the light fittings. The design project took two years to complete, but eventually, the overarching aims were achieved.
Acoustics is an issue that is becoming increasingly prevalent as architectural trends move towards an industrial theme and elements that helped - such as suspended ceilings- are used less often. The Crossrail project gave Optelma a new level of understanding in this area and helped it develop new capabilities it is now able to take to other projects where similar problems arise.
The trend for integration of other services within the lighting systems in buildings is one that Justin sees continuing. As buildings become smarter, and as technologies become more closely connected - led in part by the growth of the Internet of things - he believes we should expect to see our lighting cover an increasing number of additional functions.
So, next time you are in your office, or a well lit retail space perhaps, take a moment to think about what could be going on inside those light fittings. The chances are it’s a lot more than you might think.
Optelma Architectural Lighting has worked with Breakthrough funding, a company that helps UK SMEs achieve R&D tax credits - a government scheme created to enhance and reward innovation amongst UK businesses. Could you be eligible? Click here to learn more.
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