Is there a design term with more shades of meaning than “human centric lighting”? A query on Google yields 7.4 million results, give or take a few hundred thousand.

For growing numbers of lighting designers and the clients they work with, understanding what human centric lighting is--and isn’t--is at the heart of an office’s transformation. While the research is still formative, initial studies report gains in worker productivity that are measurable, significant, and repeatable. One European investigation claims productivity improvements equivalent to two more hours a month. Multiplied over a workforce population, that represents a spectacular payback.

Holistic Approach Supports Lighting Designer Creativity and Customized Solutions
So what is human centric lighting? Some say it’s related to our circadian clock, the body’s natural response to the ebb and surge of solar light. Just last year the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine was awarded to researchers who study molecular mechanisms controlling circadian rhythm.

However, other lighting design experts argue a circadian-based understanding is far too narrow, and that human centric lighting must be understood holistically. Who has control to change the lighting of a space? Or a workstation? How do you mitigate glare without sacrificing a window view? How do you seamlessly blend daylight with artificial light to lift worker comfort and productivity while reducing energy expense?

A non-prescriptive, non-standardized holistic approach to human centric lighting plays to the strength of the lighting designer. It frees the lighting designer to use their creativity, training, and talent to customize a lighting solution unique to the client’s requirements.

Documenting a Winning Sequence of Operations Starts with Proven Experience
How a customized solution is delivered means pre-defining a series of lighting actions and settings for each space known as the sequence of operations. Consider the complexity of a hospital patient room, for example. Some patients may sometimes sleep-in - should the shades open automatically in the morning? If a patient wants to take a nap – how much control of the lighting in the room do they have? And when should the hospital staff have the ability to override that control? How should lighting adjust when a nurse checks-in on a sleeping patient late in the evening?

According to Brent Protzman, director of building science and standards development for Lutron, a leading manufacturer in the area of lighting control, top lighting designers engage all stakeholders to document and program a sequence of operations. “It’s really important to carefully think through the sequence of operations. If you’re new to this, be sure to work with experienced people that understand the research and can verify accomplishment through pilot programs and demonstration projects,” advises Protzman.

Getting the User Experience Right Isn’t Easy but the Results can be Spectacular

The American Society of Interior Design (ASID) recently moved into a new Washington, D.C., headquarters. The new facility claims the distinction of simultaneously achieving Platinum-level certification from both the WELL v1 Building Standard and LEED IC+C. It is arguably the most worker-friendly office in the world.

A major contributor to this remarkable achievement is an office lighting solution devised by James Benya and Deborah Burnett of Benya Burnett Consultancy. Their groundbreaking solution is an elegant blend of natural daylight, advanced shading, and a smart lighting control solution, as well as service and support from Lutron. WELL and LEED authorities cited ASID’s lighting design in 10 of the 86 WELL Features and contributed 21 LEED points across 10 credits and 4 categories.

Photo © Eric Laignel of Perkins and Will
Photo © Eric Laignel of Perkins and Will

Achieving the Human Centric Ideal with 80 Percent Energy Savings
Walking through the ASID headquarters is a master class in lighting efficiency and purpose. The choreography between daylighting, shading, and Lutron technology achieves the human centric ideal in expected and unexpected ways. “The programming automatically adjusts light intensities and durations for seasonal solar angles, changing weather conditions, available daylight, and occupancy,” observes Burnett. The mix of daylighting, tuning, occupancy sensors, and personal control have reduced their light bill by nearly 80 percent, according to ASID.

Photo © Eric Laignel of Perkins and Will
Photo © Eric Laignel of Perkins and Will

Measurable Results that Yield Rapid Payback
What’s more, ASID calculations based on a variety of cost and productivity metrics indicate the organization will recoup its investment on its new headquarters within the first half of its 10-year lease agreement. A comprehensive report on ASID findings is available here.

To the question “What is human centric lighting?”, lighting designers like Benya Burnett Consultancy are answering with outcomes that reinvent the art and science of what’s possible in today’s workspace.

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