Dynamic Lighting for Engaging Interior Environments

Lighting is more than just illumination; it also sets the tone, influences our moods, and enhances our emotions. Simply stated: lighting inspires.

We have come to expect beautiful lighting in restaurant, theaters, and other welcoming and creative environments. We also expect that the design of fixtures and their layout within a space provides adequate illumination for each task at hand. Building codes typically regulate metrics such as foot-candle levels and energy usage, but seldom address other aspects of lighting design.

Well-designed lighting doesn’t just create a pleasant atmosphere or meet building codes to illuminate a work surface, however. Light impacts human wellness with non-visual effects on our bodies, our circadian rhythms, and our sleep-wake cycles. Light also influences the regulation of our biological clocks and the secretion of hormones such as melatonin and cortisol.

Artificial lighting typically is constant and consistent, maintaining uniform luminance and color temperature. Conversely, natural light varies through the day as result of weather or the sun’s position in the sky. Humans are accustomed to these subtle lighting shifts which influence our perception of time, place, and season.

Most people spend almost 90% of their lifetimes in indoor environments; therefore, lighting should be important to us all. Dynamic lighting allows us to compensate for our vision needs and fulfill our physical and psychological expectations. We can achieve some of the health benefits of natural light with artificial lighting.

In most cases, designing dynamic lighting involves changing the color temperature and intensity of lighting automatically throughout the day, mixing the light output from different lamps creating varying balances of cool and warm illumination. In nature, early morning and late evening light fall at the warmer end of the color spectrum, while bright sunlight at noon on a clear summer day falls at the cool end of the color spectrum. Cooler light temperatures encourage energy and focus while warmer light temperatures promote relaxation, and different tones may be appropriate for different spaces. With dynamic lighting design, gradual changes enhance the quality of the space, emulating natural light akin to clouds passing in the sky. The goal of a dynamic lighting system is to achieve an optimal level of comfort while remaining in the background with subtle variations.

Research indicates that dynamic lighting supports better productivity, better learning, and better health for building inhabitants. A 2012 study found a 19% improvement in reading fluency with classroom lighting optimized for focus; a 2016 study showed improved performance on both academic and recess activities with lighting temperatures tailored to the task.  Across many studies, through both quantitative and qualitative data, adults report higher levels of productivity and happiness when working in environments with dynamic lighting. Dynamic lighting can also potentially save energy in the process by dimming lights or operating fixtures below maximum outputs (which also extends the life of lamps).

In working with our design teams, clients, and engineering consultants, it is important for us to remember the potential impact of lighting on a building’s inhabitants. Working together to optimize a dynamic lighting design for a space, we can create a human-centered atmosphere that supports health, happiness, productivity, and long-term wellness.

About Wil

Associate Principal William Drennan, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, CDT leads the Interior Architecture Studio in LS3P’s Charlotte office. Wil brings 18 years of experience in design, production, documentation and construction administration, culminating in a comprehensive knowledge of design principles, practices and aesthetics. He has served as project manager and/or lead designer for commercial offices, masterplanning, mixed-use development, hospitality projects, K-12 schools, law offices and judicial centers. Wil encourages strong relationships between the Interior Architecture Studio and Architectural Design Studios for collaborative projects combining architecture with interior architecture. For standalone interiors projects, he coordinates design and drawing production/review among the design team, engineers, owners, and reviewing agencies.

Wil’s personable demeanor and jovial disposition builds an esprit de corps across the entire project team. He advocates sharing “lessons learned” to inform his clients and to illustrate ideas or aspects of design considerations.