Futureproofing the Workplace p.3

The recipe for a revolution in Workplace Lighting Design

Office design in the 60′s and 70′s is depicted by the image alongside – a set from the Emmy Award winning series, Madmen. The mandate on lighting in this era was simple, “the more light the better”. Without too many computer screens about, employees worked mostly with paper documents and the result was the standard 600×600 ceiling grid concealing services but, also acting as support for the great energy sapping fluorescent. Workplace design has changed dramatically in the last 50 years, however, for some inexplicable reason our commercial lighting design remains stuck in another era. We must be Madmen!

In South Africa, it’s hard not to notice that it’s only the small “boutique-type” commercial spaces that we see an inkling of the LG7 compliant lighting that in the ’90s made office space look cool and also had a positive effect on the tenants bottom line.  LG7 introduced the removal of ceiling grids, exposing service ducts and the placement of light fittings that illuminated not only horizontal ground surfaces but, vertical walls and ceilings as well – fewer light fittings were therefore being used to “bounce” and create more ambient light. It has widely been recognized as a better solution yet South African commercial spaces are still littered with oppressive 1970′s lighting methodology. PIR sensors are all the rage as the apparent the holy grail to energy savings as LED alternatives are either too expensive or simply misunderstood.

Coupled with developer’s lack of understanding (or convenient ignorance) of effective lighting plus the client’s and designers unfounded fear of pushing budgets, we are left with a number of ergonomic, economic and environmental (EEE) challenges with respect to lighting:

Contrast requirements as a function of Age.
The Demographic Paradigm shift mentioned in Part 1 highlights not only an aging workforce but also a widening age gap between knowledge workers. The following therefore needs to be considered in future lighting solutions:

  1. Persons aged 61-70 require 3.5 times the contrast of persons ages 20-30
  2. More light increases contrast therefore, the need for more light increases with age and as shown in the graph below increases exponentially after age – 40.

This demographic aspect alone simply renders current ‘lighting grids’ out of date. The burning question is how do we accommodate the increasing need for flexibility (there’s that word again) of light intensity for each user in future workplaces?

Monitor/Document Conflict
Monitors generate light, while paper reflects light and as a result the lux levels required to read paper-based documents are 4 to 5 times higher than the levels required to view your screen. With eye movements between monitor screen, keyboard and paper documents occurring up to 30,000 times per day* the fatigue and visual discomforts are, over time, enormous.

Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)
Add into the mix, screen glare from fixed overhead lighting and one can understand why 90% of computer based users in the US experience headaches, blurred vision, neck pain, fatigue and eye strain** – all symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome

Poor Energy consumption
Archaic SABS Standards suggest our engineers are required to flood our office floors with minimum 400lux. Compare this to 1st world standards that recommend varied lux levels for different tasks and you start to understand that our legislation is one of the main ingredients to energy sapping lighting design that is nowhere near flexible enough to accommodate the multiple tasks today’s knowledge workers are required to complete.

There is light at the end of the tunnel (sorry, couldn’t resist). A global understanding exists that sustainable buildings are no longer a fad but a necessity. Governments of developed economies are legislating sustainable building practices and it won’t be long before developing economies start to follow suit. To this end the Green Building Council SA is developing a series of environmental assessment tools for range of property types that will aid the SA industry to take a sustainable design path that can be measured.  LED’s as a lighting source are improving and prices are dropping. They also last longer and require less maintenance so their ROI is becoming notably higher. Add to this the realization from most corporates that looking after our human capital plays a significant role in future-proofing our workplaces and you have the ingredients for political and private will to inspire a revolution in Workplace lighting design.

In part 3.1 we will introduce task lighting and the role it can/will play in future-proofing the Modern Workplace.

source * Kuratorium Gutes Sehen, Sehen am Bildschirmarbeitsplatz, KGS, Köln

source ** Occupational Health and Safety Administration, US

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