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Office lighting design and the workplace of the future

Want to win the war for top talent in today’s crowded field? Your physical space might make or break you.

“Competition for talent is driving innovation in the workplace,” said Amy Bezanson, director of development for Crescent Communities. “Companies like Apple, Facebook and Google have mastered the art of not only landing fresh talent, but keeping it, with enviable campuses that make the traditional cubicle farm look positively prehistoric.

“It’s all part of a blurring of the lines between live, work and play.”

We talked with Bezanson to get her take on how employers can succeed in today’s changing landscape as well as the crucial role of smart buildings and office lighting design.

Successful companies commit to creating an experience, not just a workplace.

Bezanson is part of the team behind Ally Charlotte Center, a mixed-use development that will transform Charlotte’s skyline from the ground level when it opens in 2021.

“We really like our location, because it creates a gateway to uptown,” Bezanson said. “With a casual mix of retail reminiscent of Charlotte’s historic South End, expansive public spaces and state-of-the-art professional space, it bridges the best of two worlds.”

The mixed-use community will include commercial space for thousands of workers, a full-service hotel, a shared parking garage and a half-acre of public space with more than 25,000 square feet of street-level shops and restaurants.

LED commercial lighting and lighting controls will lend a big hand as Crescent crafts the Ally Charlotte Center experience.

“Lighting controls allow us to adjust color and light levels,” Bezanson said. “The design flexibility warranted by the small size of LEDs also allows us to design lighting in ways that were previously prohibitive. This technology opens the door for more creative lighting solutions, from reflective ceilings to hidden LED fixtures that wrap around a portal to form a slice of light.”

LEDs will also enhance a gallery space with retail tenants located between the office building and parking garage. Because of its location, retail shops here will not be as visible as their neighbors at the street level. But a series of LEDs on a suspended cable system will create a festive feel and encourage people to visit the space.

This innovative LED commercial lighting system is just one example of lighting’s place at the intersection of art and technology. Bezanson believes lighting — especially architectural lighting — combines elements of design, engineering and physics to produce clear physiological and psychological effects.

“At Ally Charlotte Center, people will be busy and active for up to 18 hours a day,” Bezanson said. “Lighting is one aspect we can design to differentiate office space from retail space and create a sense of place.

“Sometimes there’s a tendency to overlight spaces, and the result doesn’t feel nice. First and foremost, we need to meet code requirements to ensure safety. But outside of that, we want lighting to be true to the texture of the space and the intended mood. Lighting enhances spatial awareness and calls attention to the right things. It’s the glowing portal that highlights the office building’s main entry or the illumination that ensures retail signage is visible and readable.

“Further, inventive lighting design increases the possibility for social connections by creating spontaneous meeting places. It enhances that sense of community.”

Companies must consider the preferences of workers spanning as many as five generations.

The current workforce is a melting pot of talent spanning five generations, from the pre-1946 traditionalists (also known as the silent generation) to the post-1997 kids of Gen 2020 (also known as Gen Z).

“Things like physical comfort, acoustic privacy, separate meeting spaces, security, employee engagement — those are all values determined partially by age and life stage,” Bezanson said. “Because many companies have a workforce that spans the generations, they need a logical way to provide a workplace that is flexible enough to meet everyone’s needs and deliver an experience.”

Current LED commercial lighting trends and lighting controls facilitate more flexible workspaces.

When workplace design trends first began to shift away from the cubicle mentality, companies prioritized large, open spaces featuring collaborative work areas. The thought was that whole-floor visibility would help workers feel connected to their colleagues. But that’s beginning to change.

“We realized people have individual preferences, and different tasks need different things,” Bezanson said. “Lighting plays a major role.

“If I’m reviewing drawings or reading through a contract, for example, I like LED task lighting. But I also use the huddle rooms in our office. These rooms have large windows for natural light, and the lights always seem to be off. The mood is comfortable, almost like home. This kind of setting supports casual conversation better than potentially harsh overhead lighting.”

LEDs support a concept called agile working, which centers on creating a flexible and productive work environment. In this model, spaces have more than one purpose. They may be used as a quiet workspace in the morning, as a café at lunchtime and for team meetings in the afternoon.

“With switching, dimming and more advanced lighting controls, office lighting design is much more sophisticated than it used to be,” Bezanson said. “LEDs are faster and more customizable than their predecessors. A lot of the early lighting controls were based on times — for example, the lights in an office might dim or shut off after 6 p.m. But this isn’t helpful for people who work later in the evening.”

Smart lighting design, and smart buildings, help keep workers healthy and happy.

“We believe that moving forward, technology and policies that enhance choice and control will be very important,” Bezanson said. “And that ties directly to lighting.

“Exposure to natural light increases productivity and makes us less likely to get sick. And unlike some aspects of workplace design, the desire for natural light spans across all generations. That’s one reason why we do daylight modeling, so we can understand how daylight will interact with a space before we ever break ground.”

While we can’t actually control natural light, lighting controls allow us to introduce the right type and amount of artificial light to balance with the natural light in a space. This helps ensure the space remains comfortable regardless of the weather or time of year or day, though Bezanson cautioned that humans should have the ability to override existing controls when needed.

WELL certification, which deals with the “wellness” of a building and emerged partially in response to sick building syndrome, also includes specific illumination guidelines to enhance productivity and minimize disruptions to humans’ natural circadian rhythm, supporting sleep quality.

“It’s important to ensure appropriate visual acuity,” Bezanson said. “Consider things like visual lighting design, circadian lighting design, electric light glare, solar glare, color temperature and surface design for internal building materials. Shading and dimming controls can also aid visual comfort.”

Energy efficiency is more important than ever.

Stringent code requirements are a modern reality. In fact, Bezanson said some newer requirements are stricter than LEED requirements.

“Lighting controls are critical to meeting modern energy requirements. At Ally Charlotte Center, we’re incorporating everything from dimmers to occupancy sensors, and we’ll have lighting control systems tied into the overall building management system.”

The programmable nature of LEDs benefits developers and tenants by introducing lighting fixtures that can incorporate integrated sensors that map and quantify energy savings.

“It’s great to be able to share this kind of information with tenants and future development partners, especially when you need to be able to sell solutions to potential equity partners,” Bezanson said. “The upfront infrastructure can be incredibly expensive, but lighting controls soften that blow.”

The future is already here.

In 2017, Ally Charlotte Center became the first office building in North Carolina to register for LEED, WELL and WiredScore certifications — but it won’t be the last.

“This stuff will begin to blend into the background as it becomes the new normal,” Bezanson said. “I’m excited about a future focused on helping workers be healthier and happier, while performing at their very best.”