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Dynamic library lighting design wins SOURCE Award

Ardra Zinkon, CLD, IALD, lighting designer and president of Tec Studio Inc. in Columbus, Ohio, earned the top prize for commercial lighting design at the 40th annual SOURCE Awards. Eaton’s Lighting Division caught up with Zinkon to learn more about library lighting and her dynamic work for the Columbus Metropolitan Library – Main Branch. 

Can you share some of the highlights of your award-winning project? 

AZ: The Carnegie portion of the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s main branch is more than 100 years old and has seen several renovations and a past expansion. The owner needed increased functionality and a clean, modern feel that worked well with the structure’s historical architecture.

  • Clerestory windows enhance the atrium during daytime hours. Uplights maintain ceiling brightness and bring balance to the space.
  • In the high ceiling, we included supplemental downlighting tied to a daylight harvesting system.
  • To overcome challenges created by low ceilings in the stack area, we used a staggered luminaire layout.
  • Miniature cove lighting on top of one of the columns and at the top of the barrel vault highlights dramatic details in the ceiling.
  • LED floodlights illuminate stained glass skylights for a gorgeous effect.
  • In the retail space, recessed linear LED asymmetric luminaires highlight the merchandise wall. LED combolights add sparkle.
  • At dusk, lighting highlights architectural details and creates a sense of wonder. Color-changing fountain lighting reminds patrons this is a place that should inspire imagination.

What are some of the challenges you encountered with your award-winning design for the Columbus Metropolitan Library?

AZ: This was a really lovely project. Of course, public projects always equal tight budgets, so we had to be thoughtful. Our firm was part of a great team with two architectural partners, GUND Partnership and Schooley Caldwell Architects, who specialize in historic preservation.

The low ceilings probably created the biggest architectural challenge. We replaced the existing suspended lighting, which just added to the space’s cave-like feel. The architects changed the palette and finish to help make the space feel more open. They also lightened the tint on the window glass to increase the natural light inside.

Did you use LEDs in this library lighting project? 

AZ: Yes. LEDs are really the new standard in the lighting industry today, and we use them almost exclusively. Quality LED lighting offers performance, multiple optics, smooth dimming and good color. All of these advancements make a lighting designer’s job much easier. 

How are libraries changing? How do these changes affect lighting design needs? 

AZ: We’re living in the digital age. Libraries continue to remain every bit as important as in the past, but collections are changing. People still rely on libraries as information centers, but now they’re getting more of that information digitally. That means computer stations and workstations are taking the place of tall stacks of books. 

Libraries are also expanding their ability to draw patrons by incorporating features like teen areas with green screens and recording studios. That means many kids who aspire to become film directors or record producers can now head to their local library for hands-on experience. Kids who want to unwind indoors after school or on the weekend can play games at libraries’ video game stations. One of our library clients had a technology petting zoo, where patrons could test a Kindle, a Nook and an iPad in a single visit.

Modern libraries must become more flexible to fit what’s happening in the space. Lighting designers have to incorporate more lighting controls. We have to balance general ambient lighting and specialized task lighting. Most libraries are built on a relatively open floor plan, and because tall stacks are disappearing in favor of shorter stacks and computer stations, we also have to lower light levels.

Why is it important to layer light in these spaces?

AZ: Layered lighting supports wayfinding. If everything looked the same, it’d be difficult to find a particular book or even the help desk. To create a visual callout for the help desk, we might do something different in the ceiling, such as a decorative fixture or a change in pattern or direction, directly above it. 

Architects tend to help make lighting designers’ jobs easier by breaking up the ceiling in a large space. But we also need to think about flexible lighting options in case things change. It’s all about using patterns and geometry.

How do you balance thoughtful design with energy-efficient lighting?

AZ: Lighting technology has advanced such that energy efficiency is no longer a struggle. As long as lighting designers understand the tools — how to use lighting fixtures in a space to achieve the desired effect — the energy part is easy. Plus, we can always make tweaks to meet legal requirements or local energy standards.

How do you blend modern lighting technology with historical architecture?

AZ: We have to be sensitive to buildings’ original, historical architecture. If we simply put downlights into a plaster ceiling as a primary source of illumination, it would seem as if we didn’t try. We want to find the best way to accommodate light fixtures in the architecture. 

The historic Carnegie portion of the Columbus Metropolitan Library is a great example. We eliminated some asymmetrical wall sconces added in the 1990s, as they weren’t in the best location. In their place, we built miniature coves that are more in line with the library’s architecture.

Our job is to ensure the lighting design never draws attention. Instead, people’s attention should be on the space and their experience. Are people staring at the lighting? If so, unless it’s a beautiful, decorative fixture, we’ve missed the mark. 

Why did you enter your Columbus Metropolitan Library work into the SOURCE Awards?

AZ: I value the opportunity to share my work and learn what others are doing. I also submit to both the IES Illumination awards and the IALD awards programs. It’s fantastic to be part of an industry that celebrates strong performance and exceptional work quality. The SOURCE Awards are presented at LIGHTFAIR; 20,000 people attend LIGHTFAIR, and it’s special to be part of something so big.

What would you say to someone who is on the fence about entering the SOURCE Awards?

AZ: Eaton’s SOURCE Awards submission process is open and less restrictive on content and word count than some other awards programs. Eaton gives designers the opportunity to tell more of their story. Having a few extra words to convey the challenges you faced and the solutions you developed is invaluable. Eaton recognizes that it isn’t just about the pretty pictures — it’s also about the path you traveled to get there. I believe they want to be seen as a company that values quality lighting, not just sales figures. They’ve also been a great manufacturer partner for my projects.

About the SOURCE Awards

The SOURCE Awards competition, established in 1977, is open to all lighting designers, architects, engineers, professional designers and consultants who use Eaton’s lighting fixtures in an interior or exterior design project. Students currently enrolled in any of these disciplines can also enter projects based on conceptual lighting designs utilizing Eaton’s lighting fixtures.

The competition requires the primary and predominant use of any or all of the Eaton’s lighting product lines. It also seeks a creative use of fixtures providing energy-efficient design solutions in addition to standard projects. Projects are judged on the blending of aesthetics, creative achievement and technical performance and the degree to which the lighting met project constraints and design concept goals.

Created to further the understanding, knowledge and function of lighting as a primary element in design, the SOURCE Awards competition has granted more than $600,000 to winners as well as industry-wide recognition for their efforts. Learn more and enter the SOURCE Awards competition.