Select your location

University dining hall lighting design trends

Whether it’s a mad dash to make it to class or a stroll with dormmates to the dining hall, the overall campus experience can be crucial for students to safely navigate and enjoy college. How can lighting design enhance the campus experience?  

The Eaton’s Lighting Division team spoke with Tec Studio’s Ardra Zinkon, CLD, IALD, on what’s trending in university dining hall lighting design and how lighting can impact the experience.

Student expectations

Student expectations should significantly shape the design choices made on a university campus. “Universities are looking to increase student recruitment and retention, and students expect less institutional spaces, especially in common areas, like a dining hall,” Zinkon said. “They want spaces to feel welcoming and high-end.”

The role of lighting on a campus aligns with this trend. “There’s a higher expectation from students, so lighting designs are created based on that goal experience,” Zinkon said. “Students want a space to have retail-like appeal, and from a university branding standpoint, it can set you apart from other universities. For example, the dining hall is a hub, a common area that can really be a central thread throughout the campus. It’s important to create a lighting design that’s not only functional in this space but also creates the right atmosphere.”

Creating a lighting design

On a university campus, you may be working in a building that’s more than 100 years old, with varying lighting controls that differ from other newer sections of campus. How can you create a custom feel for this space and make it efficient?

“We have to be mindful of the longevity of the lighting and the budget,” Zinkon said. “Something too trendy may need to be replaced more frequently to meet aesthetic changes. We look at the architecture and the flow of the space. In a dining hall, it’s typical to have four or five different ceiling heights. I want to make each section feel special but be mindful of maintenance.”

In a dining hall, life cycles of luminaires and their accessibility for maintenance can be crucial. “When we look at the decorative lighting or track lighting, we tend to use retrofit LED lamps, knowing the university is probably used to changing light bulbs and doesn’t have to consider replacing drivers or power sources,” Zinkon said. “A typical retail space or café may be OK replacing a power source every five years, but a university doesn’t always have that flexibility.” 

Incorporating connected lighting

Connected lighting plays an important role in university dining halls. Ohio University’s West Green Market utilizes controls to execute its green goals. “The lighting design for this project resulted in an energy savings of 25 percent less than the allowable ASHRAE lighting power density, and the project achieved LEED Gold certification,” Zinkon said.

Not only does connected lighting save energy, but it also provides just the right amount of light through occupancy sensors and dimmers. “With energy considerations and daylight harvesting, we utilize dimming and timers in zoned spaces to work in accompaniment with the available light through windows.” 

The future of campus lighting design 

Universities are cutting-edge, and lighting designs have to meet the expectations of the university and the students. “These updated and recent dining halls are phenomenal — they’re not institutional at all. They feel like a higher-end space, and the value they can bring to a university is huge,” Zinkon said. “Considerations like soft seating, high bar tops versus low-top tables and spaces resembling food courts bring a whole new look and function to a dining hall.”

With connected lighting becoming an integral part of lighting design and the internet of things (IoT) playing a larger role, university lighting design will become smarter and work harder.

“I think IoT will play a huge role in every space of a university,” Zinkon said. “For example, students will be looking to access Wi-Fi from anywhere, and because lighting is layered in a grid, it will become the hub.”

“Lighting will continue to be an integral part of the experience for everyone on a university campus. From the energy-saving effects of connected lighting to the additional possibilities of IoT, the dynamic interaction between lighting and users will become seamlessly integrated into the university experience.” 

(Photos courtesy of Scott Pease)