Thinking Green: “Light Surfaces, Not Spaces”

Thinking Green: “Light Surfaces, Not Spaces”
“Light is the first element of design; without it there is no color, form, or texture.” – Thomas E. Farin


It’s no secret that well-executed lighting design is essential to creating more productive workplaces, fostering employee well being, and lifting the spirits of visitors when they walk through the doors. Gone are the days of harsh, fluorescent lighting and sparse daylight. At IKM, we stress the effects of lighting design to make a difference for the end-users of all of our projects: from creating a healing environment for healthcare patients to inviting study spaces for students of all ages.

Illuminating the built environment moves far beyond aesthetics, however. In fact, it was one of the most pivotal tools we had in making aggressive changes to the sustainability of our new office at 11 Stanwix as part of our AIA 2030 Commitment and the Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge:


No Light Matter

Moving into a building that achieved its LEED Gold Certification in 2014, we had the groundwork laid for IKM to take a fully sustainable approach in the design of our new home. As we pursue LEED Gold O+M Certification, the manipulation of light throughout our office became a focal point of our design concept and conservation efforts that resulted in an 83% reduction in kwh/day from our PPG Office.

Working directly with LaFace & McGovern, we found products that allowed us to utilize 100% LED light fixtures throughout, earning us 5 LEED credits. The charge to light surfaces opposed to open space led us to focus on utilizing wall wash fixtures as part of our design to highlight various architectural elements. This allowed for whole surfaces to glow, producing a softer, more ambient light to illuminate areas of the office.

While the required foot-candles were not going anywhere, the notion of not illuminating “space” also opened the opportunity to completely remove lighting above the perimeter workstations. Instead, the design takes full advantage of the vast amount of natural daylight that enters the building on all sides with individually controlled task lights for more focused work. Occupancy sensors are placed throughout the office, while a time clock operates circulation lighting; assuring that light fixtures are not left to burn when no one is around.


Behind the Scenes

Designing with the existing mechanical system of the 22nd floor proved to be the most daunting challenge. The building has a total of 4 air handlers, each of which are serving 6 floors running at their maximum capacity. Each floor has a total of 18 dual-duct boxes to heat and cool the perimeter at the radiant base. These boxes are all located above the ceiling on the floor below and, as a result, were not touched as part of our design. This left just 4 cooling-only VAV (Variable Air Volume) boxes to provide airflow into our space from the ceiling. With the existing air handlers already running at their maximum capacity for air flow, we decided to remove these 4 cooling VAVs and replace them with 24 smaller units, dividing the allotted amount of air flow between them. The use of multiple units allowed for greater control  of comfort around the various spaces of the office all while not adding additional load on the air handlers. This solution to divide and conquer the air worked for many of the spaces throughout the new office, but there were two that required additional muscle.

Large gathering spaces such as the Break Room and Main Conference Room received individual supplemental cooling units to assist with the added heat load that accompanies the rooms being filled to capacity. We also used window treatments on all 95 windows to combat unwanted heat loads. A light grey textile of 3% opacity was used to reduce absorption of heat gain while still allowing for views, even when the blinds are down. Window treatment was most critical on the widely exposed south facing façade of the building. The windows on this façade have an existing film aimed at assisting in the reduction of heat buildup at the exterior.

This lighting solution worked for us given the availability of natural daylight and 360 degree window coverage. Every new project moving forward will present new obstacles that require a different set of solutions, whether it’s new construction or a retrofit. Despite there never being a “one-size-fits-all” approach, the lighting and mechanical challenges faced on the design of our new office prove that the best solutions are often not singular, but rather the sum of a variety of targeted decisions that support the project goals as a whole. 



Process nerd, Proud dog father, unapologetic Third Eye Blind groupie

 Mantra: “If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” 

– Vincent Van Gogh