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Fri 26 Dec 2008 04:00 AM

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Lighting the way

Gary Turner, director of Fagerhult Lighting Middle East, speaks to Middle East Architect about illumination, LEED accreditation and the importance of early collaboration between architects and designers.

Gary Turner, director of Fagerhult Lighting Middle East, speaks to Middle East Architect about illumination, LEED accreditation and the importance of early collaboration between architects and designers.

To me, lighting means simple illumination. Is there more to it?

Yes. A lot of research has gone into the impact of lighting on people. While lighting plays a big role in architecture and interior design, we've got to remember that the most expensive part of a building, by far, is the men and women who walk in and out everyday. The visual and biological impact of lighting is directly related to our level of well-being.

Lighting strategies work on a couple principles, the first of which is the 1:5:200 ratio. One, whether its dollars or dirhams, signifies the cost of the building; Five, is what the client will spend on it to make sure it functions well; 200 represents the value of the users and employess within.

So, lighting is about more than just making buildings shiny...

Lighting isn't just about making a building look attractive, it's about making the people who work there feel healthy, happy and productive. Our product DUO [launched in Europe in 2007] was developed on the basis of this premise.

Your body's Circadian Rhythm is a chart of the natural fluctuation of your melatonin level at different times throughout the day. DUO is a dynamic system that can be programmed to align lighting levels and intensity with your body's Circadian Rhythm.

We see part of our mission as making the architectural community aware of what is available to them. They may not use our products. They may have different ideas. But our job is to communicate to them that they have options.

Is Fagerhult working with any architects at the moment?

We've started working with a handful of really reputable architects and the questions we're getting from them is about how to achieve some really green, sustainable, LEED-accredited solutions and how best to wrap them in some really unique, cutting-edge designs. The reality is that in every building in the Middle East, we use tens of thousands of different types of lighting solutions.

The key issue for me is simple: with all the talk about achieving certain environmental standards for our end clients and being responsible to the global community, how can we best provide architects and designers with products they can use on a light-for-light basis that will reduce their energy loads by 30 to 40%?

We're not asking [architects] to create a revolution or drastically alter their design, just think differently about the existing technology.

Is that PR-speak or is a 40% reduction actually possible?

If we take a typical Dubai-style office, they've got anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 lights in them-all burning at 26 watts. We don't need to do that anymore; we can replace them with bulbs that burn at 17 watts. Because it's much more efficient, we can reduce the number of lights necessary. By using our Pleiad J2 technology on a light-for-light basis, you can reduce the lighting load on the building by 30-40%.

Are architects taking the time to learn about cutting-edge products?

Turner: After all the talk over the last 12 months about adopting LEED or BREEAM or Green Star or Estidama for new buildings, the paths of green design and green technology are beginning to cross.

Broadway Malyan, for example, has an environmental engineer work side-by-side with its architects to help advise on specification. They're doing one of the first Aldar communities on Al Raha Beach and I recently met with its director, Kevin Leahy, about using our lighting solutions throughout the project.

In the past, people would talk about green buildings and LEED accreditation but no one really meant it. Now, finally, the timing is right.

In general, how involved are most architects with lighting?

Sometimes architects pass down some of the lighting decisions to an MEP specialist. That is a bit frustrating. In the interest of driving the overall strategy for a building, if I'm an architect, I would not allow an MEP guy to cut and paste a design from two years ago onto one of my jobs. That's the challenge. How do we send that message to the architects? If I'm an architect, when should I get a lighting specialist involved?

We're always preaching to architects about the importance of getting people like us in at the planning stage. At the early stages, we can offer rough ballpark figures or an accurate assessment of the type of technology th+at's available.

For example, architects may dream about putting LEDs in and around office buildings but we can say with confidence that the technology simply won't be available until 2011. So, there's no point in selling the client the Great Valhalla of lighting solutions because it simply won't be ready.

If the decision to specify green products ultimately rests with developers or main contractors, why speak to architects?

I've seen a massive change in the attitudes of architects over the last ten years. Architects here are also entrepreneurs; they're business people. When they present to their clients, they need all the ammunition they can get to prove to that client that they're on the cutting edge of building technology. We as manufacturers need to make sure we have a constant medium for educating, discussing and transferring ideas with architects. It's a 2-way process. How do we make sure we're designing products that they need?

We spend a lot of time researching how to manufacture products they want, but how can we know for sure without talking to them? If we could improve that communication, the entire strategy for lighting in a project would be so much smoother.

You'd like architects to oversee lighting just as closely as decisions about form and materials...

Absolutely. In my view, that's the way the construction process works here. I think architects are in a far better and more influential position here than they are in some of the European countries.

For instance, in the UK, the architect is usually considered one member of the team of people making decisions; he has a say, but not the ultimate say.... Here, it's very traditional. The architect is still king.

Is lighting-specific over-design a common problem in this region?

I've found that there is a real belts-n-braces approach to a lot of things in this market. We've always believed that if you're going to design a corridor, there is a level of lighting required, call it 100. But here, often the same corridor will be designed to 150 or even 200, sometimes even higher.... In fact, because of this, a lot of our work is re-evaluating previous designs and re-engineering more efficient solutions.

What can you tell me about the future of lighting in the Middle East?

Solar panels are starting to be used in myriad different ways throughout the region. It's a fair question to ask why it's taken so long. The most exciting thing about solar panels is that although it's been a rude awakening, people in this region are starting to recognise the need to take energy consumption seriously.

For 25 years, I've encouraged consultants to just use smart solutions. You don't have to be radical, just be open to smart design. People here have always been really willing to take risks on what the building looks like outside, but when it comes to the interior, they become conservative.

Now, there is an absolute demand from architects, engineers and the government alike to heed energy conscious design; solar panels have got to play a part in that. There are ideas circulating but right now, I don't know of anyone doing any kind of integrated approach to lighting on solar panels but that is the next logical step.

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