The Light Solution

Lighting designers working in an integrated design process are influencing building performance, creating better environments and earning top industry honors.

Lighting design is half art, half science. The desire to create spaces that are beautiful and inspire the people using them must be delicately balanced with watts-per-foot calculations and code compliance.

“Lighting has the ability to sculpt the environment and choreograph how the user experiences a space,’” says Debra Fox, Director of Lighting for LPA Design Studios.

Within LPA’s integrated design process, the lighting team is uniquely positioned to influence larger project goals. From the start of the process, lighting designers work side by side in a collaborative environment with architects, interior designers, landscape architects and engineers.

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Rooftop pool lighting at WeHo Aquatics & Recreation Center balances structure, weight, wind loads and space limitations to provide uniform, television-quality optics and positioning.

“Creatively, when we’re working in our integrated team we come to the table with a different perspective,” Fox says. “We’re looking for ways lighting can really impact a space, to make it interesting and evocative to people.”

In recent years, the lighting team has collaborated on a series of projects that merged lighting strategies with a project’s core missions to develop creative, comfortable environments that enhanced wayfinding and reduced operating costs. From influencing a building’s form to collaborating with landscape architects on tree locations, the lighting team’s impact can be seen in a wide variety of projects, across market sectors.

Lighting has the ability to sculpt the environment and choreograph how the user experiences a space.

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At MerchSource headquarters, showroom lighting draws attention to merchandise display areas and enhances the social vibe.

Working with the K-12 education team, LPA’s lighting designers earned local and national 2023 Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) Awards of Merit for both Interior and Outdoor Lighting Design for TIDE Academy, a three-story STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics)-focused public school in Menlo Park, where the lighting supports a variety of indoor and outdoor learning spaces and turns the campus into a welcoming “glowing hub” at night. For the West Hollywood Aquatic and Recreation Center, the lighting team worked with engineers and designers to illuminate a rooftop pool, showcase the city’s art installations and create a distinctive identity for the urban facility. That design earned a local 2023 IES Award of Excellence for Outdoor Lighting Design.

The lighting team’s success is coming at a time when designers are focusing more on feature spaces and the need to do more with less. Restrictive energy codes and the push to net zero are reducing lighting power densities, which means there is less wattage available to work with on a project.

“Bringing us in early means we can pick our moments and choose where to use the watts per square foot to really impact how the user engages a space,” says LPA lighting designer Rebecca Ceballos. “Working as a unit builds trust among project teams and fosters really innovative lighting design ideas, like the custom West Hollywood sign that is digitally controlled every five inches to create dynamic lighting.”

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MerchSource headquarters takes advantage of outdoor adjacency to minimize artificial lighting and bring down the project’s watts per square foot.

A Diversity of Environments
In the workplace practice, the lighting team works with the interior designers to develop environments that support different work styles and the needs of a diverse workforce. Lighting plays an important element in creating spaces to support neurodiverse individuals, who may possess heightened sensitivity to environmental stimuli or a need for private spaces. Lighting can make spaces more comfortable, accessible and easier to navigate.

“You can install two-by-two light fixtures and a basic ceiling, and meet your recommended light levels, but will it be a well-crafted space?” says Fox, who has worked with LPA for the last 14 years. “Will the proposed lighting strategy limit glare? Will it balance the daylight from adjacent windows and make the space more comfortable for people?”

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Fixtures hidden in the interior architecture at MerchSource highlight the distinctive materials and forms.

Working with designers, the lighting team develops options that will have long-range implications for the owner and users. A black ceiling may work well aesthetically for a design, but a lighter color will help reflect light into the space, decreasing contrast ratios.

In a different setting, lighting is a tool that can draw attention to a space. During the design process for the new headquarters for MerchSource, an international consumer products company, the lighting team worked with the designers to seamlessly support a wide variety of office environments, design studios, display areas and social spaces, each capturing the company’s specific vibe. The lighting design, which earned local and national IES Merit Awards, helps create showcases for individual brands, such as FAO Schwarz and Sharper Image, including branded retail showrooms.

“The MerchSource design has great forms and shapes that are really enhanced through the light,” says LPA Design Director Rick D’Amato. “On many of these projects, the lighting carries the design narrative to the next level.”

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Lamps and wall finishes turn a staircase landing into a singular experiential moment at MerchSource headquarters.

Lighting designers can also extend the company’s brand and rejuvenate older spaces. In San Diego, LPA’s lighting team worked with designers to reposition the building entry for 701B, a downtown office tower. An illuminated water wall and up-lit sculptural canopy were used to enhance and revitalize the entire entry experience, while effectively reinforcing the architectural and interior rebranding vision. As a result of the integrated team process, 701B won a national 2019 IES Award of Merit for energy and environmental design, illustrating that energy efficiency doesn’t necessarily mean boring design.

“Lighting can’t be added after the fact or done out of necessity,” D’Amato says. “To be part of the look, feel and emotion of the space, it must be part of the discussion from the beginning of the project.”

Lighting the Community

Evidence of the lighting team’s early involvement can be found throughout the West Hollywood Aquatic and Recreation Center. Illuminating the rooftop pool with a series of angled pole lights required collaboration with engineers to consider the building structure, weight, wind loads and spacing limitations. The fixtures ultimately helped shape the facility’s silhouette; linear lighting running across the top deck and concealed illuminated handrails at the feature stairs help create an ambiance that draws people to the building.

“The lighting really impacted the form and helped us simplify some of the design elements,” D’Amato says. “This integration makes the building come alive at night and adds value to the project.”

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A large neon image of a red-capped diving woman ties WeHo ARC to the city’s legacy as an urban arts center.

We were able to push the boundaries. Within these integrated relationships, the team is more open to creative ideas.

The sign for the facility took on a life on its own, as designers focused on technology that illuminates the edges with thin lights that can be programmed to change colors. “I remember telling Rick I have this crazy idea,” says Ceballos. The sign provides the facility with a distinctive landmark that can be customized for events and holidays, while also providing lighting for the deck. “We were able to push the boundaries,” Ceballos says. “Within these integrated relationships, the team is more open to creative ideas.”

Civic facilities often present opportunities for creative touches, as communities look for different ways to create safe public spaces and connect different activities. The new Crown Valley Community Center, which consolidated and replaced the city’s 40-year-old recreation center, was designed to connect a wide array of community spaces. The lighting uses illuminated floating roofs, adjustable floodlights, lighted pathways and handrails, and decorative pendants to link the center to the surrounding spaces. All interior spaces have daylight sensors, occupancy sensors and local dimming controls, with specialty controls for the ballrooms and movement rooms, to maximize energy efficiency while achieving a national Award of Merit from IES in 2021 for energy and environmental design.

The lighting strategies for the Crown Valley center helped reduce predicted energy use by 30% from the industry baseline. The West Hollywood aquatic center reduced energy use by 32%, illustrating that creative, impactful lighting doesn’t have to mean higher energy costs for communities.

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Fixtures integrated into the architecture of eSTEM Academy create a mix of bright and dark elements that enhances visual comfort.

Illuminating Young Minds

Schools present different challenges for lighting teams as they work with designers to create spaces that support different types of learners and learning activities. Environments need to be flexible and easily adjustable as individual, collaborative and social goals change. LPA lighting designers won a 2021 national IES Award of Merit for Interior Lighting Design for the eSTEM Academy, a K-12 STEM-focused campus in Eastvale, California. The design features fixtures that are integrated into the architecture, with multiple layers of lighting controlled individually to serve different activities, resulting in a mix of bright and dark spaces that enhance visual comfort.

The TIDE Academy was designed around new ways of teaching science, technology and math. Educators wanted the indoor and outdoor environments to facilitate multiple types of learning: collaboration, contemplation and concentration. At the same time, the district wanted to create a bright and welcoming presence for the 2-acre campus, which is designed to connect with the surrounding community of technology companies and academic institutions.

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On TIDE Academy’s tight, urban site, lighting helps maximize outdoor space and turn the campus into a welcoming “glowing hub” at night.

On the tight site, it was essential to maximize the outdoor spaces. In the central courtyard, the lighting team integrated an event pole with adjustable fixture heads into the outdoor plaza. This strategy illuminated a broad area, while minimizing vertical obstacles in the paving and maximizing the ways this space could be used. Inside the building, lighting was integrated into the exterior handrails, illuminating the ground plane for enhanced wayfinding. In the collaborative breakout space, narrow recessed linear lights run along the acoustic panel joints, creating a dynamic interior space.

The overall look strengthened the school’s mission, helping to define spaces and create the energetic, high-tech look sought by the school district. The 2023 IES SoCal Illumination Awards jury concluded, “The lighting [for TIDE] creates a sense that the interior flows into the open plaza exterior, creating engagement with the surrounding community.”

The ‘Extra Layer of Love’

Accentuating the beauty of a building’s architecture, setting the right mood, capturing energy efficiencies and improving health and wellness are all part of a well-integrated lighting design. When lighting designers are involved from the start, the final design is more connected to and cohesive with the overall design, Fox says.

“You can feel the difference in the projects,” Fox says. “There are layers of light. When we work with the project teams from the start, we can bring that extra layer of love.”