Deborah Berke Partners’ Collaboration with One Lux Studio Shows What Daylighting Design Can Do for Sustainability
Shared pursuits bring the architect and lighting designer together for an innovative project.
For Deborah Berke Partners, the design of Cummins Distribution Business headquarters in downtown Indianapolis meant not only designing a visually striking and technically innovative office building but continuing a conversation with the architectural legacy of Cummins, the diesel energy company known for its unwavering support of progressive architecture.
The building’s ambitious program includes open offices with ample natural light, retail and social spaces, a public park, and over 60 artworks. To create a unifying lighting strategy across the interior, while giving the building a strong presence on the Indianapolis skyline, the architects brought in lighting design firm One Lux Studio, whose work includes the ExxonMobil Corporate Campus, NASCAR Hall of Fame, and The NoMad Hotel Bar.
A new collaboration for the two firms, they found a common language in the creative approach to a fast track project—one where the structure was going up while many decisions about the interior were still being made. “What set One Lux apart was their willingness to let lighting be in the background,” says Ameet Hiremath, a principal at Deborah Berke Partners. “But also creating these moments—like the design of the luminous ceiling in the center of the lobby—where the light is front and center.”
To achieve flare, for One Lux the solutions are not always in high-tech innovation. Sometimes the answer is in knowing when to dial back. Tasked with developing exterior lighting that would give the building presence on the low-slung Indianapolis skyline, One Lux came up with what they refer to as the “do-nothing scheme.” “The building is elegant enough on its own. So we wanted to express the architecture, have it glow from within,” says Stephen Margulies, co-founder at One Lux. “So we decided to do nothing but focus on which lights we want to keep on for extended times during the nighttime.”
Elsewhere, the challenges were more technical. The nine-story building is distinguished by its narrow floor plate and large windows which allow daylight to penetrate deep into the interior. This design reduces the need for electric lighting, bolstering the company’s efforts in sustainability, but also poses several hurdles. Buildings this transparent require significant considerations of how daylight impacts indoor activity. The architects devised a facade with sculptural overhangs, vertical fins, and brises-soleil to provide shading from the sun.
But these architectural interventions were not the only solution. Taking into account how people think and act within the building, called for more tailored, adaptive solutions. “If you are an employee with a desk facing east you’ll likely pull down the shades in the morning and leave them down for the duration of the day,” Margulies says. “Because of this you lose out on the opportunity to take advantage of good daylight when it’s available.”
The solution One Lux offered was the introduction of an automated shading system developed by lighting and shading manufacturer Lutron, which would provide comprehensive daylighting control, while giving employees the added flexibility of adjusting the shades based on their needs. “The architects brought up the idea of transparency as a main characteristic of the building,” recalls One Lux lead designer Yon Choy. “So in our very first presentation we asked, ‘have you considered automating the shading?’ For us that is often more important than our electric lighting solutions.” By specifying Lutron’s THEIA™ high performance fabrics, the lighting design team ensured that the expected daylight performance requirements—low glare, daylight harvesting, and views—were maintained.
Perhaps there is no better indication of a successful collaboration than when partners have difficulty remembering an idea’s origin—which happens often in discussing the Cummins project. For both the architects and the lighting design team, the importance lies in the balancing act between the functionality of the design and the more intangible impressions it produces. It is precisely this quality that connects the Distribution Business headquarters to the mid-century architecture of Cummins’ past and, at the same time, steers the company towards the future.