The Right Environment: Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg on Increasing Demands for Lighting Controls in 2019 and Beyond
The architect and academic looks forward to further innovation in lighting design and manufacturing thanks to bigger and bolder thinking in the space
Metropolis magazine, in partnership with Lutron, presents The Right Environment: a series of profiles featuring experts who are helping to make buildings better for occupants. For the third installment of the series, Metropolis caught up with Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, who shared his insights on the increasing demands for flexibility and control in lighting to help create The Right Environment.
“It’s an exciting time to be working with light in the built environment,” said Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg. “Not since the days of Florence Nightingale has there been so much thought put into how light impacts our health, our productivity and our comfort. New design thinking is remaking the scientific agenda, and vice-versa.”
Van Den Wymelenberg is well placed to make such an assessment. As an architect and academic, he has provided daylighting consultation on as many as 300 built and renovated projects since the year 2000. He is currently the Director of Energy Studies in the Buildings Laboratory at the University of Oregon, where he is also a professor of architecture and helps lead the institution’s Biology & The Built Environment Center.
The key to understanding how our lighting demands are evolving, Van Den Wymelenberg observes, is to appreciate our ever-increasing demand for flexibility and control.
“We do a lot of human factors research, and one of the most common findings is that regardless of where people are, and the specific lighting conditions they experience, the ability to control their environment is absolutely essential,” he said.
“However, there is vast variability between the needs of different people and finding a one-size-fits-all solution is very difficult. So, the right environment for people is one that can be intuitively tailored to their needs in any given moment.”
This trend has transformed the way clients commission architects and designers. In the past, clients might have demanded a lighting system that was energy-efficient or could boost mood and productivity. But now there are other, more human-centric factors in play.
Big companies are an important example, Van Den Wymelenberg says. “There are many businesses now that are significantly investing in their staff,” he said. “They want to create office environments that will attract employees, sustain employees and retain employees. They demand offices where the comfort and wellbeing of users is paramount.
“Daylighting and lighting play essential roles in achieving these goals. They can improve air quality, thermal comfort and circadian exposure, for example. The comfort and wellness equation is now just as important, if not more so, than the energy equation. The human experience is a vital consideration.”
Van Den Wymelenberg and the Buildings Laboratory have been working with architects, designers and lighting companies such as Lutron to develop research in this area. The result is advances in smart lighting technologies that enable users to have more control over the quality of light in their surroundings. Van Den Wymelenberg has published several studies in journals like Building and Environment and LEUKOS, on subjects such as the adoption of daylight performance metrics, predicting human visual comfort in offices with daylight and the energy and daylighting impacts of human behavior with window shades versus blinds. He recently worked on a study that looked at the visual effects of wood on thermal perception of interior environments and associated energy.
“I’m very excited by the engagement shown in the industry,” he said. “There’s long been scientific rigor in the construction industry to identify how we can be doing a better job. What we’ve done is flip that around, so designers and suppliers are also helping push the science in exciting new directions.”
“There’s so much promise with smart technology, but a smart building is not just a building loaded with technology, a smart building is smart about how it applies the technology. I think the best applications will be hybrid, with human-centric lighting and the Internet of Things being used in combination with other technologies and daylighting to create spaces that can adjust throughout the day and meet changing needs, be they offices, homes, schools, or hospitals.”
An example would be a single software and management system like Lutron’s Enterprise Vue, which provides comprehensive, actionable data that is easy to view and understand. It allows you to manage rooms and spaces more efficiently, control and monitor lighting from a graphical floor plan, and make more informed decisions on scheduling building operations.
It all adds up to an exciting future. “As an industry, there’s still a lot for us to learn,” said Van Den Wymelenberg, “but we’re heading in a very interesting direction.”