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Top Five Reasons that Lighting Design Matters at Obernel

1. Perspective

As in most things we do, we strive to go beyond the plan. This includes our strategy on lighting design. We not only consider the two-dimensional floor plan of a space but we take a step back to gain perspective ­— a three-dimensional understanding — of what visitors and users will experience when they walk through. Just as the space is not only about a floor plan; designing the lighting for a space goes literally beyond the plan: lighting the walls, ceilings, objects, people, and activity.

Solving for a specific footcandle1 level on at the desk or floor is just one of many design parameters. How many of us walk through a space looking at our feet? Obernel considers the space types and recommended illuminance levels while designing its lighting. However, that’s just the beginning! We also take into account the way that the selected lighting illuminates the walls, objects, and people in a space. For example, on the ice or playing field, vertical illumination of players and the ball in aerial play is critically important — whether the audience is in-person OR enjoying the game on their screens.

2. Controls

Lighting is a major component of user satisfaction within a space. And because there is no single correct amount of light based on different users, controls play an important role in lighting design. Luckily, the vast majority of LED light fixtures ARE dimmable — but only effective if controls are easily accessible for the user. Obernel collaborates with project designers and owners to coordinate control type and placement, such as integral dimming occupancy sensors, wall box controls, preset 5- and 8-button control stations, building-wide controls, and even theatrical lighting consoles. Outside of focusing on the user’s needs, lighting controls can trigger building signage and illuminated graphics and branding!

3. Branding

Speaking of branding, lighting is often used via fixture colors and shapes to support branding and distinguish facilities from competitors. Going beyond the plan of simply relying on tried-and-true downlights and troffers, Obernel is adept at using lighting shapes, forms, and colors to complement the physical environment that architects and interior designers craft. Here are a few examples to consider for how lighting can play into branding:

Lighting patterns:

  • Linear rows
  • Rectangles
  • Circles
  • Illuminated corners

Colors of light fixtures underscore the mood of a space:

  • Black: protection, dramatic, classy, formality, mystery — yes, black is a color
  • Gray: security, reliability, intelligence, solid
  • White: goodness, innocence, purity, freshness, high tech (think Apple stores)
  • Silver: glamorous, high tech

When matching school or corporate colors — just what color is that red, green or blue?  For those linear or ring-shaped pendant light fixtures, do we want a custom color? And just what does RAL2 mean? (See glossary for the definition.)

What metal finish on the decorative fixtures is appropriate — a white or yellow metal: silver or pewter versus gold, brass, or bronze?  Polished or brushed?

While considering light fixtures, don’t forget about the mounting and power canopies. With the prevalence of colored ceilings or exposed structures painted black or charcoal gray, who wants to see a white canopy sticking out like a sore thumb?

4. Details Matter

Unlike MEP systems, lighting and electrical devices are often visible in a space. The way they are affixed to a wall or ceiling is an important detail, as is the placement so it doesn’t detract or interfere with the aesthetic of the space. Flanges of recessed downlights and linear slot lights, colors of occupancy sensors, and wall controls all require selection of a finish. It could be a metal finish — brushed or polished; or it could be a painted or integral color, as in the case of molded components. Wall devices might be available in white, ivory, light almond, gray, and black. So, what color wall plate works? Color to match or stainless steel for its durability? Ceiling occupancy sensors were once available only in white, but lately, the trim ring has been offered in a black finish too.

Regardless of the finish, the placement of devices matter. Don’t hide the wall occupancy sensors behind a door or a tall piece of furniture. And do consider the placement of ceiling devices in the gypsum wallboard ceiling ADJACENT to the wood ceiling instead of in the wood panels themselves. Or perhaps, locating an adjustable wall mount occupancy sensor on the light-colored wall is preferable to the ceiling. There are endless possibilities of how to better incorporate lighting fixtures and electrical devices into the overall design. Team collaboration and communication are key.

5. The Show Must Go On

From time to time, Obernel is tasked with designing specialty lighting and controls for sensory rooms, stages, and arenas. What do all of these have in common? Controls and color! In sensory rooms, tunable light can provide warm or cool colored white light or even RGB3 colored light to help at-risk youth and adults deal with a challenging life passage — using lighting is one aspect of Trauma-Informed Design. Obernel has designed theatrical lighting for high school stages and video-production rooms: pipe-mounted — RGB changing spots and floods, follow-spots, and the associated controls. An arena will most likely require sports lighting fixtures and may also warrant ballyhoo4 lighting. Specialty projects and entertainment facilities add an extra layer of excitement to lighting design that our designers delight and thrive in the challenge.

Lighting is a critical component of any space, and when done correctly, it enhances an experience without the user even realizing it.

Obernel author & lighting contact:

Greg Lecker, Lighting Designer III


1 Footcandle: The most common unit of measurement used by lighting professionals to calculate light levels. A footcandle is defined as one lumen per square foot.

2 RAL: RAL is a color matching system used by manufacturers worldwide. The system is created and administrated by the RAL Institute. In colloquial speech RAL refers to the RAL Classic system, mainly used for varnish and powder coating but now there are reference panels for plastics as well. ‘RAL’ is the abbreviation of ‘Reichs-Ausschuß für Lieferbedingungen und Gütesicherung’. This name can be translated in English as ‘National Commission for Delivery Terms and Quality Assurance’.

3 RGB: Red-Green-Blue LED light, the combination of which generates white light in a variety of color temperatures or an infinite number of colors.

4 Ballyhoo: An event lighting effect that involves fast movements, intensity changes and a variety of colors, which all help to build excitement.

Color Temperature: Quality of light that describes the warmth or coolness or neutral feeling of the light, the atmosphere of the illuminated environment.

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