What Were They Thinking

Feb. 12, 2006
What Were They Thinking "Light"ReadingWhen Seattle residents in 1998 passed a $196 million bond measure to build a new Central Library, there was no question that the job facing the designers and architects was a daunting one. But lighting designer Suzan Tillotson of Kugler Tillotson was up for the challenge."I love architecture and design, so this field allows me to help architects and owners … see the potential in what an environment can become," she says. What became of the new Seattle Public Library—which took several years to build and was completed in May 2004—was a massive 11-floor, 362,987-square-foot building, and because of the nature of the structure and whom it would serve, lighting was of utmost importance. Tillotson set overall goals of using simple, graphic lighting schemes that would not compete with the diagonal pattern of the curtain-wall facade, and would provide spatial identity while at the same time helping to orient patrons. Three different types of lighting systems were used for this—back-of-house areas were lit with line lighting, public spaces with dot lighting and stack areas with luminous planes of light. Ergonomics also was very important in the design, and Tilllotson said she and her team carefully monitored that the lighting used was low-glare, and provided at the appropriate horizontal and vertical levels. To ensure that natural and artificial light were properly integrated, Tillotson implemented a system in which all perimeter lighting at the library is controlled separately by photocells integrated into a daylight control system. For the children's area on the first floor, which is carved into a steeply sloped side of the building, providing the proper amount of light was more challenging, and Tillotson designed a field of custom, luminous globes with low-maintenance, 100,000-hour-life induction lamps to bring warmth and special identity to the area. Another challenge to the design was the need to conserve energy due to Seattle's strict energy code requirement—not a simple task with 11 floors and varying, high ceiling levels. Tillotson and her team achieved an impressive 1.2 watts per square foot; to qualify for a LEED Silver rating, the wattage must be less than 1.5 watts per square foot. To help achieve this, Tillotson utilized energy-efficient lighting products from her company of choice for the project, Phillips.

By the end of the long but successful process, everyone involved was able to see the importance of good lighting. "The quality of light was
varied and comfortable," she says. "There was a shift in understanding of the lighting systems."

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