The Lighting Designer's Role in the Construction Process

The Lighting Designer's Role in the Construction Process

The profession of lighting design is a relatively young discipline among the building design and construction fields. Although lighting has certainly been an integral component of the built environment for centuries, it's only emerged as a true design specialty in the last 20 to 30 years. The increased sophistication of the lighting arena (both in equipment technology and application technique), coupled

The profession of lighting design is a relatively young discipline among the building design and construction fields. Although lighting has certainly been an integral component of the built environment for centuries, it's only emerged as a true design specialty in the last 20 to 30 years.

The increased sophistication of the lighting arena (both in equipment technology and application technique), coupled with heightened expectations of clients and end-users for the role of lighting in their projects, has done much to foster this growth. Once considered an obscure consulting niche or high-budget luxury, lighting design has become an accepted discipline in the project design process in many parts of North America and Europe.

Initially, lighting designers were sought to assist in high-profile, aesthetically challenging projects, where a union between technical and artistic goals was of paramount importance to the job's success. Later, lighting professionals were engaged to tackle particularly complex lighting problems — where greater in-depth knowledge of illuminating engineering was required. Then gradually they began to be included as members of the project design team from the outset, taking fuller advantage of their expertise during the early phases of development.

The lighting designer's responsibility on the project, like that of the architect, engineer, and other specialty design consultants, should not end with delivery of the final construction documents. Their active involvement in the construction administration phase can help ensure full realization of the lighting design intent, while providing the contractor with a useful resource in navigating the vagaries of a challenging application.

Laying the groundwork. The lighting designer's role in the construction administration process begins well before the contractor arrives on the scene. As with most disciplines, a lighting design's success will be determined, to a large extent, by the quality of its drawings and specifications. Realization of that design's full potential will rely on the ability of its construction documentation to coherently and concisely communicate the intent to the contracting team. Failure to adequately convey the concept is often the weakest link in the entire process.

There are many things a lighting design professional can do to help ensure the quality of this documentation, including the following:

Drawings: Lighting layouts should be clear, unambiguous declarations of luminaire placement and application intent. The layouts with circuiting, panelboard assignments and control methodologies should appear on the electrical engineer's drawings. Exact lighting fixture positions should be included on architectural-reflected ceiling plans, site plans, or elevations to assist in interdisciplinary coordination. They should indicate key dimensions and mounting information, related to structural reference points, to inform the contractor of the specifics of location.

Details: Luminaire installation details can be vital in communicating mounting intent and should be included with the drawing documentation whenever there is any doubt as to desired or proper integration. Typically, rough detail sketches showing the preferred lighting installation geometry are generated by the lighting designer and then passed on to both the architect and electrical engineer for further refinements. The architect would provide appropriate detailing that clearly defines how the fixtures are supported or how surrounding materials are effected, while the engineer may add notes or clarification regarding the routing of conduit/circuiting (see Figure). In the design-build scenario, the contractor may perform some of these tasks. This can help avoid confusion over desired techniques.

Luminaire schedules and specification: Equipment selection is the backbone of a quality lighting design. Lighting fixture specifications, whether presented in written or schedule format, should provide all information necessary to accurately bid, procure, and install the recommended products. That documentation includes luminaire type or key, acceptable manufacturers with specific catalog numbers, luminaire description and construction, voltage, lamping, wattage consumption, and any special installation- or application-specific notes.

One of the lighting designer's most important duties is to serve as reviewer of the lighting equipment shop drawings. Let's take a look at what's involved on this front.

Shop drawings. More then anyone else on the project team, the lighting designer, as prime specifier, is best suited to supply the required detail review and assessment of shop drawings. If the original lighting specifications are complete, and the contractor chooses to supply one of the recommended products, then this effort can be relatively straightforward. Often, however, issues arise that demand more attention, including the following scenarios.

Custom luminaires: Specially prepared, project-specific drawings may be necessary and could involve several rounds of review and analysis prior to final approval. The lighting designer should communicate as clearly as possible, making notes and mark-ups to identify needed refinements in drawings. It is not unusual to request finished samples for custom luminaires to determine if the intended material will meet the designer's expectations (Photo 2).

Substitutions: If permitted in the specifications, the contractor may choose to submit a substitution to a specified product. This substitution may demand more detailed scrutiny by the lighting designer in order to render a professional opinion as to its acceptability.

To facilitate a clear understanding as to what is expected from the contractor for such a submittal, the lighting designer's specification should include a detailed outline of required submittal content. This will reduce the chance of ambiguity in a substitution submittal, while expediting the process. In cases where the proposed substitution can have a critical impact on application success, there may be added submittal burdens, such as detailed lighting calculations, samples and mock-ups (Sidebar below).

Mock-ups: It is not unusual for a full-scale lighting mock-up requirement to be included by a lighting designer in the project's specification (Photo 1 above). Complex or sensitive design solutions may include variables that can only be resolved after review and analysis of an operational mock-up. Due to the compression in design schedules, and the increased popularity of design-build construction contracts, the incorporation of such a mock-up early on in the construction phase (rather than during the design phase) is not uncommon. The lighting designer will normally outline the intent of the mock-up and define the requirements for the contractor's execution of the work. Once again, open collaboration between the lighting designer and contractor is key to full realization of the mock-up's intent.

Once the shop drawings are solidified, the issue of “value engineering” may require the lighting designer to revisit design decisions in an effort to reduce project costs.

Value engineering. The term “value engineering” can have many very different meanings, depending upon one's role in the process. To lighting design professionals, it can mean an erosion in the original application intent or visual environment. To a contractor, who might even be involved in a design-build capacity, it can mean an opportunity to demonstrate to his client that he can save money on the project with creative packaging or suggested compromises. Regardless, if this process takes place during the construction phase, it can be a contentious issue.

If value engineering is deemed necessary (or desired) after the bidding process, then the lighting designer should be prepared, and positioned, to assist in the process. Often, the client is left adrift to make decisions based solely on the numbers without a full understanding of the merits (or compromises) inherent in the changes. As the one most intimate with the original lighting intent, the lighting designer should consult the client and, as appropriate, the contractor, as to the strengths and weaknesses of any value engineering alternatives put forward. Hopefully, the professional will be in a situation to offer value engineering options as well. Although agendas are often at odds during this process, a joint working relationship is the best way to sort out all the ramifications of value engineering decisions for the client (Photo 3).

The lighting designer also plays a critical role in resolving lighting-related questions from the job site.

Field questions and punch lists. Having developed the design, the lighting professional is often in the best position to safeguard the original client-approved intent, while assisting in resolving the in-field problems. Additionally, the designer may be able to exert influence directly with manufacturers in an attempt to help resolve logistical problems. Often, the specifier has developed key contacts within the lighting manufacturer organizations that can be tapped for assistance in dealing with shipping issues, scheduling deadlines, and similar obstacles that can plague the construction delivery process.

Through the appropriate channels, the electrical contractor can establish a line of professional level communication with the lighting designer so that specific assistance can be sought when needed. It is in the best interest of both the design and contracting teams to see in-field problems identified and resolved as quickly and as cost effectively as possible.

Project punch lists can be the bane of a contractor's work as a job winds down to a close. With lighting installations, it can be particularly onerous if it is generated by someone unfamiliar with the design intent or ill-informed as to the construction demands of the application. If the job has a lighting designer on the team, there is a better chance that final installation reviews will be more thorough and succinct. Lighting punch list items will likely be appropriately tempered with a more intimate knowledge of the desired result and an understanding of the expectations placed on the contractor's installation. Normally, the lighting professional will be open to contractor suggestions for resolving perceived construction-related problems or design shortcomings. On-site meetings to resolve disputed issues should be held when needed. These steps will help the project progress into the final stages.

Final project commissioning. The lighting designer and contractor must work together closely on the final focusing/targeting of the project's adjustable lighting. Dramatic, high-impact lighting designs often involve the precise choreography of accent lighting to provide the desired visual result. Retail boutiques, museum galleries, restaurants, and hotel lobbies are just a few examples of where final equipment adjustment and aiming can be pivotal to realizing the lighting potential.

This work often requires significant forethought and planning in order to avoid a costly or time-consuming effort. The lighting designer should provide a comprehensive outline for the contractor, describing anticipated work expectations and the contractor's responsibilities. This information should be provided in the construction documents so that it can be anticipated and bid appropriately.

Looking ahead. As lighting installations continue to evolve into even greater levels of application complexity — and client expectations grow ever higher — the role of the professional lighting designer will become more vital, even inevitable, during the construction process. Opportunities exist, on many projects, for lighting designers and contractors to forge lines of communication early in construction that will permit timely and thoughtful exchange of information.

The common goal of a satisfied client should be sufficient reason to take advantage of the growing presence of lighting professionals in the building construction field. Those who recognize the importance of such relationships will ultimately reap the benefits of more rewarding work.

Burkett, FIALD, IESNA, LC, is president and design principal of Randy Burkett Lighting Design, Inc., in St. Louis.

Sidebar: Typical Lighting Designer Requested Submittal Requirements for Lighting Substitutions

  • Should the contractor wish to have considered products other than those specified, the items must be submitted 14 days in advance of the bid. Failure to submit within that deadline constitutes a guarantee that the specified products will be supplied.

  • Provide complete photometric test report for review and analysis.

  • Provide operational 120V luminaire sample, with 6-foot grounded cord and plug.

  • If required to demonstrate compliance with design intent, provide computer-assisted, point-by-point analysis showing illuminance levels in all affected areas.

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