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Utilizing Professional Lighting Designers

From Chicago Architect Magazine

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In March, the City of Chicago awarded a vendor with the substantial task of relighting the entire city at night. The 85% High Pressure Sodium and Metal Halide luminaires will be replaced by “longer lasting” and “more reliable” LED “smart” fixtures. The City Infrastructure Trust’s (CIT) Request for Proposals for the “Chicago Lighting Project” kicked off the largest-to-date LED conversion undertaking by a major U.S. city, with a four-year $160 million project timeline and budget.

As an accredited professional lighting designer, I have a number of concerns regarding the information that has been made publicly available. Foremost, the city’s apparent decision not to consult with an accredited professional lighting designer should prove as a lesson to us all, and especially to other US cities looking to make a similar change. Light, in architectural applications, should be designed by a Certified Lighting Designers (CLD) or professional members of the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) - a 1,200-member organization headquartered in Chicago, no less. In the same way AIA architects are hired to ensure buildings perform at their highest levels, professional lighting designers bring their specific knowledge and experience to enhance the safety, aesthetic, and function of any project.

While I agree with the core goals of the RFP, the balance of life and health issues should have been addressed, in addition to design and energy issues. Also missing is a detailed specification for the light source, including color temperature, color rendering index, and light trespass values. The Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) has a number of useful documents to reference when calling for a project like this, none of which were referenced. Members of the IES, IALD, and other trade organizations have been discussing nighttime color temperature for some time. We know the challenges of lighting on this scale and can design with them, not in spite of them.

Professional lighting designers are more than just “luxury” consultants, hired only when budgets allow. Lighting designers should be seen as key members of any project team from day one, in the same way Civil and Structural Engineers or MEP and acoustical consultants regularly contribute their expertise

We are truly specialists, constantly researching and educating ourselves – and our clients - on the latest advances in lighting technology. Lighting design is a highly specialized practice,  and has the potential to make or break a great project or building. Rather than the basic sale and installation you might receive from a vendor, lighting designers study for years to bring value-added expertise to projects, where architects and owners benefit from both short- and long-term benefits that far outweigh our fees.

As a Chicago resident and business owner, I am passionate about the importance of light to our great city. Done right, it has the potential to make our streets safer, maintenance easier, and enhance our already beautiful hometown. Done wrong, it will simply be a waste of precious financial resources and add to the already chronic light pollution problem Chicago faces.

It’s best to always engage a Lighting Designer at the beginning of a project, but at any stage engage a professional consultant to ensure the your projects dollars are wisely spend, and the best possible outcome is reached.

Avraham Mor, CLD, IALD, MIES

Partner, Lightswitch