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The Best Laid Plans – or Rather, the Best Laid Lighting…

I had just started as an in-house architect for a Real Estate Investment Advisory firm.  The company had just secured the acquisition of an eighteen story office in the state capital. The building was recently completed and three floors of 12,000 sf each were occupied by a state agency.

I was sent to the building to discuss with the agency’s representative a number of their complaints.  Their floors were mostly built out as open space with five foot high cubicle work stations.  The finished ceilings were 10 feet high.  Their complaint was the lighting was too dim at many of the work stations.

Suspended ceiling fluorescent light fixtures in the ‘50s and 60s were flat acrylic diffusers that created a bright pattern in the ceiling plane. The lights were bright because they distributed the light in a wide angle and gave the ceiling a distinct dark and light pattern.  During the 1970’s lighting engineers developed a cellular diffuser several inches deep.  The bare fluorescent lamps were positioned above the seals and the light was directed in a narrow angle down.  Because of this, when a person saw the ceiling from the floor the brightness was more evenly distributed and thought to be more pleasing.  However, the narrower angle meant the light was not evenly distributed at the work level.

The light fixtures in ceiling of the tenant space were a 2×4 recessed fluorescent luminaires with a cellular grid diffuser.  The individual cells were on an 8” x *’ grid, about 4 inches deep.  The luminaires were in an 8 ft x 8 ft pattern in the ceiling grid.

I brought a light meter on my next visit.  Taking readings in the circulation areas and in the workspaces, I found that the levels were very uneven and, indeed, many of the workspaces were below the acceptable design level.

Why was this?  The reason was that the ceiling had been designed and installed by the developer before a tenant was found. Consequently the lights were laid out in an even grid.  When the tenant signed the lease and layouts were started, the interior designer did not pay attention to how to lay out the work stations to work with the ceiling grid. 

The developer had long gone.  The cost of reconfiguring the ceiling was prohibitive.  Not only would the grid have to be reworked, but there was every likelihood that many of the fixture “whips,” the flexible electrical connections that go from the junction n boxes to each fixture, would not be long enough and mean a lot of electrical work. Plus the work would be done off-hours.

The solution was to give task lighting, on the work surface of the cubicle, to the tenant’s employees.  

Of course we would have preferred that this issue was identified during the Equity Property Condition Report due diligence so that we could have possibly negotiated a price reduction.  However, all things considered, the task lighting was an agreeable solution to the problem. 

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