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Step 9: Lighting Shapes a Space

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      In my article, “10 Steps to a Better Library Interior,” published in the Library Journal Library by Design Supplement, I outline several tips on how to improve a customer’s experience in your library building without spending money on a major renovation. I have had many follow-up requests for more information, so I have decided to offer a deeper discussion on each step in this blog series.

      We tend not to notice well-designed interior lighting in a library. Unfortunately, poorly-designed lighting is seen and can ruin an interior (or worse, our productivity and well-being). Lighting a building is a science and an art. It takes science to understand how light works and to provide the right amount of light for the task at hand. It takes art to light in such a way that the space is not only functional, but also beautiful. A room’s lighting may technically meet the basic requirements for safety, yet create an environment that is uncomfortably bright, or that renders colors poorly, creating a disquieting space.

      Multiple considerations go into good lighting design, including determining the color temperature (whether the light appearance is warm or cold), energy consumption, intensity of light appropriate for the function, eliminating glare, quality of light, source of light, use of daylight, and more. Two factors cause particular problems for library buildings.

      The first factor is the mix of lighting used.. Many libraries use only ambient lighting, resulting in a flat interior. Just as variety in color and texture create a more interesting garden, combining different light sources and fixtures helps provide a more pleasing interior space. The most successful library interiors use a smart, tiered approach to lighting—mixing ambient (overall) electric light with daylight, task light, and accent light—rather than simply flooding a room with a one-size-fits-all approach.

      The second factor is the amount of light used. Many library buildings are over-lit, wasting energy and operating dollars, tiring our eyes, and creating uncomfortable spaces. Varying light levels throughout an interior allows our eyes to rest, saves energy, directs attention to particular areas, and cues behavior. For example, spotlighting a display fixture draws attention to the materials. Using lower ambient light levels in a quiet reading area and supplementing with task lighting cues library users to respect the intent of a quiet area. Just as dimming the lights in a theater acts as a signal to quiet the audience, less light in a reading area acts as a cue to interact in the space quietly.

      For an overview of lighting basics, please see: http://www.ies.org/lighting/

      Next month . . . STEP 10: EMBRACE COLOR.

    • lower light levels in the lounge area—but still plenty bright for reading—signal that this is a quiet area in the wide-open floor plan
    • About the Author

      Traci Engel Lesneski

      • Interior Designer / Principal
      • traci@msrdesign.com
      • 612 991 7764
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