2013 in Review

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,800 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 47 trips to carry that many people.

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Healthcare Design

The Park: New York City, NY

I grew up in a rural town where most people take Google Definitions seriously when it says interior design is ‘synonymous’ with interior decorating. Thus, explaining one’s desire and intent to work in the field of interior design can be a taxing venture. Anyone who has ever tried to explain a concept model or a spatial planning diagram while home from college for the holidays probably knows what I am talking about. By now, I have had a good deal of practice with this type of conversation, and over time I have boiled down my explanations of my career choice to the ideas represented in the image above.

While I am all in favor of keeping things simple, the reality is, interior design is so much more complex. Various specialties, sectors and focuses make the field a diverse and constantly evolving occupation. My passion and area of interest resides in the healthcare sector of design, and I would love to introduce you to the reasons why.

The Armory: Portland, OR

• I want to know that my work matters, and will make a difference. While in university, my only project that made me feel as though I had made a difference (hypothetically, of course) was the healthcare project I completed during a senior term studio. The prompt surrounded the design of a healing and wellness center for Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake, Washington. Due to the unique nature of care and rehabilitative services provided at this hospital, the project required detailed research, efficient programming, and purposeful design decisions. Presenting this design was my most proud moment at university (aside from graduating of course), and I will never forget the sense of accomplishment I felt.

Basement floor plan of my design proposal for a wellness center at Eastern State Hospital; senior term studio 2010.

• The medical field is constantly evolving, advancing, and growing. Translating these needs for the client means recognizing the constant need for creative and innovative solutions for highly specific needs. While design decisions for healthcare projects will affect and influence one another, no two will ever be the same.

While my boyfriend was in surgery, I, like any supportive spouse, decided to tour the facility. I was fascinated by the center’s solutions for wayfinding issues, one of which is picture here. Cues in flooring patterns are the same on every floor; the wood laminate designates ‘waiting room’ areas, the light grey carpet occupies space immediately adjacent to departmental reception, medium grey carpet designates circulation, and dark carpet leads patients back to treatment areas. The Group Health Medical Center in Bellevue, WA.

• The utilization of Evidence Based Design is paramount in healthcare design. I’m a nut. I love research. I might even list it under recreational hobbies. Healthcare facilities are a highly specialized and technical client; because of the subject matter, design decisions need to be implemented with sound reasoning behind them- and cue Evidence Based Design. Perceptive and insightful design strategies have the power to create measurable difference in quality and outcomes. In the healthcare field, this means the ability to provide better care, and an increase in successful outcomes for patients.

Speaking from my own experience of hospital stays (this one marked by an abundance of pirate themed ‘get well’ materials), I appreciate knowing that the odds are in my favor for a quick recovery. Skagit Valley Hospital, Mount Vernon WA.

• Spatial planning and infrastructure are key aspects of designing for healthcare. There’s nothing I love more than solving a good puzzle, and space planning to me is the most engaging puzzle of all. Successfully implemented designs create spaces that successfully and seamlessly flow into one another, allowing for ease of usability in the environment. When the built environment of a medical facility works for the practitioner, they’re able to do a better job in their work which translates to better patient outcomes.

Spatial planning is a fascinating process, and everyone does it a little differently. Diagrams from my senior term studio for Eastern State Hospital, 2010.

• Sustainable design and healthcare environments make a great couple! After all, does it not make sense for built environments promoting health and well-being to be healthy themselves? I think so.

Sustainable materials are a focal point at The Group Health Medical Center in Bellevue, WA.

I find healthcare design to be a diverse and fascinating field; at this stage of my career, I am excited at all there is yet for me to learn.


Filed under Awareness, Built Environment, Curiosity, Design, Dialogue, EBD, Emma Fox ∙ Design, Environmental Sustainability, Evidence Based Design, Healthcare Design, Pacific Northwest, Sustainable Design, The Built Environment, Uncategorized

Lunch With An Architect

I recently attended Bloom! Seattle V, a fascinating seminar discussing various sustainable initiatives that were born from the grass roots level. Topics ranged from addressing urban food deserts to utilizing biomimicry in the built environment, and were presented by leaders in the field who are currently addressing these various subjects in their work.

While at this event, I had the pleasure of meeting an architect whose commitment and ties to sustainability were as deep-rooted in childhood lessons and experiences as my own. She was a featured presenter at the seminar, and shared her innovative project of designing and creating sustainable schooling spaces that would inspire and engage students. The subject matter caught my ear, as her enthusiasm and belief in the project made for a dynamic presentation. (Additionally, I had a similar design prompt my sophomore year of college, and it was exciting to see the concept in a real life application). While I was able to introduce myself after her speech, the crowded venue didn’t leave much room for questions; I expressed interest in learning more about her project, and she agreed to meet me for lunch a couple weeks later.

My sophomore project surrounding the prompt of designing sustainable modular classrooms.

On the day of our meeting, I was treated to an in-depth explanation of her project, as she elaborated on her life-long commitment to the environment, the inspiration, and her previous work experience that led to the creation and development of this project. I found it fascinating to listen to the process, development, and hard work that had made her project a reality. Her dedication and enthusiasm was inspiring, and I left our meeting with the reminder that big changes start from seeds planted on the ground level, and the hope that I too will spark positive impact with my designs.

I would like to extend a big thanks to Stacy Smedley for sharing a look into her work with The Sprout Collective! Please follow the link to learn more about the project. To contribute to the Sprout Collective, please click here to donate.

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Autumn Job Hunt

A mossy lawn decorated with leaves.

After an uncharacteristically long encore of summer weather, autumn has fully set in throughout the Pacific Northwest, sweeping in with a poignant and crisp reminder of the cycles of nature. I can’t say that I mind; the ombre of leaves and abundance of hot beverages have long been symbols of my favorite time of year. The one shortcoming I find myself facing is all of my cold-weather clothing and supplies still lie in a storage unit since my recent move north from Portland.

It’s no secret that I have been on the job hunt recently. As my contract renewal date approached at my design job in Oregon, I made the decision to pursue opportunities more closely keyed to my specific interests in the healthcare sector of design. It was a difficult decision, but one I found essential to the development of my career.  Transition periods are rarely easy and this one is no different; yet with the challenges come lessons, and every enlightening moment brings me clarity in direction. I am seriously and actively focusing on my career goal of becoming a team member in a design environment saturated with knowledge, learning opportunities, and a commitment to sustainable buildings.

To integrate myself into the PNW design community, I have been participating in a variety of networking activities through various organizations, such as Cascadia Green Building Committee, Emerging Professionals, IIDA, and AIA in the Seattle area. In doing this, my aim is to become better acquainted with A) the sustainable design community, and B) the areas of focus of firms in the Seattle area. Attending these events has proved fruitful- I’m learning a lot, and I’m becoming more aware of current focus points in the design community.

When I am not busy networking during this interim of full-time employment, I have been quite fortunate to have Emma Fox ∙ Design occupy the rest of my time through freelance design opportunities (interior and graphic) with several companies in Skagit, Whatcom, and Snohomish Counties.  These opportunities have all been commercially-based, and an excellent opportunity for me to put my expertise in branding to work. And since I’m never above shamelessly promoting my services, if you or anyone you know requires interior or graphic design services, please feel free to give me a call.

Though I find that the job search can be tedious and albeit very stressful, I’m holding firm to the vision of a career path that allows me contribute to my community and built environment through designs that truly understand the triple-bottom line of sustainability. The next opportunity for me is out there, and I’m going to find it.


Filed under Autumn, Built Environment, Community, Design, Dialogue, Pacific Northwest, Responsibility, Trible Bottom Line

Sustainable Nuclear Energy is an Oxymoron

Forsythia from my folk's yard.

It seems, after much anticipation and waiting, that spring has finally arrived. The breeze flows in through the open patio door, and a branch of Forsythia blossoms on the windowsill. Aside from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons playing in the background, I am struck by the quiet that settles around me; the apartment is clean, and outside there are flowers blossoming. Lazily, I sip a cup of tea and scroll through the CNN newsreel, and I come across a figure that makes my heart stop: “Japan quake toll stands at 10,151, over 17,000 missing.” I look out the window, and try to comprehend the unfathomable nature of the horrific earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11th, 2011. I try to imagine the feelings of those in Japan who have lost everything, who now must pick up the pieces of their lives in an attempt to recover, and move on from pure devastation. It saddens me to my core, and I am even more disheartened when I think of the ongoing struggles that are being faced as a result of the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. So much of this situation I can’t comprehend, or even begin to understand; the movements of nature are one thing, but the affects of man’s endeavors and ‘prosperity’ are quite another. Some would discuss nuclear energy as a testament to mankind’s capabilities; after all, we’ve learned to split atoms, some of the smallest components of matter- a truly astounding feat. However, I would argue the very simple point- that just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant: http://www.thepunch.com.au

In the days that followed the quake and tsunami, people across the globe watched in sadness and horror as the reality of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant began to sink in. With the countless hardships inflicted by two natural disasters of incomprehensible proportions, now came the effects of a compromised and terribly dangerous man-made system. First, the Pacific tsunami knocked out all power to the plant, which crippled the cooling of the fuel rods. When the backup generator didn’t work, pressure built up within the reactor vessel, which was then reduced by venting out steam. This steam contained hydrogen, which then reacted with oxygen, causing multiple explosions. As talk of radiation hitting the west coast of the United States spread, countless individuals scrambled blindly to get their hands  on potassium iodine tablets in hopes of protecting themselves from the unthinkable consequences of radiation. As Japan began to pump in seawater in attempts to avoid a nuclear meltdown, so many sat in silence and fear as Japan tried to combat and control one of mankind’s most dangerous creations. The harsh realization is that the problems at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant will not be fixed by a simple clean up; they will continue to exist, they will continue to spread, and they will continue to cause problems. The latest development came on Friday, when scientists announced that water samples collected a quarter mile off the coast of Japan contained levels of radioactive iodine that were 1,250 times higher than normal. The fact that any level of radioactive substance was considered ‘normal’ troubled me enough, but 1,250 times that amount? I couldn’t even begin to figure out what that looked like. Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for Japan’s Nuclear Safety Agency, had this to say about the findings: “This figure means that if you drank 500 millilitres of water containing this level of iodine it would reach the limit that a person can take in in one year, which is one millisievert.” In case you’re like me and can’t convert metrics in your head, 500 millilitres is equivalent to about 16 ounces- the same size as your morning grande from Starbucks. Whether via water or air, the understanding and knowledge that nuclear fallout and radiation will continue to spread has many in fear of the aftermath, and they should be. Though the severity of this disaster have been dramatically downplayed, the truth is coming to light: on March 18th, Japan announced that radiation was leaking at high enough levels to cause death. On March 19th, spinach grown 65 miles away from the plant was found to be contaminated and inedible. on March 24th, the tap water in Tokyo was deemed unsafe to drink- for pregnant women. As terrifying as this all is, I implore everyone to wake up and open their eyes- because we’ve all been here before, multiple times. If you’re in the United States, you’re likely right in the middle of a lot of it.

Nuclear Reactors in the United States: http://www.nrc.gov

I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about the ins and outs of nuclear energy or nuclear weapons. I am embarrassed to admit that my reference matter of the subject lies somewhere between Homer Simpson and K-19: The Widowmaker. Still, even with a a fundamental lack of understanding, the utilization of nuclear anything to me is a big no-no. Although to argue this point, I wanted to learn more about it. Luckily for me, someone I admire very much also finds the subject troublesome. Intrigued enough as she was, she focused her graduate studies on nuclear testing in the United States. I’d like to introduce you to my sister, Sarah Fox. Sarah graduated with a masters in history and folklore from Utah State University. The focus of her thesis work surrounded the testing and development of nuclear weapons in the American West, which she is currently turning into a book entitled Yellow Monsters and Mushroom Clouds: A Folk History of the Nuclear West. I’ll be sure to let everyone know when it comes out. Sarah was nice enough to discuss the topic with me, and answer some of my questions surrounding nuclear energy, and just how not sustainable it truly is.


My sister Sarah and her husband Ryan in front of a cooling tower at the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant in Oregon.

I’ll be honest, I don’t really ‘get’ nuclear energy. Can you lay it out for me in laymen’s terms?

First of all, let me clarify: I’m a historian, not a scientist, so the finer points of nuclear science are out of my realm of expertise.  But I’ll share my basic understanding.  Bear with me for the science-y part. Nuclear weapons and nuclear power operate on a principle called fission.  At the most basic level, every substance on earth is made of elements (remember the periodic table?), and those elements are made  up of atoms.   If you think back to high school chemistry, you’ll remember that atoms have a center, called a nucleus, and that nucleus contains protons and neutrons.   About 90 years ago, it occurred to scientists that if they could somehow split the nucleus of the atom, that the component parts of the atom would be released, bumping into other atoms, theoretically causing them to split, and so on.  Scientists realized that this process—fission— (aka, a nuclear chain reaction) would create a phenomenal amount of energy, which could either create an insanely powerful explosion, or theoretically, fuel a power plant.

You can’t just manufacture a chain reaction out of anything—you need fuel, a particular element that is volatile or unstable enough that its atoms will continue splitting and bumping into other atoms, causing them to split.  Now, most elements are too stable to sustain a chain reaction, and early attempts to create such a reaction stalled out until scientists figured out that a particular isotope of uranium worked very well.  So, uranium became the ideal fuel for nuclear chain reactions in nuclear weapons and later, nuclear power plants.

So, when you say that you need an element that is ‘volatile or unstable enough’ to be used as fuel for nuclear energy, what does that say about uranium?

Uranium is an element found in the earth.  It’s found in rocks which you have to mine for, and then extract the uranium from them; this process is called milling.  Because uranium is such a volatile, or unstable element, it emits radiation as it decays.  Anyone mining or milling the uranium will be exposed to this radiation, and much of the material leftover after the process is complete—called tailings—remains highly radioactive.  Tailings are usually discarded near the mines or mills, where they continue to emit radiation, which historically, often made its way into the water table and food chain.  A major nuclear accident happened in 1979 when a tailings damn broke and released many thousands of gallons of radioactive tailings sludge into the Rio Puerco River, which then flowed into the Rio Grande River.

While there are some safety precautions that people working with uranium can use, most of the early uranium workers (from the 1940s and 1950s) weren’t informed about the risks, and consequently, many of them suffered radiation-related diseases and died of cancer, as did many of their family members who lived in proximity to the mines and mills.  Many of their children were born with severe birth defects, and their families continue to suffer health problems from the still-radioactive debris that remains where former uranium mines and mills existsed.  The federal government, which was the only authorized purchaser of uranium for many years, was aware of these risks, but felt the imperative of obtaining a nuclear weapon for national security purposes was paramount.

Through my research surrounding sustainability, I’ve come to understand and define the term as it relates to the sustained well-being of three factors: the environment, the economy, and communities. It is my opinion that they are tremendously inter-related, and the sacrificed quality of any one of these factors largely harms the others. Hearing that uranium mining, the essential element to nuclear energy, devastates landscapes, that it’s volatile enough to lead to fatal diseases, I just don’t understand how people can argue that nuclear energy is a sustainable choice.

The health of uranium workers and the environmental degradation which results from the uranium industry is a serious and completely unsustainable cost, particularly in the early part of the nuclear power cycle.  While companies interested in resuming uranium mining for nuclear power insist they have new safety standards and improved methods that reduce environmental damage, it is seriously questionable whether it is actually possible to mine and mill uranium cleanly and safely.  This reality deals a major blow to the idea that nuclear power is sustainable for communities. Additionally, uranium is a mineral which exists in the natural world in finite qualities, which means that even if we could mine it cleanly and safely, we’d eventually run out.  So, that’s a major blow to the claim that nuclear is environmentally sustainable.

To address the third factor, what would you say the affects of nuclear energy are in regards to economic sustainability?

The next step in creating nuclear power is constructing and operating a nuclear power plant.  Nuclear power plants are highly complex and expensive to build, so much so that most private banks have refused to finance them in recent decades, leaving the federal government as the only entity willing to guarantee the massive loans needed to construct nuclear power plant infrastructure. Nuclear power plants also tend to go bankrupt, because their operating and security costs remain high even when the price they can get for the electricity they generate fluctuates.  Clearly, constructing and operating nuclear power plants is not economically sustainable.    (Here’s an article on the subject with links to a study on the economic feasibility of nuclear power done by Citybank: Nuclear Does Not Make Economic Sense Say Studies). And, in the case of the unthinkable nuclear disaster caused by human error or environmental event such as earthquake or tsunami, the costs of handling that disaster can be exorbitant, particularly if the disaster (i.e. a meltdown) cannot be contained.  Meltdowns aren’t out of the realm of possibility; there have been several serious meltdowns in the last 30 years—at Chernobyl, at 3 Mile Island, and now at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan.

Through casual chats I’ve had recently about nuclear energy, the subject of it being a preferable option to coal due to it being ‘cleaner’ has come up a couple of times, but from what you’re saying, nuclear energy doesn’t sound clean at all.

Many current advocates of nuclear power argue that it is “cleaner than coal” because it operates without the dense clouds of smoke or nasty runoff typical to other forms of energy production.  Nuclear power plants do create waste; the average consumer just doesn’t see that waste.  Spent nuclear fuel is highly radioactive, dangerous, and difficult to store safely.  These qualities also make it exorbitantly expensive to deal with nuclear waste.  It is so dangerous that many politicians have actively opposed nuclear waste facilities being sited in their states, because of the risk of a traffic accident and ensuing nuclear crisis during the transportation of nuclear waste to the facility.  Nuclear power plants also create emissions, they’re just invisible to the naked human eye.  Dr. John Gofman, one of the nation’s leading experts on radiation and medicine, once estimated that a nuclear reactor in an urban area would create adverse health effects “equal in the opposite direction to all the medical advances put together in the last 25 years.” So, once again, nuclear power isn’t sustainable for communities in terms of its real and potential impacts for human health, and its not environmentally sustainable either, when the question of nuclear waste is considered.


Is this really what we want to subject our children to? Radiation testing in Japan: http://www.news.nationalpost.com

I’m really grateful to Sarah for shedding some light on the subject, one that I now find all the more horrific. (For the record, I think understanding the truth means being able to look it head on. I looked at images to include regarding the horrible affects of radiation on humans and animals [i.e. two headed animals] and it broke my heart. Normally, I’d show you the ‘not pretty’ stuff, but I couldn’t bear to put it on here.) What is evermore frustrating to me now, is that so many seem to view the selection of nuclear energy, coal energy, or fossil fuels as a lesser evil, that ultimately, we have no better choice, something we know to be fundamentally untrue. What I’m so terribly puzzled about, is why we’re consciously selecting these forms of energy when we know the harm they cause, particularly to ourselves. Why do we subject ourselves to such danger and hazardous conditions? Why do we subject our children to living on such a ravaged planet that we continue to compromise? Though pessimistic as this may sound, if the world hasn’t decided from the numerous disasters that we’ve experienced that nuclear exploration is not worth the costs, I fear we’ve condemned ourselves and our planet for a grim future.

However, if I may take the liberty of adding a post-script to this essay, the one thing that wasn’t affected by the quake in Japan was their wind turbines. Even the offshore Kamisu Wind Farm that lies only 186 miles from the epicenter of Japan’s largest quake in history, remains unharmed; and that my friends, gives me a glimmer of hope.

Turbine in Yokohama, Japan: http://www.grist.org


Filed under Ask Strategic Questions, Awareness, Curiosity, Dialogue, Environmental Sustainability, Ethical, Renewable Energy, Responsibility, Social Implications, Social Sustainability

Let There Be Light

The view outside my window.

Spokane is currently blanketed with an abundant amount of snow; Thursday and Friday brought me the gifts of glorified collegiate snow days. Holed up in the apartment, I enjoy the slow pace with which life is running this weekend, both in and outside my front door. As snow falls silently outside the window, I ponder Water Water Everywhere, Not a Drop to Drink, Nor any Drop to Spare, and take pride in how I’ve conserved water this last week, only to become aware of (as I open my monthly utility bill) how many lights are currently on in my apartment.

Lights in the living room.

To my left, a lamp glows from the corner table; to my right, a desk lamp illuminates a surface I’m no longer working at. A pole lamp with two bulbs shines over my shoulder, while two strands of Christmas lights circle the living room. An overhead light is on in the kitchen, and there’s a strong possibility that lights are on in the bedroom.  All window shades are tied away, and a candle burns on the sill; at 1:00 in the afternoon, natural light pours in from the west.  For heaven’s sake! This is surely unnecessary. I stroll around and turn four lights off, and I feel as if I am consumed in darkness. Changing my mind, I decide that all lights are indeed necessary, and flip them on again. Much better.  Yet still a quandary remains in my mind, regarding the lighting in my home. It is hardly sustainable, but I have little grasp on how.  In all reality, the use and overuse of electric lighting touches many issues; from energy consumption, to the health and well-being of people, all these issues can find relief through lighting design.

Ouch! Not only is my light bulb from another country, it's an incandescent. For shame.

According to data from the Buildings Energy Data Book, lighting consumes the highest amount of the United State’s total energy at 35%, followed by space cooling at 16%, electronics at 12%, and all other factors ranking at 9% or less (with regards to last week’s essay, water heating consumes only 4% of total energy usage). Research indicates that we spend 90% of our time indoors; it is also indicates that in industrialized countries, buildings are responsible for up to one half of total energy usage. As lighting signifies the largest factor of energy consumption in buildings, it is imperative that fundamental changes be made in the way buildings use and acquire their energy; our continued overuse of the resource is expensive and wasteful. Building designers play a leading role in this dilemma; as their work impacts the life of structures, their decisions will continue to affect how it uses energy (and the associative costs), for potentially fifty or more years to come. Through informed design and innovative thinking, designers have the ability to reduce a building’s energy consumption by significant amounts, ultimately sustaining the resourced for further use.

Global environmental impacts of lighting and its associative energy use far surpass the bearings of any individual building. However, collectively, industrialization has amplified mankind’s aggregated energy consumption to a level that causes significant environmental impacts, such as air and water quality degradation, substantial resource depletion, and global climate change. If the design of energy systems within buildings continues unchecked, the potential repercussions are significant and disconcerting: health impacts from further environmental pollution, a continued threat of resource wars, failure of large-scale agricultural systems, and a growing threat to coastal cities as sea-levels rise. This is not to imply that a single light left on is going to end the world: but it is intertwined with a variety of larger issues that might. To understand the larger picture, it is imperative that we understand the smaller factors.

Light as comfort.

Additionally, lighting design in buildings bears significant effects on the psychological and physical well-being of users. We idolize light for its comforting presence in our lives, and its imagery fills our language; phrases such as “in the spotlight” and “light at the end of the tunnel,” all utilize light as an illustrative tool for its positive qualities.  As I find comfort in my home from the type and placement of my lights, the same is true for occupants of larger settings.  Too often, we settle for lighting systems are generic, boring, and leave no capability for occupant control; this can result in lighting levels that are drastically high, or disappointingly low. I’ll offer the design studio at my school for an example: it is illuminated by the never-ending annoyance of HID lamps (aka- High Intensity Discharge Lamps- the kind that are put in street lights). They’re incredibly unattractive, ridiculously noisy, and the bulbs change color when they begin to die. The studio consequently is constantly humming (a source of countless headaches), and is covered in various shades of light (from pure white to extreme yellow). Without capabilities to control the amount of light they emit, it’s one level for all, a wasteful and ineffective strategy. As they are hung so high on ceiling, inadequate light levels reach the surface of our desks, resulting in an additional lamp on every table. Having spent countless days (and many nights) in studio, I have come to truly despise the lighting, to the point that I seek out excuses to work anywhere else in an attempt to avoid headaches, eye strain, and general fatigue. I would happily wager that if this system were different and more appropriate for the space, it would create a more pleasant atmosphere that sustains the working students within it, likely sparking higher rates productivity. Instead, it’s most often empty and wasting space, save for classes.

When it comes down to it, ‘good lighting’ isn’t how much light you have, but rather having the right amount and quality of light in the right place; such a task is solely achieved by intentional and informed design, through which, we can address all of the issues we’ve discussed. A variety of sustainable design methods exist surrounding lighting design; ideally, the best solution is one that integrates daylighting into the overall electric design to achieve a dynamic composition appropriate for the use of building occupants. Let’s examine various design strategies that address the energy, environmental, and psychological affects of lighting.

Exert from my 2010 daylight study on classrooms. Click to enlarge.

In examining solutions intended to counter the energy consumption of electric lighting, we’ll find that reducing energy usage is the number one strategy for addressing global environmental impacts. In this case,  lighting design remedies for energy and environmental affects go hand in hand. Arguably, one of the top priorities in this issue is increasing the built environment’s dependency on renewable energy sources. Tapping into local and abundant energy sources is essential in reducing a building’s life-cycle impact by providing reliable and quality energy. Renewable sources are those gathered from the sun (solar energy), wind (wind energy), flowing water (hydro power), and the ground (geothermal energy). These various supplies of energy offer huge potential, yet so many millions of buildings choose not to harness their capabilities. It is true, these forms of energy are more expensive, but they require different technologies than those we currently rely on. As a consumer, when you purchase renewable energy from ethical companies, you’re supporting the development and construction of additional technologies to harness these sources. The more support we show, the more inexpensive these forms will become. Secondly, to maximize the efficiency of any energy source, we need to design and utilize more energy efficient fixtures, all the way from the tiniest light bulb to the biggest piece of equipment; a renewable energy resource would only be squandered on equipment that utilizes it ineffectually.

Springtime sunlight.

Lastly, I would argue what I feel is one of the greatest weapons of interior design specifically: the constant consideration of daylight as a contributing factor of a lighting plan. We, as humans, love sunlight- we thrive off of it. By incorporating daylighting into the plan of a building, we achieve a more pleasant interior environment, and we lessen our dependency on electric sources. This can be achieved through the following methods: 1) Top-lighting: clerestories, roof monitors, sawtooth roof lines, and skylights; 2) Side-lighting: designing windows as luminaires, allowing the size, shape, and placement to specifically respond to year-round sunlight and daylight patterns; 3) Operable controls: such as operable electric light fixtures, window blinds, louvers; 4) Incorporation of interior windows: allowing daylight to penetrate as much of the building as possible; 5) Running electric lights parallel to window walls: this allows us to turn off specific banks of lights that would otherwise illuminate a day-lit zone. These design strategies are merely a handful of many. Extensive and ongoing research surrounds the affects of daylighting on design, and it’s a fascinating discussion. To further highlight the subject, I’ve attached a PDF of a light study I did in 2010 on classroom models:Classroom Daylighting Report, By Emma Fox, 2010.

In the discussion of sustainability, it is easily argued that the effects of lighting on building users are equally as important as the energy fueling it; after all, what use is a building if it does not sustain its occupants? The quality and presence of light has always been a prime consideration in my personal living spaces, and I find that it strongly affects my design work. In addition to the incorporation of daylight, intentional and informed planning of a built environment’s electric lighting is essential to creating a pleasant atmosphere of visual comfort. The best lighting strategy for creating a comfortable and productive environment addresses specific uses of space, and accommodates them through a variety of light levels. This is a theory I learned in the Fall of 2009, and it’s a tried and true method; through the collaborative use of ambient lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting, a more dynamic interior environment is possible, one that people actually want to use. By avoiding the standard ‘one light level for all’ in buildings, more functional and enjoyable spaces are possible.


Filed under Awareness, Built Environment, Curiosity, Design, Dialogue, Economic Sustainability, Environmental Sustainability, Ethical, Geothermal Energy, Mind of the Consumer, Renewable Energy, Responsibility, Sick Building Syndrome, Social Implications, Sustainable Design, Uncategorized

A Spot of Humor

For everyone that has ever told me sustainability is an unnecessary concern, or that climate change is a myth, I would have you read this poignant tale of what happens to non-believers.

The Alternative Energy Revolution: http://xkcd.com/556/

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