Lighting the Way in Education
Designing classroom lighting for the next generation of students, teachers, and technology is challenging. A typical day in a classroom could include projected presentations, science experiments, lectures, or test taking, and the age of classroom occupants could span 50 plus years. Daylighting, views and electric lighting impact the learning environment. All of these factors are considered as we progress through the design process with our clients. Once we fully understand our client’s priorities, we work toward a solution together to meet the needs of students and teachers who spend a majority of their day in the classrooms we design.
Recently I completed an in depth analysis of our lighting design for Gretna High School in Nebraska to ensure our solution was meeting the needs of students and staff. As with my design for Gretna High School, I begin each project by addressing three key dynamics to shape the design: lighting requirements for occupants, controls and daylighting.
Lighting requirements for occupants: Eyesight varies from student to teacher and our eyesight changes as we age. The lighting recommendation in a classroom on average calls for twice the lighting for teachers compared to students: 40 footcandles versus 20 footcandles. This variance requires a well-designed classroom with multiple lighting controls and options to accommodate all occupants. For instance, at Gretna High School we located the teacher’s desk in the same lighting zone as the projection wall, which can be selectively increased or decreased based on the unique lighting requirements of the teacher.
Lighting controls: Incorporating a few simple zoning switches to control fluorescent lamps, or integrating a fully dimmable LED system, not only addresses the different lighting needs of teacher versus student, these options also accommodate lighting needs for an audio/video presentation or projection screen display. Consider this scenario: younger students are enjoying a quiet activity where lower light levels are ideal, but the teacher needs full light to complete a lesson plan. By incorporating zoning switches or dimmable lighting, the teacher’s area could be fully illuminated without disturbing the student activity area. At Gretna High School, our classroom design uses switching zones and three lamp fluorescent light fixtures to meet the different lighting needs of students and teachers, as well as zones for daylighting and audio/video presentations.
Daylighting, windows and glare: Daylighting is complicated and is the topic we spend most of our time discussing with clients. I love a window and a view as much as anyone, but the sun is a powerful light source needing careful consideration in classroom design. Direct glare is a constant concern and too much daylight can wash out projection and computer screens. Large windows have the greatest daylighting potential, but they bring the most glare. Strategically locating large windows away from a dedicated teaching wall with a projection surface minimizes the projection wash out affect, but we also remind our clients that all transparent windows will require a combination of blinds or exterior shading at some point during the day to control glare.
In addition to large windows, we also recommend exploring short horizontal windows close to the ceiling to more evenly distribute daylight in the classroom. However, this additional daylighting option increases the potential for glare in east, west, and south facing windows. To remedy the issue, I recommend a diffuse translucent glass for some classroom windows. Translucent glass does not offer views to the outside, but it does control direct glare so blinds may only be needed for activities requiring a fully darkened room.
At Gretna we created a unique design solution utilizing exterior shading and multiple glass types to incorporate daylighting and control glare. Based on post occupancy measurements and teacher surveys we received the following feedback:
- 96% prefer a classrooms with windows
- 25% adjust the electric lighting when there is adequate light from the windows
- 70% like the size and location of the windows
- 65% use projectors every class period or daily
- 90% adjust the electric lighting when using the projector
From our discussions with Gretna High School teachers, we learned many are utilizing the switch zones designed to reduce the electric light level. The designed electric lighting was 30 percent better than code, but several teachers are reducing the electric lighting by an additional third because of the daylight available. These classrooms are seeing energy savings of more than 50 percent better than code, which is another benefit of our custom lighting solution.
Designing classroom lighting is an ever evolving and moving target requiring team work from the owner, architect, and lighting designer to hone in on the classroom needs for each school. The statistics from our study of Gretna High School both affirmed our design and the growing need to continue to balance our design to both incorporate daylighting and provide accommodations for audio/video presentations. I am up to the challenge and look forward to designing more unique lighting solutions for the classroom of the future.