Sava Čvek

The Open Plan Working Group

OPWG Corporate Consortium XVIII April 22, 2008
The Personal Workspace of the Future

Sponsored by Herman Miller Inc., Lutron Electronics and Muzak Corporation Organized by Orfield Laboratories Inc.


Illumination in contemporary office work environment
Sava Cvek, President, SCA Development International Inc., Boston, Massachusetts

Office Lighting is first and foremost about health. It is about the personal and collective health of employees and their well-being while working in an office environment.

A person with 20/20 vision has the visual sensitivity of the average 20 year old viewing an object at 20 ft. By the age of 40 the average person’s visual activity has been impaired to the point that they require visual aids to clearly see objects at normal distance. At the age of 55 the average person requires 5 times more light than a 20 year old to perform tasks with the same amount of visual accuracy and speed. The occurrence of visual loss in people over the age of 45 is much greater than that of any other demographic group. According to the American demographic, the “baby boom” generation, a collective term given to the Americans born between 1946 and 1964 when birth rates were extremely high, makes up a third of the US population or 63 million people or slightly over a quarter of the nation’s total population.

The average office worker spends 80% of his or her workday in enclosed office space illuminated by artificial lighting. We commute to work in cars, busses or subway all of which are encapsulated environments. Ordinary window glass absorbs all biologically active light spectrum and standard incandescent and fluorescent lamps do not provide for this loss.

Medical studies have demonstrated that continuous exposure to fluorescent light is associated with doubling of melanoma risk. More recent studies have shown that light is the most important environmental input for humans, after food and air, in controlling healthy body functions.

Just as we need fresh air, natural and a full spectrum food, we need natural full spectrum lighting.

Light is a very specific form of energy. It has a profound effect on the relations of human physiological and emotional functions. Light energy enters our body by way of skin and eyes. Light is electromagnetic radiation and as such is a natural agent that stimulates sight and our body mechanisms.

Light penetrates the brain stimulating the hypothalamus, which coordinates and regulates most of our life sustaining functions. Hypothalamus governs the endocrine system of hormone secreting gland controlling various functions in our body including blood pressure, mental activity, immune system, agility, fatigue and initiates and coordinates our reaction and adaptation to stress.

A certain range of biologically active light spectrum is extremely important for our well-being. This band provides synthesis of calciferol, or commonly known as vitamin D. Vitamin D promotes the metabolism of phosphorous and calcium in our bodies. Deficiency of vitamin D may cause an increased risk of cancer, dental caries, brittle bones, increasing stress and fatigue and weakening of the bodies immunological defense systems.

In developing a lighting product and designing illumination for an office environment we must understand the light as a life support element. Illumination of an office work environment should be approached as a powerful health stimulating instrument.

The quality and performance characteristics of a lighting product and the way it is implemented in an office work environment will affect health, quality of work, efficiency, creativity, productivity, alertness and general well-being.

Illumination should not be only determined by charts or how much power of illumination one may need for a given space. Office furniture systems illumination design must take in account natural, ambient and individual work station lighting, to be integrated in one overall system. In addition to this it should not be left aside the importance of decorative and accent lighting.

Work station lighting consists of under cabinet and task lighting and it is of a pivotal importance in the contemporary office work environment. Task and under cabinet lighting are performance lighting. Task and under cabinet lighting personalizes the office by making it possible for a person to control such lighting to one’s own taste and task at hand. As such, these two products give a more intimate feeling to individual work area. Task and under cabinet light can humanize the office environment by providing an opportunity to satisfy different individual preferences or just simply offer a choice to turn the light on or off.

Illumination level of ambient and work station lighting should be controlled depending where each individual office unit is located, at the window zone or deep inside an office space. Under cabinet and Task Lighting should be individually adjustable in intensity and direction. A person should be able to adjust task and under cabinet light to eliminate glare and reflection of ambient and natural light sources.

Design and operating nature of modern office electronic tools used in every day work requires both horizontal and vertical reading. Low light output, lack of adjustability, poor antiglare and reflection technology in LCD monitors and various other electronics devices present huge illumination design challenges.

Office illumination has two distinct costs. One cost is related to a lighting product and initial installation and another is daily operating and maintenance cost to a client. Both costs must be carefully evaluated. Lighting can account for up to 40% of the total operating cost of a building.

LED technology offers a great and exciting source of illumination with equal opportunities in energy saving and long life low maintenance operation. LEDs offer to designers a low profile and compact construction when creating new products. At the same time, narrow beam and relatively low light output are serious short falls and require a high degree of engineering and know how to bring LED technology into a successful product. Very aggressive development and research programs by LED manufacturers bring to market every six months a new LED product with significantly better performance. The problem for those working on a new lighting product using LED technology is that their brand new product has become obsolete by the time it is introduced to the market.

It is too common that task lighting is not part of the original budget when developing a new office building. Unfortunately, because of common miss-understanding, task lighting is required much later as part of additional office accessories and often creates problems with the owners and results in a very small budget which cannot pay for the most desired product. A general cure for this situation is buying a low cost product and getting a low quality more expensive product to operate.

Both LED and fluorescent products are available in full spectrum light and offer significantly higher quality of illumination. From the latest group of medical studies, research and development in understanding the way humans operate we know a lot more than ever before. Today for the first time technology is available to help us design far better lighting products and better overall illumination design of an office work environment.

A new office design should speak loud for the values we stand for. The office should be an embracing and comfortable place inspiring us to be more creative and productive. It should celebrate ergonomics and comfort and allow for personal adjustments. The work environment should be humanized and should support the health and well-being of the person using it. We need to carefully design a balance between office work and the quality of time we spend in it. Lighting is among the few most influential benefactor to health, productivity, quality of work and efficiency.

Many do not choose the environment they work in and most working people have very little say in the way it was developed. The thing is that space is never neutral and it influences people in several important ways. Because of this it is extremely important for a furniture company when creating a new office system to develop a product that provides maximum values on every level of design. The office needs to be a functionally, ergonomically and visually inspiring space and above all healthy and productive environment for work.