Integrating Lighting into Specialty Ceilings

Figure 1 A standard ceiling baffle system with the luminaires specified downstream. Photo from iStock.

To demonstrate, take the case of a basic linear felt baffle system. Traditionally, when baffle systems are implemented in a design, the interior architect defines the ceiling plane and specifies baffle spacing, height, material, and mounting methods among other attributes. Once the design is in place, the lighting designer or electrical engineer finds lighting solutions. A series of suspended cylinders or linear products are often specified between the baffles to achieve the task or general lighting levels required. This traditional approach leads to two fundamental problems.

First, the esthetic co-ordination between the baffles and luminaires is suboptimal, as the latter can be disruptive visually, both by forcing the luminaire to fit within the preset baffle spacing (Figure 1) and potentially projecting light onto the side of some baffles in the larger system. Second, if a design change occurs further downstream, say, if one determines a 450 mm (18 in.) on-centre spacing is required for the baffles instead of 300 mm (12 in.), or if an obstruction occurs on-site, the lighting will need to be repositioned or the layout will need to be re-done to accommodate the new baffle spacing and placement of the luminaires.

Figure 2 An esthetically integrated ceiling and luminaire baffle system specified together. Photo courtesy Focal Point.

A solution to this esthetic and co-ordination concern is what several manufacturers have tried to address in recent years: providing both the standard acoustic baffles and luminaires with a baffle housing. In this case, the baffle ceiling can be specified and iterated on, then the lighting designer can choose which baffles to light up. Co-ordinating the baffle system upfront, either from a single manufacturer or a partnership between ceiling and lighting providers, can ensure the textiles are batched together and matched, the acoustic design can be optimized, and the full system can be co-ordinated at the job site. The result is a much more esthetically pleasing and easy-to-install solution (Figure 2).

Of course, systems like these are tougher to pull apart, which can meet resistance from the ceiling and electrical contractor trades when it comes to bidding and product substitution. Ensuring the system is split between Division 09 for ceiling products and Division 26 for lighting products, as well as cross-referenced in each CSC MasterFormat division, is key for labour bidding and installation. The result of this additional effort—a fully co-ordinated, clean, and integrated specialty system with a single manufacturer—is valuable in maintaining the integrity of the design.

This example of designing and integrating a simple baffle system demonstrates the potential complexities which arise, and the thoughtfulness required when attempting to integrate lighting into a more complicated ceiling plane, like a multi-dimensional ceiling system, or even more aggressive ceiling system forms based on parametric design principles.

The future of lighting integration

Parametric design in architecture can be defined as the manipulation of geometric forms and elements through advanced computation, producing complicated architectural designs and structures. The philosophy associated with parametric design possess the following attributes:

  • It leverages computerized, algorithmic design processes.
  • It is usually based on non-random patterns, although they may look random due to their complexity. Such patterns are often inspired by the natural world, thus resulting in organic arrangements of forms and shapes.
  • It blends complexity and variety with the capability to assess and optimize structural elements and designs.
  • It allows for component elements within the system to adapt and have interdependencies with the larger system.

These unique, heterogenous designs are making their way into interior architecture. Specialty ceiling manufacturers leverage tools such as Rhino 3D and ArchiCAD, among others, along with digital production capabilities, to deliver seemingly custom ceiling designs at scale. This movement in architecture is leading to brand-forward, natural-feeling spaces—and the momentum is not slowing down as system improvements are implemented and more competitors enter the arena.

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