Doner Advertising in suburban Detroit handles a variety of major clients, including La-Z-Boy, the North American operations of Mazda, and FTD. The firm, in operation since 1937, recently found itself in need of a new look after a fire gutted its facility.
Enter IALD Award-winning lighting designer Stefan Graf of Illuminart, located in Ypsilanti, MI, and interior designer Brian Killian of Brian Killian and Company of Birmingham, MI. Killian, primarily a residential interior designer, brought his own unique look to the project, which comprises a total of 109,000 sq. ft. (9,810 sq. m) over three floors. The project, started in June 1997 and finished late last October, balances a warm, eclectic interior scheme with theatrical lighting flair.
The interior consists of several major regions: the offices, several specialty conference rooms, the main lobby, and the restrooms. "They wanted the public spaces to be somewhat artistic and fun and visually stimulating, due to the nature of the company," Graf explains.
The offices necessarily focus on more practical lighting techniques, which can be quite the challenge at times. As is the norm for a large employer, approximately 69,000 sq. ft. (6,210 sq. m) of the Doner building is devoted to office space, most of which is divided into individual cubicles. One of the biggest concerns in the communal office areas was in the creative department. The art directors, who have their own task lighting in their individual modular units, found that they were more comfortable without any overhead lighting, due to the extensive CAD work they do. Of course, management wanted to maintain some illumination in that space for consistency.
Says Graf, "The solution was to reduce the downlight component, but maintain the uplight." He used 12'-long (4m) linear fluorescent pendant-mounted up/downlights, spaced 2' end to end on an 11' center. "Rather than completely blocking off the downlight component, we selected a neutral density filter (Lee 211), cut it into 7" strips, and laid those on top of the louvers on the fixture," which solved the problem for both parties.
Doner is also home to four specialized conference rooms, including an executive conference room with multimedia capabilities, a video teleconferencing room, a focus group room used for product evaluation, and a general conference room on the second floor overlooking the main lobby. All the conference rooms feature large custom lighting fixtures, designed by Killian. "One of the issues was getting artwork into these rooms, while at the same time providing practical function. The obvious answer was to do that through the lighting fixture design," Killian explains. He achieved this through the design of four kite-like fixtures, made of a variety of unique materials, including metal mesh and paper.
All the conference rooms, with the exception of the video conferencing room, use 40W biax 1x2 Perceiva wallwashers and 100W PAR-38 Gotham series wallwashers, both by Lithonia and color balanced at 5000K, which is very close to daylight. "The reason we used the 5000K fluorescent wallwashers is because most of the company's product evaluation has to do with color perception," Graf says. "We did a mockup for the owner and showed them high color rendering in 3500K, 4000K, and 5000K, and they selected the 5000K lamps. It's as close to daylight in artificial lighting that you can get in an office. Of course, there are other sources you can use, like xenon, but they aren't necessarily cost-effective in that environment," he laughs.
As one would expect, the video teleconferencing room had exacting lighting needs. For this 19'x19' (6x6m) room, Graf paid special attention to the luminous value of the instruments within the room. "The lighting challenge for video conferencing is designing with high uniformity," he explains. "The main function of the lighting is to create a good camera image, and you need good vertical footcandles to light the faces of the people sitting around the table." To achieve this, Graf used a video lighting system on a separate dimmable circuit ensconced within the ceiling that circles the perimeter of the conference table, and is focused towards the individuals seated at the conference table itself. He used two rows of six 50W MR-16 low-voltage downlights with a mirror light trim and linear spread lenses placed 2' on center with 10' (3m) between rows, essentially following the outline of the table, to brighten the vertical surfaces of the individuals on camera.
The rest of the room is illuminated by 6" lensed, dimmable incandescent wallwashers, and recessed 6" aperture deep cone A-lamp downlights, which are also dimmable. But there's much more to lighting this kind of room than just dimmable fixtures. Says Graf, "It's important to balance the lighting in the room with the brightness of the screen, keeping the light off the screen itself." Balance is actually the key to superior video lighting. "It's balancing luminance and contrast. The process begins with working closely with the interior designer to make sure that the reflectance values of the surfaces, which include the tabletop, the walls, and the ceiling are close, if not the same. There has to be no greater than a 3:1 contrast ratio between those surfaces."
Oddly enough, another area that benefited from Graf and Killian's somewhat eclectic touch were the restrooms. Rather than ignoring these functional yet somewhat staid areas, the pair chose to treat them with the same flair as the rest of the building. The ladies' room, which measures 18'x22' (5.5x7m), includes a sitting area illuminated by three Lithonia Gotham series recessed A-lamp multiplier downlights, which create a quiet retreat within the building. In the restroom itself, Graf used a Focal Point recessed perimeter system with high color rendering 3000K fluorescent sources to accent skin tones. For lighting at the stalls, the LD went for a purely theatrical touch. "There's a fluorescent slot that runs along the ceiling at the stalls that has a pink filter in it," he chuckles. "The men's room has the same thing, but with a blue filter." Finally, to complete the look, he used additional flair. "In the ceiling, Brian chose these little, clear, randomly spaced sign bulbs, like you'd see on a theatre marquee. They just add sparkle."
The showcase of the environment is undoubtedly the lobby, a controlled environment that blocks out all natural light. "The absence of light is just as important as the existence of light," Killian explains. "I wanted to be able to control what went on in the lobby from a dramatic point of view, as well as from an audiovisual point of view. We did this by covering the existing glass in the lobby with stainless steel," transforming it into a showcase for both designers' work. The 38'x49' (11x15m) area is dominated by an 18' staircase that includes a videoscreen at the midpoint.
"The main goal in lighting the lobby was flexibility," Graf says. "We wanted to be able to create different moods in there. To do that we used an eight-scene Lithonia Sequel preset control system." Graf chose a direct/indirect system using Times Square PAR-38 lampholders with glass color filters for the lobby, and used both warm and cool circuits, which allows a variety of scenes. "It's a very theatrical effect, which is very unusual in a corporate setting."
The dominant 11'x19' (3x6m) lobby videoscreen is used to highlight various Doner projects. The visual challenge, however, was to provide adequate lighting for the staircase while keeping any hilation off the screen. Graf did this by keeping the downlight to a minimum, while controlling the light distribution in that area. "We used four Times Square metal-halide pattern and framing projectors to highlight the staircase. Their function was to frame in the staircase, while simultaneously keeping light off the screen and accentuating the handrails and stair treads."
The foot of the staircase is also the showplace for another of Graf's theatrical coups. Doner has invested in numerous custom gobos, which are projected onto the foot of the stairs, via a fifth metal-halide framing projector mounted 12' above the finished floor. "When the client first comes into the lobby, they see their corporate name in light, and it really personalizes the visit for them." It's a subtle yet effective way of using light that helps keep Doner ahead of the rest of the advertising pack.