The Oregon Trail: Portland-based Luma blazes a path on the state's architectural field

Mark Ramsby, IALD, and Craig Oty, LC, are now heading up the staff of Luma, a new architectural lighting design firm based in Portland, OR. Claiming their aspiration "to be the light you seek," the pair come with a long list of projects and numerous awards to their credit. "We see the big picture," they note. "The lighting exists within a greater context--the architecture." With this in mind, here is a round-up of some of their recent projects, ones they are proud of and have submitted to industry award competitions.

"Luma is a division of PAE Consulting Engineers, Inc.," explains Ramsby. "Our parent is a progressive M&E firm of 60 people that has had lighting design as a discipline for fifteen years. I've been with the company for ten years as head of the Lighting Design studio. About two years ago PAE studied each of their market segments as a part of an analysis of the business. Lighting was one of those market segments, and Luma was concieved as a part of that process, although we didn't know that at the time."

One of the things they identified as an issue was the fact that lighting design had a very different process than the engineering disciplines. "Where the engineering process is almost totally linear, the lighting design process is a bit messy," says Ramsby, "decidedly non-linear and subject to many more twists and turns. Our designs change and evolve as the project design evolves, as a natural part of, and in response to, the architectural/interior design process."

In a nutshell, they discovered that the design process and engineering process are very different, and acknowledged that. "It was suggested that we were running two different businesses: a design business and an engineering business," Rambsy admits. "We had to figure out how to address the situation." Thus the birth of Luma.

Over a year ago, Ramsby and Oty developed a business plan for a new lighting design business, and presented it to the PAE Board. Their ideas were pretty radical: a new company division to do lighting design, a new process, a new structure to support that process, and a new name. "The board, consisting entirely of engineers, approved the formation of the un-named division," says Ramsby. "These were visionary engineers, obviously!"

Since then, they have examined and re-thought every system to support the design process, and refocused their group toward design and support of the architectural design process. "We reinvented ourselves," Ramsby says. "Luma was formed from the lighting design studio of PAE, and a month ago we went public with the news."

Oty has been with the company for four years, working previously in the San Fransisco Bay area. He is a Kansas graduate with a degree in Architecture and a degree in Architectural Engineering with a lighting emphasis. Ramsby has been there for 10 years, coming from his own firm, Ramsby Dupuy and Seats. "While at RDS, I worked on the original NikeTown in Portland," he says. "The years since have brought a number of significant projects and great collaborations with many talented designers."

One of their more challenging projects was the entrance canopy at the Portland International Airport, where they wanted to create a bright and pleasant entry while meeting energy, long-term maintenance, and glare control requirements, not to mention the problems inherent with the landing and take-off of airplanes. Their budget was limited, yet they found that a monetary restriction actually encouraged their clarity and simplicity in design, concentrating their efforts on the light itself.

The canopy is huge, representing 2.5 acres of clear glass. "It was a challenge, and it was fun," says Ramsby, who used metal-halide luminaires applied directly to the structure. He also used custom floodlights by Sterner (with 4000K, 400W lamps) with custom optical systems, selected for critical cutoff angles where the landings for pedestrian bridges are located. The floods are mounted at the parking garage side to illuminate the 180' span of the trusses, with spherical housings to provide uniform coverage. To light the pedestrian bridges and lobby below, horizontal louvers provide brightness control. Four combinations of reflectors and louvers were used for horizontal beam, wide flood to spot distributions. Access for maintenance is from the parking garage floors.

"We couldn't aim the lights in the other direction or they would have hit the tower," explains Ramsby. "They want the airplanes to land too, so we had all those sightline issues related to airport operations. How the light shines is an issue; straight up is not a problem, straight out can be. The decision was made for horizontal lighting since there are so many viewing angles, but we didn't want it to go dark. We had to light the trusses to create a real sense of space as this is the entry lobby to the airport, and on occasion (not often, he says as a joke) it rains in Portland."

High levels of vertical illumination and a high degree of overlap for uniformity on the roadway 64' below are provided by 4000K, 320W pulse-start industrial downlights by Holophane, these were large enough to scale up to the large truss. The 20-25fc horizontal is approximately 60% of the illumination of the adjacent ticketing lobby which is behind a glass wall. Illumination is highest on the terminal side. Lighting consumes 0.9W/sq. ft.

Luma also lit a new wing at West Linn High School that houses 56 perimeter classrooms around a voluminous central area containing the library, corridors, snack bar, and gathering areas called "porches." The library is lit to 35 maintained horizontal footcandles using 3000K 70W PAR-30 flood ceramic metal-halide lamps in open downlights. Black specular cones are used to mitigate glare. Beam overlap allows multiple lamp failure prior to relamping, accomplished by use of an owner-approved pole relamping device.

The eight porches offer informal spaces for student use when not in class. Use varies and therefore multiple layers of individually switched lighting systems allow direct or indirect lighting to suit current function. To stay within budget and Oregon energy code at 1.2W/sq. ft., classrooms use steel linear pendants while corridors employ modular perforated basket luminaires. These functions comprise 90% of the floor area yet account for 85% of the cost using 82% of available lighting energy.

One thing the designers at Luma are pleased with is the support from their clients, which Ramsby notes, "is encouraging! We've come out of the box running, doing a conferencing center at the Portland International Airport, a daylit university building, the Kress Building, and the Pioneer Park Building, which are both demonstration projects for exterior building lighting in downtown Portland."

Photos by Loren Nelson.