BDP embraces darkness in Britain's greenest building

The University of East Anglia has a surprising cultural history. Benjamin Britten, England’s greatest composer, was a musical adviser at the music school and Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan studied on the University’s creative writing course, which was the first of its kind in the country.

The University’s architecture is just as prestigious and features the iconic brutalist designs of Denys Lasdun who created London’s National Theatre. Lasdun’s ‘Ziggurats’ as they have become known (because they resemble the ancient Mesopotamian structures of the same name) are terraced student residences that lend the campus some serious architectural bragging rights.

But now the university has something else to brag about, it is home to one of the greenest buildings in the UK. The Enterprise Centre was designed by Architype and features a lighting design by BDP, although lighting is not as prevalent in the building as you would expect.

The light filled atrium, ceiling lighting systems are only employed for emergency lighting and general ambience.

For a third of the floor plan, there is no ceiling lighting whatsoever. Localised accent lighting is the sole artificial source in work spaces. Ceiling lighting systems are employed only for emergency lighting and general ambience within high circulation and flexible teaching spaces. All ceiling lights are positioned only in the places where daylight is compromised and all lighting is programmed to function only once daylighting levels have fallen below a pre-set level. There are times when it is impossible to switch on room lighting because there is no manual over-ride of the automatic system.

The centre is designed to last for 100 years and, wherever possible, building materials were sourced, tested and fabricated locally.

BDP’s lighting team was engaged to work with the architects to develop a lighting strategy that would work in cooperation with the building’s excellent relationship with daylight. With the natural cycle of day and night in mind, the design team addressed the need to look at darkness as an essential part of the circadian cycle and gained the full support of the client to produce a lighting scheme that moves beyond conventional design thinking towards an entirely new way of seeing how light can be used.

Combining this radical approach to daylight ingress in the architectural design with a pro-active lighting strategy has not only reduced the usable energy of the lighting system by 80 percent but also reduced the embodied carbon of electrical infrastructure by a further 40 percent.

Ceiling lights are positioned in the places where daylight is compromised and all lighting is programmed to function only once daylighting levels have fallen below a pre-set level.

The client brief was to produce a new building that would be an exemplar of low embodied energy and carbon construction technologies. The Centre has certainly achieved that and has raised the bar on environmental performance in the process. The building has attained both a prestigious Passivhaus rating and a BREEAM Outstanding classification.

Conventional lighting schemes are not plausible in a Passivhaus project, due to the stringent requirements and simply embracing efficient LED lighting affords only a minor 20 percent energy saving. Lighting has to be approached in a different way, while also considering the health and wellbeing of the building users. Contact with natural light and its ability to penetrate into the heart of the building provides both a sense of well-being for the occupant and delivers a stunning reduction in the amount of energy saving that can be achieved.

The building's lighting strategy work in cooperation with the building’s excellent relationship with daylight.

The centre is designed to last for 100 years and, wherever possible, building materials were sourced, tested and fabricated locally. It is a celebration of sustainable design and local cooperation.

After the first full year of operation the energy data is now being analysed. It appears that a building that has been designed to embrace darkness as well as light, make optimal use of natural light and create a welcome environment for everyone using the building, is also delivering on the energy side of things. Annual lighting energy costs are being reported of less than 1.5W/m², and all this in a building that is home to UEA student courses, a local business community and an active social culture.

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