Feature Article - September 2007
Find a printable version here

Let There Be Dark

How Smart Lighting Design Increases Security, Performance and Night-Time Aesthetics

By Emily Tipping



The Light Inside

Once you're inside, lighting requirements change yet again. You no longer need to be as concerned about light pollution (though this still can be a factor), but you do need to make careful choices depending on the use of the space.

Indoor lighting systems are generally of two types—direct or indirect. Direct lighting puts the light directly onto the floor, while indirect lighting is aimed somewhere else, usually the walls or the ceiling. The light is then reflected, reducing glare. Whichever type of light is used, the main key in a gym or indoor court is to ensure uniform light on the playing surface, reducing glare and random shadows, which make play more challenging.

Another key consideration in gyms and indoor racquet courts is the possibility that balls will fly up into the lights. For gyms where volleyball and basketball are played, you'll need fixtures that can handle the impact of balls flying into them. In indoor tennis and racquetball courts, the lights will need to be shielded to ensure small, potentially flammable, balls don't get stuck in the fixture.

Other areas call for other considerations. Entryways are often designed with beautiful lighting schemes to help attract patrons into the facility. In certain workout areas, such as studios used for yoga or Spinning classes, lighting should be subdued or dramatic. In studios used for multiple types of classes, it's good to give instructors the options of dimmer or brighter lights.

The University of North Dakota in Grand Forks utilizes many different approaches to lighting its new Wellness Center, a 107,964-square-foot recreation facility that opened in August 2006. The main entrance, for example, is beautifully lit outside and in. Expansive windows in the lobby area let in natural light all day long. The spin studio not only employs a state-of-the-art sound system, but also a projector and drop-down screen, a disco ball and light show, black lights, rope lights and even a haze machine. All of these lighting choices make the spin studio feel more like what might be found in a high-end health club than a university recreation center. By contrast, exercise rooms in the center can be adapted to various activities and make use of various lighting choices for students doing yoga or Pilates workouts. The quiet lounge with its labyrinth makes use of more subdued lighting to suit the contemplative nature of the space. And the gymnasiums include more functional, less aesthetic lighting.

Many modern facilities are being designed to take advantage of natural light, which can help reduce operational costs, as well as beautifying the indoor space. The major concern with natural light is glare. Windows facing east or west will sometimes invite direct sun into players' and patrons' eyes, while north- and south-facing windows do a better job of letting indirect sunlight into a facility.

Aquatic facilities present their own unique challenges. Natural light is obviously an ideal solution in aquatic areas, but it's not always possible. Reducing glare is a major factor in pools to ensure swimmers' safety. Underwater lighting can help improve visibility under the water.

In some cases, site lighting and interior lighting combine to create a beautiful aesthetic.

At the Greeley Family FunPlex & Twin Rivers Community Park in Greeley, Colo., a lit walking path winds through the park connecting to the FunPlex. In addition, lighting becomes art in four beautifully lit landscape elements. Also outside is a lit 18-hole miniature golf course, outdoor amphitheater and state-of-the-art softball complex.

The FunPlex itself was carefully designed to allow the light to come in and shower the interior with daylight, and the eye to wander outside to the short-range views of the park and long-range views of the mountains. More functional lighting is found in the multi-purpose fieldhouse.

All of the different parts of the facility combine to create a welcoming feel, inviting patrons to take part in the myriad activities outside and in.

And in the end, that's what lighting should help accomplish. It should be inviting. It should feel safe. And in the right amounts in the right places, it can be a stunning accompaniment to the nighttime sky.