The two most innovative areas for architecture, I've long maintained, are lighting and glass. The amount of new technology introduced for each category, year after year, is astounding.
For the lighting industry, the best new products debut at Lightfair 2012, to be held in Las Vegas next week, May 9-11. Each year the meeting toasts the best of the best in its LFI Innovation Awards. Though it's had to predict who will win, we can spot some likely finalists.
Derided by some as still too costly, LEDs -- also known as solid-state lighting (SSL) -- will once again dominate the awards. And they will soon dominate commercial illumination, in spite of the naysayers.
The other award-winning category this year should be lighting controls, including novel, battery-free wireless systems. Some even have switches that produce energy.
A few other oddballs may see the light of day -- literally. One of my favorites improves on the popular green building approach of integrating sunlight with electrical lighting: The partnership of Sweden's Parans Solar Lighting and Maine's Wasco Skylights employs fiberoptic cables to pipe daylight from roof openings to other rooms in a building (photo).
LEDs shine from on high
As far as LEDs go, Philips Lumileds will be in the mix, with the launch of Luxeon for outdoor and industrial lighting applications such as streetlights, high-bay lights, wall packs and bollards. LumiLEDs won awards last year, too.
As Philips goes, so does the market. We'll see many more uses of LEDs in tall fixtures, high ceilings and streetside lampposts.
One important introduction from Lucifer Lighting unveiled at Frankfurts's Light+Building is the company's new Y Series from the LEDX downlight family, engineered for ceilings up to 30 feet tall by using LED packages of 2000–3000 lumens -- a very bright yet unobtrusive fixture with little glare. It's idal
Another company, Albeo, makes what it calls "industrial-strength" SSL fixtures for high-bay applications, such as those in big-box retail stores, warehouses and gymnasiums. The company's LED H-Series High Bay fixtures emit 60% more light than before at 10,000 lumens from each "light bar" in a waterproof enclosure. Albeo can pack as many as 12 bars into each fixture.
Another LED lighting maker is Cree, Inc., which will debut a 6-inch LED architectural luminaire. The downlight, dubbed the SR Series LED Architectural Downlight, uses 85 percent less energy and is designed to last up to 30 times longer than comparable incandescent lighting. The real innovation is price: the series is on par with incumbent fluorescent architectural downlights, so the energy savings pass through imemdiately to the end-user.
(A sidebar: Like other manufacturers, Philips is soft-pedaling the manufacturing term "binning," which describes a way to sort good LEDs from the not-so-good. It's a fine idea -- let's leave bad bins behind.)
Wireless control, everywhere
For me, the real proof that LEDs will take over the world comes from companies like Konica Minolta Sensing, which has finally introduced a handheld spectrophotometer for testing LED lamps. Something new for the facility manager's or lighting designer's toolbelt, the CL-500A helps evaluate of next-generation lamps based on color rendering index (CRI), illuminance, chromaticity and the color temperature.
For lighting controls in the building, the EnOcean Alliance has succeeded in teaching architects that we don't need wires or batteries just to dim lights or turn them on and off. EnOcean represents a passel of products and producers that make self-powered sensors and switches that can wirelessly switch fixtures switch or provide occupancy or daylight sensing.
One neat introduction this year is the Adura's EnOcean Receiver, which listens to EnOcean sensors and switches and transmits the information onto Adura's wireless mesh network. That means battery-free, wireless building control linked to an intelligent, networked whole-building solution. Another debut comes from Maxim Integrated Products: a new reference design that is a complete solution for the control and power measurement of two outdoor luminaires. The big deal here is "smooth dimming" of LEDs, which has been a design hassle since LEDs first hit the scene. Other successful dimmers for LEDs have come from Lutron.
Outdoors, even street lighting comes with wireless controls, so that municipalities and large campus owners can easily save energy. The Belgian company Schreder Lighting has its Owlet system of intelligent street and area lighting wireless controls, known altogether as a "telemanagement system."
For single-room control, have a look at Lumenergi's new "Room Solution" brings intelligent lighting to the smallest spaces.
To see if any of these predictions hit the mark -- and for more on Lightfair 2012 innovations -- visit their awards page next week.