Just as humans have evolved, so have our light sources.

Fire was our first artificial light source and a very important survival tool. From here we moved onto other technologies such as oil and gas lamps, incandescent lighting, fluorescent lighting and eventually LED lighting.

While we were able to spend considerable time in the presence of a natural flame without ill effect, the same cannot often be said of the modern lighting that permeates our homes, workplaces, schools and healthcare facilities.

With most people spending the majority of their time indoors, this becomes a big problem. Poor lighting can cause any number of ailments, not limited to eye strain and vision damage, fatigue, decreased mood and compromised healing ability.

Not to mention the sustainability issues around lighting, such as excess energy use and the presence of harmful toxins in some lights that can make them very difficult to dispose of.

Fortunately, there is now a breadth of research around artificial lighting and its impact on humans and the environment, with lighting designers beginning to take this into consideration.

Going back to nature

While ‘nature’ is where we started, somewhere along the way we became sidetracked, preoccupied with technological advancement no matter the cost. This has resulted in people having a serious disconnect from nature, and from their natural body clock. Circadian lighting seeks to correct this.

What is circadian lighting? In the words of circadian rhythm expert Sean Cain, an associate professor at Monash University, circadian lighting is a technology that takes into account the body’s internal clock.

According to Cain, there are various internal clocks throughout the body, and at the base of the human brain there is an actual physical clock that keeps 24-hour time. The only problem is that this sense of time is determined through the lighting in the outside world – something we don’t always have access to.

The colour and intensity of light has a significant effect on our internal clock.

“About 20 years ago, we discovered that particular light-sensitive cells in the eye contain melanopsin, which responds to blue light,” says Cain.

“You don’t need very much of it to trick your clock into thinking it’s daytime when it’s night. On the other hand, [melanopsin] is quite insensitive to red or orange light.

“Now we’re discovering new things like those photoreceptive cells … feed into areas of the brain that are involved in mood regulation, alertness, fear, etc. More and more, the picture is evolving that light is more important than we thought.”

In fact, exposure to poor lighting can lead to low-grade jet lag, says Cain.

“When you’re misaligned and your rhythms are messed up, it results in quite a poor mood. We think in general a lot of people in the world – because of the bad lighting in their home – are experiencing a low-grade general jet lag.”

This is where Dyson’s new Lightcycle technology kicks in.

The first of its kind on the market, Lightcycle uses a unique time, date and location-driven algorithm to calculate the colour temperature and brightness of daylight anywhere in the world at any given moment. This is supported by data from over one million satellite-based measurements of light conditions in the earth’s atmosphere at different times of the day.

“We define natural light as what the light looks like outside on a clear day,” explains Will Darvill, design leader, lighting category at Dyson.

The idea behind this is avoiding instances of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a depressive condition suffered by people around the world who are exposed to limited sunlight and an excess of dark or cloudy days.

Lightcycle makes use of three warm and three cool LEDs, which work together to simulate daylight colour temperatures from 2,700-6,500 Kelvin.

From a sustainability perspective, Dyson has ensured that the quality of Lightcycle lights can be maintained for 60 years. This was achieved through use of a technology most often used in satellites. A vacuum-sealed copper tube works to draw heat away, while inside a drop of water evaporates, dissipating heat along the pipe as it condenses, before returning to the LEDS by capillary action. This provides a non-stop, energy-free cooling cycle that allows the LEDS to maintain their brightness and light quality.

As far as energy savings, this largely depends on how Lightcycle is used, but “the savings can be huge”, says Darvill.

“The amount of times I see office lighting or task lighting on in offices with no one there… It’s shameful really because it’s just wasted energy.”

The newly-released product is currently being trialled in a medical facility.

“We’re actually starting a clinical trial at a hospital in their intensive care unit because this intensive care unit is entirely sealed off from natural light,” says Darvill.

“So both the patients and the doctors and nurses there have absolutely no idea if they’re on night shift or what time of day it is.

“I think there’s a case for this technology absolutely everywhere – wherever we are living, working, existing as a race… We should have access to natural lighting or we should have artificial lighting that is not disrupting our body clock.”

Optimising LED lights

There have been improvements to LED lights across the board, with designers seeking to tackle human health and sustainability all-in-one.

Another newly released product is Gerard Lighting’s Momentum 1, which the company says is a sustainability compliant modular troffer suited to commercial spaces.

Highly efficient at up to 130 lumens per watt, Momentum 1 reduces energy by at least 50 percent compared to conventional lighting systems, according to Gerard Lighting. The use of lighting controls such as the company’s Diginet Rapix system can further reduce energy by another 20 percent, through use of features like motion detection, scheduling and daylight harvesting.

Yet another innovation in LED is Trend Lighting’s new Platinum range, which includes eight luminaires with ceramic Nichia LED chips, a flicker-free driver and high light efficiency reflector. According to Trend, each luminaire delivers low-glare light and high colour fidelity with a Colour Rending Index (CRI) of 94+ and a high R9 value of 50+.

Glare is one of the main issues these lights seek to correct.

Glare impairs visibility and can result in eye strain, headaches and blurred vision. Surface Mount Device (SMD) LED lights that use opaque diffusers are especially prone to creating glare. For this reason, Trend’s LED downlights have been designed as Chip On Board (COB) with clear lenses, producing low-glare, comfortable lighting.

The luminaires also have a long operating life and do not contain any harmful materials, unlike CFL lamps that require special precautions for disposal due to their use of mercury.

The range’s P12K downlights were recently included in the new Moët Hennessy Sydney office in Barangaroo.

With sustainability a big part of the design brief, the client was looking for an LED light solution. B12K was chosen due to its combination of energy-efficiency and impressive colour rendering and light quality.

“We are now in the best-in-class environmental sustainability performance building in the Southern Hemisphere and in Australia’s first large-scale carbon neutral community,” says David Thomas, human resources director at Moët Hennessy Australia.


Dyson: https://www.architectureanddesign.com.au/suppliers/dyson

Gerard Lighting: https://www.architectureanddesign.com.au/suppliers/glg

Trend Lighting: https://www.architectureanddesign.com.au/suppliers/trend-lighting-company

Image: Perlite Momentum from Gerard Lighting