Good Lighting: where does that come from?

They say: ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’

They also say: ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’

So maybe: ‘the road to hell begins with a single step.’

The Light Review 7-Step Programme to Good Lighting

I’ve identified Seven Steps that are crucial to a Good Lighting solution. I’m sure there are more, if you include the diversions, the cul-de-sacs and the merry dances that accompany most projects, but seven is one of those magic numbers that we can all work with.

And that single step? Yes, I believe quite firmly that it’s that very first step that determines where any project is likely to end up; so let’s start there.

The Client Brief

Step 1: the client brief
Has anyone met a client who wants Bad Lighting? There are plenty who end up with it and wonder where it all went wrong. Look no further than the edge of your desk, ladies and gentlemen.

Typically, the problem has arisen because there’s an underlying assumption that all the detailed stuff is someone else’s problem, and they can probably be sued if/when it goes wrong. It never was a healthy attitude and there’s a shed full of lame chickens that have come home to roost as a consequence.The Client Brief needs to be an in-depth, well-considered document that explains what is being sought and sets out the parameters that are – and are not – acceptable in the achieving of those aims.

As an example of what can be achieved, Skanska is one of the world’s leading project development and construction groups. A few years ago Skanska decided that the only way forward was to produce their own Procurement Policy. Now, this is all about Sustainable Practices, but that doesn’t take away from the core policy: ‘Skanska will only do business with responsible suppliers who understand the nature of the products, materials and services they are supplying, and who recognise their responsibility to protect the environment and foster good relations with their employees and local communities.’

As most lighting projects fail because of poor manufacturing/performance quality in the installed product, that’s not a bad opening statement.

Step 1 summary: clients need to set standards of performance that the project quality must not fall below.

The design response

Step 2: the design response The technical and creative response to a client brief should have only one intention, and that is to improve on that brief. We are the specialists and we know better than anyone else how to do things. That’s not hyperbole, that’s just the way that things are.

And that means that the efforts put in by the client to explain what they’re looking for, and to what standard, provides a healthy platform from where the designer can develop their lighting scheme.

But there is an issue here; unless the designer is allowed to produce a technical specification alongside the creative scheme, the door is left open to poor interpretation and, again, the quality of the finished project is put at risk.

As a minimum deliverable, the lighting designer needs to produce a performance specification that sets out the parameters for all fixtures within their purview. Nothing less make any sense.

Step 2 summary: the designer’s brief must include a requirement to provide detailed specification information even if specific products are not mentioned.

The Specification

Step 3: the specification
What needs to be in a lighting specification. How far should a designer’s specification go?

Let’s remind ourselves what we’re trying to achieve here. Most projects fail because of inferior product ending up in the building. What we have to do is to reinforce the defences to stop that happening. If the client has done their work in producing a robust brief, then the basic work has been done.

As Skanska says, they only want to do business with ‘responsible suppliers who understand the nature of the products, materials and services they are supplying’. The depth of information within a lighting specification provides a sound defence against inferior (for which read, cheap – see later) product.

Step 3 summary: a generic specification of a luminaire should include not only the physical description, colour temperature and colour rendering; it needs to include electrical information, optical information, manufacturing standards, longevity . . .  and, we hope, details of end-of-life recycling arrangements.

The Manufacturer

Step 4: the manufacturer
i’ve deliberately separated specification and manufacturer. Its easy when a manufacturer is specified and is able to see the project through, but there are too many occasions where that is not the case.

Once all the fuss has died down around the creative design process, the heavy lifting shifts to the manufacturer/supplier. The standards laid down by the client brief now pass into the supply chain. There should be no opportunity for a dilution of those standards, so manufacturers need to be ready to confirm their own robust production standards. Manufacturers should be able to produce test data of their products and to confirm to the project leaders that the information is available to view should that be required.

Step 4 summary: what the manufacturer/supplier is actually saying is that their product satisfies the client brief in all aspects. There is no compromise from the brief. This is important because of what happens next.

The Design Review

Step 5: the design review
Let’s not call this ‘value engineering’, which is a term so devalued that it should never pass anyone’s lips ever again.

Project ambitions will inevitably be challenged; its inevitable that the creative part of the process will stress the established budgets. Cost-trimming is an invitation to reduce the quality of product and, as a consequence, the quality of the installation as a whole.

Luminaires cost what they do because of what has gone into them. A fixture that is half the price of an ‘equivalent’ is not an equivalent and its foolishness to believe claims to the contrary.

Quibble moment: yes, some product is over-priced and sold on ‘brand’. But there is a process in place here and a tendering process should have sifted out the over-priced while identifying a ‘cost line’ for product. Anything that happens beyond this point is quality reduction pure and simple.

So what’s to be done if the design scheme and the budget can’t be reconciled; design again. But this time with the knowledge of design+cost targets.

Step 5 summary: the current process of trying to achieve an equivalent scheme using inferior product is doomed to failure.

The Install

Step 6: the install
We mustn’t forget that the installation contractors have a role to play here. Contractors are often complicit in reducing the quality of a project by offering cheaper product. The ‘equal and approved’ rules do not work in favour of the project. If an installer is able to claim ‘equal and approved’ status without any oversight, then there is a serious risk to project quality.

The Engineering Council, via the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC) says, in paragraph e5: Exercise responsibilities in an ethical manner:‘1. Act with due skill, care and diligence and with proper regard for professional standards.’

I’m happy to take that to mean that, if a contractor is assessing a specified product with a view to change, then any proposed change will have been considered with due skill, care and diligence.

Step 6 summary: contractors need to exercise care in proposing ‘equal and approved’ alternatives, and those proposals should be reviewed by the lighting design/engineering team.

Commissioning and Hand-over

Step 7: commissioning and hand-over
This is the last chance to take a grip on anything that hasn’t delivered as intended. By now, everyone’s tired and emotional and just wants to get the hell out of the place, but signatures on documents at this juncture will finally determine whether the client has been pointed towards that road to hell – that’s the one we were all trying to avoid, if you remember.

One more point; lighting control systems need to be fully commissioned. Something that was discussed months (years?) earlier is no less important now that the installation is complete. Full and proper testing IS a requirement.

Step 7 summary: commissioning and handover: simply put, this needs to be done with the same sense of purpose that the project was originally approached with. And it helps if the commissioning can be done by the team that designed the lighting in the first place.

Is there anything here that is not common sense? No, I didn’t think so. And that is a part of our tragedy, that there is nothing special here – we’ve just managed to get ourselves into a rut whereby no one wants what we end up with, least of all the client who instigated the whole thing.

The lighting industry isn’t the only sector with concerns. The RIBA, along with the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has introduced a free-to-download digital tool, the Quality Trackerto improve the quality of outcomes in the construction industry.’

The Tracker sets up a chain of custody for quality that is aligned to the RIBA Plan of Work. It enables all prospective and current members of the project team to better understand the risks within their project responsibilities. The Chain of Custody also provides clients with an account of what happened when during the course of a project build – and that’s about identifying what went wrong when and who was in the chair.

I’ve got this far without mentioning Grenfell Tower. It’s that tragedy that has triggered much of the soul-searching in the construction process, but there is something altogether more mundane going on. So much money is being spent in stripping out poor equipment (not just lighting) that clients, and even some contractors, are saying ‘enough’.

So let’s see if we can get the job done properly.

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