Lighting for the Masses

Effective lighting design for airports and stadiums emphasizes strategic lamp choices and fixture locations

By Walter Krupinski, P.E., Senior Project Engineer, A. Epstein Sons International, Chicago April 1, 2001

As facilities designed to accommodate thousands, airports and stadiums are similar on many levels. Particularly when it comes to lighting, the physical layout and design and placement of lighting structures must facilitate moving large groups of individuals quickly and easily through the facility. Whether it’s for a sporting event or a domestic flight, high-quality stadium and airport lighting is a must.

Currently, Chicago’s Midway Airport, one of the country’s most historic facilities, is undergoing a major facelift designed to update and upgrade the entire airport.

The new terminal effectively doubles the space of the original terminal building and accompanying concourses. The new facility, expected to serve 17 million passengers annually, includes 41 carrier gates and a commuter parking area, and is nearly three times the size of the current 260,000 square-foot facility.

One of the primary challenges faced by those designing the new terminal facility was integrating it into the existing neighborhood. Midway is adjacent to an established semiurban neighborhood of low-slung bungalow homes. To relate to that, the new terminal building features buff-colored brick that reduces the large scale of the new building and matches and enhances the brick of the surrounding homes. The use of glass and painted steel is intended to bring an additional sense of lightness to the structure.

Illuminating Midway

Roadway lighting usage and design also posed a number of challenges. With Midway being owned and operated by the City of Chicago, designers were required to utilize the Chicago Bureau of Electricity’s standard lamp sizes throughout the facility. This restricted use to 150-, 310- or 400-watt high-pressure sodium lamps. Given this requirement, poles and luminaires had to be arranged to provide for efficient lighting, with a 2-footcandle average, maintaining a 4- to 1-footcandle average to minimum ratio.

A concept of location/direction affected both the design and placement of important exterior lighting. For example, the light pole angle differentiates important roadway areas for the traveler such as those used for departing flights and those designated for arrivals. The departure or drop-off areas use poles that are tilted eight degrees to indicate their specific location. Additionally, the canopy covering the drop-off area, designed for 15 footcandles, makes use of compact, indirect lighting to provide strong architectural accents.

With Midway having its own established personality, designers also wished to set the facility apart architecturally from Chicago’s larger airport, O’Hare, while still providing cutoff optics. O’Hare makes use of luminaires that can best be described as ‘shoeboxes’ in terms of their shape. To achieve a different look, Midway is utilizing wedge-shaped luminaires.

Given the nature and function of the facility, exterior lighting is further impacted by various regulations. The Federal Aviation Administration regulates the height of all structures at the airport, including exterior lighting poles, due to the presence of air traffic. Pole heights were therefore limited in accordance with these regulations.

The exterior roadway lighting had to be in conformance with the Illuminating Engineering Society’s RP-8 requirements, including luminance and veiling luminance or glare for certain roadway areas. The lighting must be deflected off of the roadway itself, yet provide enough visibility for vehicles to access and egress the airport.

The first phase of Midway’s rejuvenation was completed in March with the opening of the new terminal building. Concourses and gates are scheduled for a 2004 opening. This phased opening of the new facility allows the airport to remain open and operational throughout planning and construction.

Stadium strategies

Just like a major transportation facilities such as Midway Airport, sports arenas also pose various challenges and considerations in terms of lighting design. This was certainly the case with the new Convocation Center at Northern Illinois University (NIU) in DeKalb, Ill.

Located on the university’s west campus, the new 10,000-seat center is expected to serve as an anchor for a new west campus development and provide large-scale space for athletic events, concerts, job fairs, commencements and other major events. When complete, it will serve as the west entrance to NIU’s campus and a major landmark for the university.

The 215,000-square-foot facility features a combination of fixed and retractable seating, making the arena more attractive and functional for different kinds of assemblies. The center will include three major areas joined by a primary entrance and lobby/concourse. These three areas include the arena, athletic administration office and back-of-house areas, including locker and training rooms and an auxiliary gymnasium. Final design plans were unveiled and excavation work began in late 2000, with the opening scheduled for spring 2002.

The interior lighting of the arena is designed to illuminate the facility as quickly and efficiently as possible. Twin-lamp fixtures with 400-watt metal-halide lamps and pulse-start ballasts are located on the interior rafters of the facility to provide two levels of switching. One lamp per fixture provides 75 footcandles for nontelevised events, and both lamps provide 150 footcandles for televised events. Certain fixtures are equipped with quartz-restrike features to provide instant ‘temporary’ illumination, while the ‘long-term’ permanent lamps are warming up to provide final illumination.

Lighting in other areas is intended to be functional while simultaneously making a strong design statement. For NIU’s center, indirect fixtures are placed beneath seating areas to illuminate the underside of the concrete risers. This illumination is then visible through the glass-block panels in the exterior wall. They provide necessary illumination for the general public by lighting this space beneath the seats and also provide a glow that is visible from the exterior of the building.

Exterior lighting located on the roadway that accesses the center is designed to adequately illuminate the area while not detracting from the center’s impressive exterior design. In order to ensure that the Convocation Center remains the focal point, poles are limited to a maximum height of 20 feet, while maintaining an average of 2 footcandles. The center’s exterior is illuminated at 6- to 8-footcandle by floodlighting positioned on area lighting poles and lower-level roofs.

It’s all in the design

Both Midway Airport and NIU’s Convocation Center illustrate how the type and placement of lighting fixtures can serve the functional needs of illuminating a facility and simultaneously make a strong design statement.

Whether the solution is using slanted poles on overpasses to illuminate the arrivals location at an airport or lighting alternative portions of arena seating to make a strong exterior design statement, airports and stadiums can utilize simple lighting techniques to achieve bold design results.

Lighting the Way Through Concourses and Crowds

Whether flying to or from an unfamiliar destination, the task of navigating through a large airport can be rather daunting. To reduce visitor stress and to help manage large volumes of people, wayfinding should be incorporated into an airport’s design to help passengers make their way through concourses and crowds.

An example of this design strategy can be found at the Vancouver International Airport in Vancouver, British Columbia, where the new international terminal building and the recent retrofit of the domestic terminal have incorporated lighting as an integral component of wayfinding.

‘Wherever possible, we wanted to point the way for people unfamiliar with the building’s organizational structure . while emphasizing the architectural elements, artwork and retail shop areas,’ says Stanis Smith of the firm Architectura, Vancouver, one of the architects on the project.

The difference between the new Vancouver terminal and typical airport lighting systems is noticeable immediately. In many older, institutional-style terminals, travelers face ‘glare bombs’-fixtures that shine straight into one’s face after stepping off the plane. This effect is caused by overly bright, direct-fluorescent lighting in the arrival and departure lounges. Since travelers are often disoriented and attempting to look for directions, these bright lights can leave them confused and annoyed.

In contrast, the lighting in Vancouver’s arrival areas is intentionally subdued to give passengers time to adjust after emerging from the darkened airplane cabin. This strategy not only saves energy, but enables brighter directional signage to stand out more visibly, to catch visitors’ eyes as they look around for directions.

‘The first stage in terminal lighting design is attracting the attention of travellers once they leave the aircraft. From there, the lighting in the international terminal has been harnessed as directional signage that points the way people should go,’ notes Larry French, of San Francisco’s Auerbach + Glasow, a lighting design firm that worked on the project.

This way up

As arriving passengers proceed through the international terminal to reclaim their baggage, the lighting fixtures around such important destinations as the carousels, escalators, stairwells, customs and exit doors are deliberately brighter. Art and sculptures are strategically highlighted and situated to indicate direction.

The shape and positioning of light fixtures also play a strong role in wayfinding design. For example, in one of the terminal’s elevated skywalks, the indirect lighting has been configured in a herringbone or arrowhead shape designed to point the way toward customs. For the walkways from the arrival areas, long runs of suspended indirect-fluorescent lighting illuminate the ceiling. They also become more numerous and brighter around the carousels and near the exits, drawing the eye toward the destination.

‘The key in wayfinding is ensuring a high contrast ratio between the general circulation areas and the places where you want passengers to go,’ French explains.

To a casual observer, the international terminal appears to be brightly-lit. But because the lighting system focuses light only where it’s needed, the building uses about 40 percent less energy than the old building. The annual savings amount to 6.6 million kWh, savings that allow the airport to keep costs under control.

In the recently upgraded domestic terminal, the energy savings are even more impressive; the new lighting system uses just 0.53 watts per square foot, qualifying to receive a significant incentive from a local utility as well as saving the owner over $40,000 a year in annual operating costs.

Glow-in-the-dark baggage

Another place where the light is strategically directed is at the baggage claim area where the fixtures make the carousels clearly visible.

‘The direct/indirect light fixtures directly above the carousels mirror the carousel’s shape. The indirect light creates continuous halos on the ceiling . The direct component provides a controlled and uniform 60 footcandles on the luggage belt, allowing passengers to spot their bags quickly,’ according to project lighting consultant Galina Zbrizher, now with Vancouver’s Douglas Welch + Galina Zbrizher Design Associates, then with MCW Consultants.

While the ceiling in the luggage area is lit only directly above the carousels, the ceiling above the main circulation area is lit uniformly and is the brightest surface on the arrivals level. Additional downlights at the exit doors complete the process of helping the traveler move out of the terminal quickly and efficiently.

‘Arriving passengers really don’t want to spend an extra minute in the airport. Moving passengers through the terminal quickly and efficiently is paramount and wayfinding can mean getting home after the flight half an hour sooner,’ concludes Zbrizher.