Visionary System Lights the Way

In CSE's May issue, consulting editor Al Borden wrote about the advent of modern lighting-control systems, and this Deep Link offers a high-tech example: the new Vulcan, Inc. headquarters in Seattle.

By Staff May 10, 2002

When Paul Allen, co-founder of software giant Microsoft, sought to build a new headquarters for Vulcan, Inc., his Seattle-based management company, he wanted an exciting, innovative facility that would enhance the surrounding community.

Founded by Allen in 1986 to manage his numerous personal and professional endeavors, Vulcan’s goal is to invest in telecommunications, media, sports and entertainment companies that break the traditional business mold. This innovation-driven philosophy has carried through into the building systems selected for the facility.

Adjacent to Seattle’s historic Union Station, the 290,000-sq.-ft., 11-story 505 Union Station Building features state-of-the-art building systems, including a web-based lighting-automation system that not only controls all lighting functions, but is also integrated with the building’s nonlighting systems.

“Because of the environment we try to foster, we have different lighting needs,” says John Hendricks, director of technology projects for Vulcan. “We wanted employees to have flexibility to set their own lighting. Another key element was [the] ability to integrate with the rest of the building systems.”

The system provides automated on/off light switching and full-range dimming capability, precise real-time monitoring of the building’s entire lighting system and load shedding for peak-energy demand reduction.

Convenience, comfort and security

The system improves employee comfort with virtual switching and dimming functionality and accommodates individuals who have long or irregular work schedules. Access to the graphical user interface (GUI) gives workers the ability to set and adjust lighting levels for different tasks.

“People are always interested and excited to know that they can dim workplace lighting, or come in on the weekends and have stuff turned on for them and not have to worry about it,” says Hendricks. “They can operate [the system] from our internal web site from an environmental controls page that we give users.”

According to Hendricks, the system provides Vulcan with streamlined, day-to-day automation by turning off all the lights after business hours, which are at varied times on different days, earlier on Friday than the rest of the week, for example.

In addition to these control functions, the system has been engineered to work with card access and security systems.

“[The system] turns things on for us in the morning, responding to both time events and key-card activated events,” explains Hendricks. “One of the features we wanted from a control standpoint was the ability of the lighting system to easily interface with security for people who might be working on weekends.”

For example, an employee decides to spend a few hours at the office on a Sunday afternoon: She swipes her identification card at the front door and enters the building. The security system automatically communicates data that provides clearance and authority levels to the lighting-control system, which then initiates a preprogrammed set of commands designed to meet her specific lighting needs.

As she walks into the lobby, the system turns on the lights to a preset weekend-day level. As the employee ascends in the elevator, the lobby lights have already returned to the “off” setting. Once at her floor, she steps into the hallway where path lighting (preset at a 50% level) illuminates her way. She enters her office, and the lights automatically turn on to her preferred levels.

Suppose that after an hour or so at her desk, she hears a fire alarm and sees the office lights begin to flash off and on. She exits the building following an automatically-activated, illuminated exit path, avoiding elevators and the cause of the alarm.

In most commercial buildings, emergency lighting is not mandatory in every room and space. But 505 Union Station uses existing lighting fixtures for life-safety functions, even though it is not required by code. Moreover, during a power failure, the system can turn life-safety lighting on at predetermined level (60% illumination, for example) augmenting the standard emergency-lighting system where selected fixtures are activated. In most cases, employees can continue working, thereby maintaining productivity.

Efficient space, energy and operation

Given Vulcan’s fast-paced and ever-changing work environment, space reconfiguration was another important design consideration. The office space is built as a flexible bay system, with fixed walls every 30 feet. Within each of the bays, the walls and furniture are flexible, so office spaces can be configured and reconfigured easily and often. Making these changes quick, efficient and cost-effective is extremely important.

This need for flexibility is addressed through the system’s innovative functionality. A building manager can easily adjust or reconfigure any of the building’s lighting operations through the system’s GUI. It’s all done right from the PC.

“We have the ability to group lights together in one control,” Hendricks says. “When we change our office configuration, we have the ability to change lighting very easily without worrying about reassigning switches. It’s very configurable.”

Efficiency was a key goal with respect to energy and operation as well. The system’s web-based automation is specifically designed to cut labor and maintenance costs and reduce energy consumption. Its interoperability allows numerous devices to share and communicate information, which reduces duplication of effort, increases accuracy and efficiency, and reduces initial costs of installing multiple devices. Additionally, the system’s web-based GUI allows it to be operated from anywhere in the world. In effect, a building manager could log onto his home PC before going to bed at night and see what lights are on in the building, how much power is being consumed, and even how long it will be before certain bulbs need to be changed.

Building managers can also monitor and record energy consumption using the system’s data and can customize building operations to optimize energy usage. For instance, they can identify occupancy trends versus energy trends and pinpoint building areas where adjustments can be made to reduce energy consumption.

“We wanted the building to be energy efficient; it was one of our primary goals,” says Hendricks. “Most of our lighting operates at less than 100%, so we know we’re saving money on energy. The system has allowed us to qualify for a rebate from our electric utility, Seattle City Light, under an energy conservation program.”

This case study was provided by Lutron, the manufacturers of the lighting control systems used on this project. For more information on lighting automation systems from Lutron, visit their web site at .