Case study: Research building gets lighting facelift

By using natural lighting and a networked lighting control system, this NOAA building achieved advanced lighting initiatives.


Project location: Honolulu
Name: NOAA Inouye Regional Center
Architect: HOK
Completed: April 2014

Figure 2: An exterior view of the NOAA Inouye Regional Center project shows clerestories and light monitors at the roof line. Daylighting strategies were used to integrate lighting and HVAC systems. The government project in Honolulu is a 350,000-sq-ft research office campus featuring two repurposed historic World War II-era airplane hangars, designed by Albert Kahn, linked by a modern building. Client and design team aspirations included the use of biomimicry and biophilia principles inspired by the ecology of Hawaii. More practical design goals were to embrace the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) core values of “science, service, and stewardship” and to address the diverse program range including laboratories, library, offices, collaboration and conference facilities, dining, and public exhibit space.

The project is U.S. Green Building Council LEED Gold-certified, with a lighting system that is designed to be 30% below the ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2014 baseline. Site lighting design minimizes light trespass and focuses user attention toward the adjacent ocean and mountain views. Interior lighting was carefully placed and specified to create a cohesive view of the building at night through glazing. The daylit atrium lobby connects both airplane hangars and includes white vertical surfaces in the skylight, which is recessed to help direct daylight deep into the space. Electric lighting that is needed only at night is designed to highlight public exhibits and the vertical architectural space.

Figure 3: This image shows the NOAA Inouye Regional “litrium.” The integrated engineering and design team performed extensive electronic and physical modeling to study the design.

A pattern of skylights was inserted into the historic hangar ceilings. In combination with the reglazed clerestories, these skylights provide daylight autonomy in office areas and daylight illumination that highlights the architecture and tall ceiling space. Custom arm-mounted direct/indirect light fixtures mount to the bottom of historic trusses for easier access at low mounting heights. Integral daylight-dimming maximizes operational energy savings during daylight hours.

A networked lighting control system simplifies campus scheduling and provides energy reporting to a central dashboard. Laboratories use direct/indirect pendants aligned with edges of lab benches. Each row features integral daylight sensors. Occupancy sensors are used throughout the facility for automatic shutoff of rooms and zones. Windows were kept high at the perimeter of the lab spaces to increase daylight contribution.

Above the hangar’s central collaboration spaces, skylights feature illuminated “jellyfish” chandeliers that diffuse and spread daylighting contribution. This provides the space with maximized daylight without glare and direct sun. The space is called a “litrium” because of this carefully studied and innovative daylight-fixture design approach. The dining hall includes flexible overhead lighting for informal presentations and features custom acrylic chandeliers internally illuminated by blue LED grazers that mimic the litrium skylight fixtures. Across the project, the approach to daylighting was intended to mimic the canopy of a Monkey Pod tree, an important source of inspiration for the project.

Skylight performance was critical to the success of the project and included an extensive onsite mock-up and evaluation to fine-tune material transmission, surface reflectance, and height. Computer modeling, physical-scale models, and the onsite mock-up were used to study the level of diffusion and geometry of the skylight’s diffusion material from concept through detailing and specifications. 

Melanie Taylor is vice president, and national buildings lighting design practice leader at WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff. Her expertise includes more than 25 years as an architectural lighting designer working on a diverse list of complex commercial projects. 

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