Logo for Q-Tran
Technology Meets Design: Two Lighting Designers on Circadian Lighting

Technology Meets Design: Two Lighting Designers on Circadian Lighting

An interview with Chelsea Kreielsheimer of Atelier Ten & Stephanie Daigle of Focus Lighting 

There is more to light than meets the eye - a lot more, in fact. While light enables us to see our world in vivid color and stunning detail, light also regulates and promotes many biological responses in people not associated with our sense of sight, including an “internal clock” that regulates our bodies. The daily changes in our physical, mental, and behavioral states that respond to the light-and-dark cycle is commonly known as our circadian rhythm.

Industry experts have begun to explore the potential health benefits of lighting to influence internal biological clocks meant to optimize our physiology. Still in its infancy, circadian lighting is a term that has gained popularity in recent years - intended to work in harmony with our internal clocks by adjusting the intensity, spectrum, and color of light in unison with the natural lighting cycle. 

We sat down with Chelsea and Stephanie to discuss the trending topic.

It’s time to explore. A major reason circadian lighting is a hot topic is research is still ongoing, and therefore up to interpretation. 

“The research lags a bit behind the industry’s ability to implement. However, once the research catches up, I think we’re going to be more able to justify implementation.” says Chelsea.

Stephanie points out there’s work to be done to learn more about the actual biological responses. “Certainly, lighting does affect the body’s physiology, but how much of that can we harness in an interior environment? That’s an unknown because from my understanding of reading the research, the amount of daylight you actually need to affect the body is not a comfortable amount of light to have inside. I approach circadian lighting as ‘do no harm’ in the sense that I think what I can do is help support your natural circadian rhythms”.

Seeing is believing. Today, office spaces are increasingly incorporating quality of life into the design process. With circadian research following lighting innovations by years, it can be difficult to get buy-in for lighting to be considered a major component of human health. To overcome this, both designers suggest real experience is key.

Chelsea shares that at Atelier Ten, circadian lighting isn’t something they simply recommend to clients. “We’ve recently installed a timeclock controlled tunable white lighting system throughout our New York office and programmed it to reinforce the 24 hour circadian cycle. We receive a lot of positive feedback from our colleagues about how it helps to influence the cycle of their day. Being able to show the technology firsthand along with the visual effect that users can feel in the space has been effective in demonstrating impact.”

Stephanie agrees that observing lighting in the space is key. “At Focus Lighting the way we approach our designs is ‘seeing is believing.’ It’s important that whatever we do in the space that we design, whether residential or hospitality, we’re making choices and decisions based on what it really looks like and what we really see with our eyes. It’s important when programming circadian lighting to use your eyes, since they’re the best photocells we have.”

She also stressed the importance of not relying strictly on data and being open to adjustments once lighting is installed. “It’s important that the designer’s eye is part of what the final experience is. What is it like to sit in the space? How does it affect your emotions? My design approach is coming from that direction as opposed to a more technical direction.”

What’s Next?

“There’s a lot of innovation and support that can be done with circadian lighting for healthcare settings like assisted living, especially Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. The research there is really interesting, and I think it can make a difference and affect the physiology of people,” shared Stephanie.

Chelsea is keeping an eye on the research NASA is conducting on spectral tuning, which utilizes subtle shifts in color temperature while maintaining a light that reads as white. “NASA was one of the first to implement circadian technology and do real studies, because they were in a controlled environment with limited access to light for an extended period of time. Spectral tuning is in the process of going through technical and scientific research which will hopefully hone in on how the light spectrum can effect biological processes.”

Science and design will always be interconnected, and we are excited to see how the future of architectural LED lighting unfolds with regard to physical well-being and the illuminated spaces we inhabit.