LED lighting upgrades shine new light on historic Wright homes

| by Gary Wollenhaupt
LED lighting upgrades shine new light on historic Wright homes

As part of ongoing renovations, both of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin campuses will receive LED lighting upgrades that will respect the buildings’ historic nature while reducing energy use.

Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Ariz., is undergoing a major renovation and green upgrade to convert it to a net-zero facility that produces as much energy as it uses.

Studio Lux, a Seattle-based lighting design firm with office in Los Angeles and London, is working with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation to bring 21st-century lighting technology and design to Frank Lloyd Wright's 1937 laboratory for sustainable architecture.

Frank Lloyd Wright began building Taliesin West in 1937, as his personal winter home, studio, and architectural campus. The iconic property, which is the main campus of The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, is located in the Sonoran desert in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains northeast of Scottsdale.

Now Studio Lux is working on a similar project at Taliesin East in Green Spring, Wis., to bring energy-efficient lighting technology to the historic site.

In an exclusive interview with ProudGreenHome.com, Studio Lux founder Christopher Thompson talked about the projects and the state of LED lighting in the building industry.

What is your role in the project at Taliesin West?

They are trying to move to as close to a net-zero footprint as they can get. They have installed solar panels and want to greatly reduce their power consumption. My role is to introduce LED lighting and make changes from a design standpoint to bring the campus up to modern-day standards. We will ensure proper illumination levels and applications for classrooms, studio spaces and things of that nature. The lighting on campus is largely and incandescent, and where it’ not incandescent, it’s fluorescent lamps that are old style ballasts.

What are some of your challenges in working on such an iconic building?

Wright designed this campus to be a lantern on a hill and it’s bathed in incandescent light. People have gotten used to that quality and level of light. From a design standpoint we’re trying to transition the campus and educate people about LED lighting and mimic the incandescent feel while introducing modern day safety standards. It’s been really enjoyable and it really pulls from all our bag of tricks.

Where does that project stand?

The architect has to come up with new materials to replace the translucent ceilings that Wright designed. When he used the building, he would close it during the heat of the summer. Now they use it year around and the sun shines all day and they’re using a lot of energy for air conditioning. When they identify the new ceiling materials we will work on a fixture vocabulary that will work with the ceiling panel material. We will have to work with a major lamp manufacturer to develop products that don’t exist yet to answer the needs of the campus.

The campus is caught between preserving what Wright built, and evolving it to embrace new practices, materials and technology. Face it, Frank Lloyd Wright was the great master of sustainable design in his day long before we all started throwing that word around.

What’s your role in the Taliesin East project?

It is similar from a lighting standpoint but not as extensive as Taliesin West. We are working to transition the buildings to LED lighting and it will largely consist of an LED fixture vocabulary.

How has the role of lighting design changed with the move to LED technology?

The world of lighting design has become more important than it ever was. Where contractors or architects might have understood the basics with incandescent lights, now the calculations they used to use are not applicable to LED lighting.

It’s a very exciting time and it’s very stressful. It’s not enough to calculate what the light level will need to be, and what the fixture vocabulary needs to be. You have to educate homeowners and building owners on LED lighting and work down the food chain to the installer to see how it will be installed. Our role is being expanded.

Is the building industry accepting LED lighting to replace incandescent lamps?

Builders are concerned about costs. They want to get out of a spec home as inexpensively as possible so they can sell it. The maintenance and longevity are up to the new owner.

Are homeowners ready for more LEDs?

The consumer market that buys bulbs goes by what they can see. They don’t understand the color temperature and other information when they look at the LED box. We try to help people see the difference between 2700k and 3000K. Then people can make informed decisions when they pick up bulbs at big box retailers and they’re not disappointed when the screw them into a fixture in their house. But if you look across the different areas of the building industry from appliance to roofing to plumbing, not one of those industries has the awareness that LED lighting has. Everyone knows what LEDs are.

Read more about energy efficient lighting.

Topics: Lighting, Photovoltaic / Solar Panels, Remodeling, Solar Power, Sustainability Trends & Statistics

Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.

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