Case Study – Natural Lighting in the Control Suite?

This case study focuses on the issues surrounding the introduction of natural light into a 24/7 environment; it should be noted that there are many other aspects of lighting design that impacts Operators in these types of spaces that will be addressed through other case studies.

SITUATION:

Ergonomic View AnglesOperators within a control space, like most of us, act on information received visually.  LCD screens, reports, memos, and logs convey the information typically needed to perform one’s daily duties.  In a 24/7 Command and Control Center, mission-critical information presented must be easily identified, understood, and addressed by the operators.  Improper room design and ergonomics can cause impediments or interference to processing that information and result in environmental workplace stress and physical discomfort.

Many things can create operator disruptions in a focused environment like a 24/7 control center.  Reflected or direct glare, too much or too little light, unplanned/uncontrolled contrasts, distracting sounds, interruptions by non-critical persons, etc. all add to the distractions that must be dealt with by the Operators. As designers of these specialized spaces, we must make sure we don’t create more problems than we solve.  One of the biggest issues we see as control-space designers is the issue of admitting natural light into a collaboration and control space:

  • Are we trying to introduce natural light to reduce energy consumption, or for another reason?
  • Do we want views out to provide visual relief or just allow diffuse light in?
  • Where can we add natural light?
  • Can natural lighting help create better operator vigilance and performance?
  • How much or how little to do the job?
  • What happens at night?

Studies have shown that introducing natural light into work areas makes employees more comfortable and productive and leads to improvements

Benefits such as improved reduced worker absenteeism, employee satisfaction, and greater staff productivity levels result from the use of natural lighting and views out. In Control Suites, we try to introduce the natural lighting in areas outside of the main control room. The potential for glare, contrast, and reflection on screens must be considered.

Even if natural light sources are located where they cannot reflect off LCD screens, they can still produce significant contrast issues.  In a space where contrast ratios rule the design, it is inadvisable to create a problem that then requires a procedure to control it.  Consider also whether blast resistance outweighs the other benefits; it can be done, but must be designed carefully to meet the physical requirements.

Instead, consider putting natural lighting where it is less intrusive to the Operators on station or using a translucent panels to diffuse the light, along with a control device (shading).  Having a view to the exterior engenders a connection to the outdoors that is lacking in many of today’s Control Suites. Natural light (i.e. full-spectrum) is also a critical need in a best practice facility to help temper physiological and biological issues such as circadian rhythms of the personnel.  Artificial light can emulate full-spectrum light indoors, however artificial means may not be the best way to create alertness when natural lighting is possible.

RESULTS:

Proper lighting design does not bombard operations personnel with indiscriminate lighting. In fact, it is designed to achieve specific results, allows for user control, and helps us produce control spaces that are pleasant, perceptibly brighter, and more conducive to 24/7 shift schedules. Combined with our other design techniques, we can promote:

  • Effective room and functional ergonomics
  • Application of indirect lighting techniques utilizing several systems with layers of light developed specifically for mission critical spaces
  • Heating and cooling to provide an environment with user control
  • Acoustics so that the space and design helps reduce the impact of radio chatter and other intrusive sounds

We find that the combination of natural and artificial lighting balanced with the use of natural materials creates control spaces that are warm, inviting, and connects users to nature that help reduce stresses and fatigue.  Contrary to the past, we know that Control Rooms can be pleasant places to work while quietly helping to promote vigilance and better situational awareness.

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