In Praise of Shadows

If it weren't for the fact that you're reading this on some electronic device, I'd be inclined to ask you to leave it and walk away (though I'd prefer you read this first). It's not to say that these devices are bad, because they aren't - though how and what we allow them to become or do to our lives and appreciation of things can sometimes present a challenge. Our buildings do not all need electronic signs posting who we are and what we do to everyone within a 50 mile radius. A simple identity can both capture and involve, illustrate and entice, exist and inspire.

In Praise of Shadows (陰 翳礼讃 In'ei Raisan) is an essay on Japanese aesthetics by the Japanese author and novelist Jun'ichirō Tanizaki. Originally published in 1933, this book is a small meditative work of 73 pages, that discuss traditional Japanese aesthetics in contrast with change. Comparisons of light with darkness are used to contrast Western and Asian cultures. The West, in its striving for progress, is presented as continuously searching for light and clarity, while the subtle and subdued forms of oriental art and literature are seen by Tanizaki to represent an appreciation of shadow and subtlety.

The essay acts as "a classic description of the collision between the shadows of traditional Japanese interiors and the dazzling light of the modern age." It is in fact a contemporary take on an ancient aesthetic concept that favors obliqueness (shadows) over brightness, weathered naturalness over functional novelty, the crude over the polished, and - ultimately - irrationality over rationality.

Tanizaki selects for praise all things delicate and nuanced, everything softened by shadows and the patina of age, anything understated and natural - as for example the patterns of grain in old wood, the sound of rain dripping from eaves and leaves, or washing over the footing of a stone lantern in a garden, and refreshing the moss that grows about it - and by doing so he suggests an attitude of appreciation and mindfulness, especially mindfulness of beauty, as central to life lived well.

He guides us towards an understanding of "Wabi Sabi", which stands for a simple and natural impermanence. Wabi Sabi encourages a profound feeling of inner melancholy, and an appreciation of quietly clear and calm, well-seasoned and refined simplicity. It is an intuitive appreciation of a transient beauty in the physical world that reflects the irreversible flow of life in the spiritual world. It is an understated beauty that exists in the modest, the rustic, the imperfect, or even decayed. It is an aesthetic sensibility that finds beauty in the impermanence of all things.

Tanizaki's essay discusses everything from the theater to the bathroom, gold and lacquer, to women and race. One cannot help but read the essay without feeling some loss at the erosion of traditional society and the innate beauty within it. At the same time, it causes reflection - for us the reader to look around and notice the lack of beauty in our everyday lives (in terms of art and architecture). America, too, was once a land of shadows and a people who were probably able to appreciate their simple beauty.

Simple is good, simplistic is bad.

Complex is good, complicated is bad.

We now tend to gravitate too quickly and too often towards pomp and circumstance. We want more, and we want it big and shiny. Even with a new generation placing emphasis on different things then the previous, we still as a society struggle with the notion of simplicity - especially in our architecture. We do not allow for humble buildings that bring us beauty and spaces that bring us life, love, experience. We instead opt for 'showy' and 'glam' - we want the latest and greatest and we want it all connected to our mobile devices so we can plug in or disappear at a moment's notice - versus becoming immersed in what is in front of us.

Simple is challenging, though simple reigns supreme in a world muddled with so many distractions and so many complicated and simplistic attempts for our attention. Simple is challenging to achieve, though when done so, provides so much varied opportunity for beauty that a lifetime can be spent enjoying its presence.

Unplug, look around, and spend a moment to praise the shadows....

Desires of Daylight Harvesting

Design analysis often shows daylighting control to be one of the most promising energy conservation strategies for commercial buildings. Because energy codes are moving towards a mandate in the use of daylighting controls, it seems prudent to look for object lessons for success and failure from the set of early adopters.

An intense program reviewed dozens of completed projects, most of which were sidelit using windows, and separated the success stories—some of them operating for 25 years—from projects they considered to be failures. They focused on eight that represented different components of the success/failure spectrum. In some cases, the project was largely successful except for a single element which caused it to fail—a case of daylight harvesting systems being only as strong as their weakest component.

The analysis concluded:

  • Savings from automatic daylighting control systems are often not realized fully when a building is turned over to users.
  • Daylighting performance needs attention and evaluation from multiple design disciplines during the design development and construction process.
  • Users are not educated about the installed control systems; when something doesn’t work, users often disable the system instead of getting it fixed.

What aspects lead to failure?

Conclusions of the survey led to a few key component points:

  • Lack of coordination or understanding between the design disciplines concerning the daylighting control system.
  • Improper location of daylighting controls.
  • Inadequate specification of the controls systems, component parameters and sequence of operations.
  • Shop drawings made by contractors that detail the system are not checked, or the lighting designer does not know what to check.
  • Field changes to tune a system are not documented and taken back to the designer to complete the feedback loop.

The Office Building Example

The 300,000-sq.ft. office building featured a deep perimeter open office arrangement and ribbon glazing to a 10-ft. ceiling height. A series of dimmable T5HO direct/indirect light fixtures were installed in rows parallel to the windows, each row controlled as a separate zone with its own photosensor.

At first, everything seemed to be done perfectly. The controls were calibrated and responded well to changes in daylight levels. However, furnishings colors were not selected to support the daylighting conditions; dark furnishings were installed, resulting in a light level of 25-40 footcandles on work surfaces when the daylight harvesting system was active. The occupants, accustomed to a brighter work environment that lacked daylight, generated so many complaints that the system was deactivated. In addition, the sensors were calibrated too aggressively considering occupant preferences. Most significantly, the users were not told about the control system and its benefits, so there was no buy-in. Because there was no problem-reporting process for the controls, the operations staff lost confidence in the system.


Daylight harvesting need not be complicated—it just needs attention. What led to success in many of the projects was a commitment to daylighting and proper coordination between disciplines. The only way to have successful daylight harvesting is to make the whole team responsible for the outcome and have a project team focused on understanding the ROI for a system based on the power of the sun.

Solar Ready Roofs

With the new CalGreen standards released - State regulators with the California Energy Commission are expected to approve stringent energy efficiency requirements for new residential and commercial buildings. The new standards, which went into effect January 1, 2014, include a host of efforts designed to save energy, but the proposed standards also require new homes and commercial buildings to have "solar ready roofs".

Rooftop solar systems use photovoltaic solar panels to generate electricity. But their performance is affected by many factors, from the age of the roof to how it is situated -- ideally, it should face south. "Shading" is also an issue: Roofs should have clear, unobstructed access to the sun for most of the day. Attic vents, fans, skylights and chimneys can also influence how many solar panels a roof can hold. The new regulations update Building Energy Efficiency Standards contained in the California Code of Regulations, commonly known as Title 24. Home and building owners will not be required to install solar panels, but if they choose to do so, their roof will be ready. What??.....Basically our roof must be able to support a solar photovoltaic system.

Other standards for new homes include requiring whole-house fans, which use evening air to cool homes and attics and reduce the need for central air conditioning, and improved window performance to reduce heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer. Commercial buildings will be asked to use advanced lighting controls to synchronize lighting with building occupancy, reducing the amount of electricity used. The Energy Commission says the new standards will add about $11 a month to the cost of a new home, but the various efficiency gains should reduce consumer utility bills by $27 a month.

California's first building energy efficiency standards went into effect in 1978 and have been regularly updated since then to take new technology into account. A new home or commercial building built to the 2013 standards will use about 25 percent less energy for lighting, heating, cooling, ventilation and water heating than one built to 2008 standards.

Is Plasma the next LED?

Not many are aware, though there's a new light on the block for high output instances that might just make your jaw drop. Light Emitting Plasma (LEP) is a new technology being used in situations demanding high light output with super-efficient standards, and high quality of light.

Light Emitting Plasma, is an innovative solution designed to bring clean, natural lighting to a whole new level. This patented technology, developed by LUXIM, is a high intensity light source that offers bright, full-spectrum illumination in an energy saving and low maintenance package. LEP is used in large scale, high lumen applications, and is ideal for municipal, industrial, stadium, and street & area lighting.

Benefits include:

  • Superior Light Distribution: Create optimal light distribution from a single, directional point source
  • Natural Illumination: Enhance visibility from a full spectrum plasma arc (up to 95 CRI)
  • Uncompromising Energy Savings: Reduce energy usage by 50% without sacrificing brightness levels
  • Worry Free Reliability: Eliminate failure modes and lumen degradation found in most lighting
  • Seamless Controls Integration: Connect to any lighting controls via built in control gear

The LEP emitter is constructed of a small electrode-less quartz lamp encased by a ceramic resonator. This novel construction emits light, from a small area, in a forward direction into a lambertian pattern. The point source like characteristic provides many advantages in a luminaire’s optical performance. A smaller source reduces the amount of optics needed to achieve the required level of glare cutoff and illumination, while ensuring excellent uniformity, by design. In addition, the directionality feature significantly improves luminaire efficiency. Since all of the light is already directed toward the area needing illumination, there are no optical losses from light going in the wrong direction. In most applications, LEP luminaires can achieve greater than 90% optical efficiency into the desired light distribution.

What makes the operation so unique?

The Science Behind LEP lighting consists of two primary parts:

  • Emitter: A lamp embedded in a ceramic resonator
  • Radio Frequency (RF) Driver: Both a solid-state amplifier andmicro-controller

A radio-frequency signal is generated by the solid-state RF driver and is then guided into the ceramic resonator through a low loss coaxial cable. The structure of the resonator concentrates the RFfield delivering energy to the fully-sealed lamp without electrodes and filaments. The highly concentrated electric field ionizes the gasses and vaporizes the halides in the lamp - creating a plasma state at its center - resulting in an intense source of white light. Inside the back of the lamp, a diffuse yet highly reflective material is used to reflect all of this light in a forward direction. The color of the light is tailored by the fill chemistry inside the lamp to provide a naturally white and high color rendering light.


While LEP is a category of solid state lighting, it is not an LED. The main difference being the use of the solid state device; LEP uses the device to generate RF energy which powers the plasma light source – LED uses the device itself for light generation. Some of the similarities include the directionality of the light output, component reliability, and control systems integration. The main difference between the two Is performance. LEP provides higher lumen density (200X greater), and a full color spectrum without phosphor conversion – resulting in superior performance in higher lumen applications.