Working With Wellness

by | Apr 26, 2021 | News

Photo Credit: Jeff Goldberg/Esto

Lighting designers at Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design (CBBLD), an awardwinning New York lighting design firm, are pioneers in the wellness world as they incorporate tunable lighting, controls, and other new features into their recent projects to promote wellbeing and comfort. Principals, Francesca Bettridge, Stephen Bernstein, and Associate Principal Michael Hennes, sat down with me to discuss their recent wellness projects, exciting advancements in technology, and the struggles they face as lighting designers.

CBBLD carries out their mission to create sustainable designs that enhance the grace, utility, and comfort of architectural spaces by using innovative techniques in all environments – from universities, to hospitals, to skyscrapers and performing arts centers. One of their recent award-winning projects at Duke University featured natural materials and a lot of daylight to create a welcoming presence for students. Bettridge said, “Lighting at the Duke wellness center was meant to read from the inside out. We received an exterior lighting award for the project because so much of the light was reflecting off of interior materials, causing the whole building to glow.” The goal was to create a safe space, “so that students can feel that they can go there not only for physical reasons, but for their mental health,” added Bettridge.

The idea of using lighting to create safe spaces follows in close suit with what appears to be a national wellness movement. Businesses, apartment buildings, offices, universities – you name it – have started to incorporate gyms, kitchens, spas, and meditation studios into their facilities as a selling-point. Bettridge spoke on the importance of considering the environments we are creating and the materials that we are using: “The more there is conversation about where light and materials are, the more comforting it is for people, the more successful these spaces will be.”

Photo Credit Jeff Goldberg/Esto


The increased awareness of well-being and mental health is accompanied by advancements in lighting technology, giving clients the opportunity to focus on the comfort of their offices, apartments, and universities with lighting design. Bernstein touched on which came first – technology advancement or importance of wellness, saying, “It’s a chicken and egg sort of thing. I think technology allows us to do a little more than we could in the past, but I think that there has been a growing interest in wellness in general, and now we are able to do something with light.”

Bluetooth lighting controls are just one of the many advancements that have grown in popularity due to the accessibility and capacity to decentralize control systems. CBBLD has yet to install this control mechanism in healthcare or wellness spaces; however, Bluetooth has gained traction in the museum space because it allows users to adjust the settings of a specific fixture or exhibit, rather than controlling multiple zones. Even if lighting is not driving wellness projects, lighting is becoming an important topic in project conversations. With clients considering all the new lighting options, they also have to consider something else – the price.

Some of these new technological features come with a high cost, which some businesses will forgo at the expense of wellness. Control systems primarily account for these elevated prices, which are driven even higher once the contractor becomes involved – especially if it requires new wiring and complex installation. However, CBBLD noted that the cost has decreased, and will continue to decrease as wellness in lighting becomes common practice.

Pricing not only influences business decisions, but also has an effect on a lighting designer’s process. More complicated systems involving tunable light and dimming controls come at a higher fee, which is only made higher by the contractor’s markup. As a result, the designers heavily rely on the representatives of different manufacturers to either confirm or deny that the bid is reasonable. Having a large involvement in the cost of equipment can have a great effect on the designers’ time and scheduled phases.

The majority of the lighting design process occurs in the DD, “design development,” phase of projects, which also includes photometric studies, exploring equipment options, and presenting ideas to clients and architects. Following this phase is the CD, or Construction Documents phase, when final recommendations and specifications take place. This phase and the final phase, Construction Administration (CA), involve the actual building of the project and are less time consuming for designers. Bernstein discussed how time is critical in the DD phase for budgeting: “We can detail in CD, but we really have to lock in our price commitment by the end of DD … One of the things that we find is that we have to commit a lot sooner in terms of design because very often our solutions will have a cost implication, whether it be the fixturing or detailing.”

Lighting manufacturers have created yet another unprecedented problem for lighting designers. Typically, manufacturers assist designers during the planning phase with product options and pricing; however, some manufacturers are focused on doing their own lighting design. Bettridge offered her view on this dilemma, saying,

Photo Credit Jeff Goldberg/Esto

“We’ve had discouraging experiences, but I don’t think that’s our biggest rival. There are so many manufacturers out there now, and there are so many choices.” Especially with the challenge of creating warm and inviting spaces, the expertise that lighting designers offer is needed now more than ever.

Bernstein discussed what sets the designers apart from the manufacturers: “I think that the power that we have is our independence, and the ability to fully design a project and give the best solution for our clients. And that might mean cherrypicking, but we know the value. We are returning value to our clients, and if it is just one manufacturer, then you forfeit that because one company cannot do everything.” He added, “I think the demands for the complexity of the problems we’re solving now do require someone who is a specialist. It is perhaps naïve or short-sighted of an architect or a designer who does not seek the help of a lighting designer … And honestly, I think we can ultimately save people money because we know what the right thing is, and we can more quickly hone in on the right solution rather than floundering around.”

With an increase in lighting education within the last ten years, specifically graduate master programs, more people are becoming experts in the lighting design field – filling the developing need for such distinct expertise. Specifically, in the wellness world, clients have begun to look into Well Building certifications and requirements in order to create more inviting environments. Certifications for Well Building will most likely become an important aspect of lighting design as wellness codes become stricter and more common practice. In California, a requirement against light flicker exists because of its fatiguing and headacheinducing effects. Other similar efforts to improve the safety and comfort of spaces include removing lights that contain mercury, stricter energy codes, a formaldehyde ban, and sometimes even occupancy/vacancy sensor requirements. Bernstein added, “We can’t underestimate this notion of health and well-being, and how that will impact our design solutions – energy informs codes now and the wellness aspect will too.”

Hennes concluded that, “Wellness projects have a need for lighting to create warm, inviting, and comfortable spaces, but also spaces that can bring interest to children. There is a lot of ability to paint with lighting in wellness centers.” The prospect of incorporating lighting into wellness projects is very exciting. Thanks to the increased focus on user well-being and advancements in lighting technology, the opportunities are endless.

This article was originally featured in the April issue of designing lighting (dl)