Jun 21, 2017
Subtle cove and slot fixtures illuminate exterior architectural forms without detracting from interior vehicle displays.
Subtle cove and slot fixtures illuminate exterior architectural forms without detracting from interior vehicle displays. Photos: Christopher Barrett

By Samantha Schwirck

Fox Ford Lincoln’s glowing jewel-box design tempts car buyers to take a closer look at the gems on display

For all the talk of autonomous vehicles, the average driver isn’t out shopping for one today. The average driver is, however, shopping for a vehicle with a plethora of digital capabilities, from built-in entertainment apps to automatic accident-avoidance features. Despite all the bells and whistles modern technology affords, car dealers are still trying to answer the same question they’ve been asking for decades:
How can we stand out?

LED slots and CMH track-mounted heads provide high light levels in the 20-ft tall showroom, where a clean aesthetic helps the cars pop.

The new, LEED Certified Fox Ford Lincoln showroom in Chicago might be onto the answer. The three-story, 145,000-sq ft facility is the largest Ford-Lincoln dealership in the U.S. It contains a two-story service center, storage for up to 375 vehicles, 40 mechanic lifts, 14 service stalls and multiple illuminated, three-car-high custom stacker displays.

Its location, on Chicago’s northwest side in close proximity to several major traffic routes, demanded a highly visible design, according to project architect Gensler. Fox Ford Lincoln, in other words, needed to stand out—and lighting would help it do so.

That big-picture goal became a bit more technical once broken down by the lighting design team from KJWW Engineering, which merged with TTG Engineers to form IMEG in 2015 and earned a 2016 IES Illumination Award of Merit for the project. “The lighting needed to support vehicle sales while minimizing both construction budget and long-term yearly facilities costs…simple, right?” jokes IMEG senior lighting designer Shanna Olson, who began work on the project in 2013. “In reality, this became a discussion of how the lighting design can attract new customers and, once they are at the dealership, how it can enhance the appearance of vehicles, as well as support the branding of the dealership. We also discussed how the design can meet these goals while still coming in under the construction budget, minimizing energy use and mitigating long-term maintenance costs.”

The lighting plan begins on an adjacent elevated highway, where potential customers catch a glimpse of what resembles an illuminated jewel box, with vehicles inside on display like gems. To keep the focus on the cars, lighting for exterior architectural forms is “toned down and subtle,” Olson says. “Cove lighting at the crown further draws the eye toward the jewel box, while a continuous LED slot wraps an entrance to invite patrons in.”

Suspended linear fluorescent fixtures give customer service a contemporary edge.
Lighting for exterior sales zones, provided by 0-10-V CMH fixtures, is not quite as subtle. Quality and level of light was particularly important for the outdoor lots, considered critical spaces for dealerships, and at the time CMH offered the best option for the price. “There were several significant challenges for this project but all stemmed from the same issue—the development of the LED luminaire,” Olson says. “Keep in mind the majority of the design was created in 2013. There was substantial flux in quality and cost of LED luminaires, which were not necessarily the go-to source we see today. We compared and reviewed various lamp sources and luminaires for color quality, lumen package and distribution, wattage and efficacy, compatibility with controls, as well as budget impact,” Olson says. “It became a balancing act to achieve the owner’s goals.”

For the sale lots, IMEG compared LED, CMH and fluorescent pole-mounted area luminaires, and found that the top LED and CMH luminaires at the time were “running near even for both energy use and calculated light levels,” Olson says. “We also looked at other factors such as rendering, which was higher in the CMH, and life expectancy, which was significantly longer in the LED.”

An additional consideration was compatibility with control systems, and both the CMH and LED options fit the bill. “In the end, given the two were nearly on par from several perspectives, it came down to budget. At the time, the cost difference was in the CMH luminaire’s favor.” Outdoor light levels are reduced by 30 percent after the dealership closes each day, which helps the exterior LPD come in 46 percent below ASHRAE 90.1-2010 requirements.

Inside, the alluring displays visible from the highway, such as the third floor’s three-car-high stackers, enhance vehicle appearance. “I love this part of the design,” Olson says. “The concept was to create a slow-moving light show which would safely catch the attention of drivers. From a designer’s perspective, it’s fairly easy to make this concept work if it can be both expensive and complex. However, the real trick is being innovative when your solution needs to be simplified and way more cost effective.”

Daylight and vacancy sensors guide light levels for LED downlights and pendants in the executive conference room.
A few design rounds and two mock-ups later, and IMEG settled on a mix of narrow-spot and medium-flood LED retrofit lamps (Philips), in simple Edison-base track heads, to light the displays. The fixtures run along concealed surfacemounted vertical tracks, and a control system from Crestron, via ELV dimming relays located at each vehicle, prompts the dynamic light shows.

For general automotive displays throughout the showroom, customized LED slots and CMH adjustable track-mounted heads were used to create a clean aesthetic so the vehicles pop. The road to the LED slot fixtures included one detour, however. The original plan called for fluorescent sources in the slots. While it was typical to see some amount of socket shadow when using fluorescent slots, LED slot fixtures in 2013 could not yet provide the 125-plus footcandle light levelsrequired in the 20-ft high showroom without substantially increasing luminaire cost. Once the fluorescent fixtures were installed, however, the aesthetic didn’t measure up. “The design team, ownership and even the manufacturer were not pleased with the socket shadow in the slots,” Olson says. “After trying various lens options, the manufacturer [Axis Lighting] replaced each of the slots with their newer LED solution.”

The final iteration is supplemented by a floating luminous ceiling over additional display space. The ceiling, comprised of individually illuminated LED flush tile luminaires, was also designed with vehicle appearance in mind. “The individual luminaires allowed us to get the high 100-fc light levels required in the area while still maintaining the appearance of a unified ceiling,” Olson says.

Fast Facts

  • The LEED Certified dealership balances aesthetics, functionality and efficiency.
  • A glowing jewelbox design lures customers from the highway.
  • Revolving three-car-high custom stacker displays, illuminated by hidden track, showcase vehicles.

Rounding out the design at customer service are suspended linear fluorescents for a contem porary aesthetic, and decorative LED pendants and downlights in employee spaces like the executive conference room. A control system offers a mixed dimming and switching relay system with integrated vacancy and daylight sensors. Simple user interfaces such as touch screens and dimming- and switching-engraved push-button control stations encourage employees to use the system, resulting in an interior LPD that beats ASHRAE 90.1-2010 by 15 percent.

The evolving marketplace may have contributed to a lighting design that’s not exactly simple, but Fox Ford Lincoln’s mix of lamps—two CMH, two linear fluorescent, two LED replacements and various LED luminaires—successfully balance aesthetics, functionality and efficiency.

“The current availability of LED luminaires and their quality might point me in a different selectiontoday,” Olson says. “It’s interesting how quickly our industry has been evolving. You look at work that was designed four years ago and it feels like decades.”

Shanna L. Olson, LC, Member IES (2008), Associate IIDA, is a senior lighting designer based in IMEG’s Chicago office and leads the firm’s architectural lighting team.


Samantha Schwirck

Samantha Schwirck is Managing Editor for... More info »