May 13, 2021

Once dark and dated due to its ‘dumbbell’-styled design, a high-rise’s lobby shapes up with new lighting

By Paul Tarricone

A dumbbell is good for building muscle, but in a building, the dumbbell shape is not the smartest tool for lighting design. Allow Scott Johnson to explain what that meant for the lobby of an office building in Los Angeles: “The lighting challenge was the ‘dumbbell’ space plan featuring large daylight exposures at both entry points (Figure 1). The high brightness of the opposing ends meant that the lobby space itself was always perceived as dark, the contrast ratios being enormously high between interior space and the outdoor space beyond.” Johnson estimates that the contrast was “40:1 or possibly higher with mid-winter, low-angle sun.”

The building at 801 South Figuero—a 25-story high-rise spanning nearly a half million sq ft—has an unusually tall lobby (60 ft) that had remained unchanged since the building opened in 1991. Over the ensuing decades, the lighting design—comprised of compact fluorescent downlights, T8 coves and ceramic metal halide in the highest soffits—had become tired and dated, says Johnson, design principal with Wolcott Architecture/Brilliant Lighting Studio, Culver City, CA. “The lighting had reached a crisis point in terms of both energy and appearance, looking quite out-of-step with its newer and spritelier neighbors, and thus, a renovation was born.”

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The lighting solution came from the lobby’s sides and the center. The plan, Johnson explains, “was to create a wraparound lighting environment to balance the always-present outdoor view. Wall- and ceiling- indirect light coves would have to shoulder most of the lighting burden.” In the middle of it all, he adds, “a dramatic custom-designed chandelier would become the new focal point at the center of the space.”

Fixture types were kept to a minimum (seven) both to meet the $9 per sq ft budget and to reduce lead times for the fast-track project. Controls include astronomical time clocks and daylight sensors to moderate illumination output. The installed lighting power was more than 30% below allowable LPD under California Title 24, while the illuminance levels were essentially doubled.

The once-dark lobby interiors now glow, thanks to the highly reflective finishes, LED light coves and linear LED direct-view strips embedded in the new wall panels. The glowing effect at night, says Johnson, “provides a focal balance to the building’s illuminated crown.”

Topping off the design is a spiral-shaped chandelier with channels fabricated from anodized brass and hung by 1⁄16-in. aircraft cable. The objective when designing the chandelier was to reduce the number of power feeds and to minimize hang points and any unnecessary hardware. The lighting channels use separate circuits for direct and indirect illumination, and all drivers were remote to keep the linear channels sleek and minimal, and to facilitate maintainability. “Only four of the LED channels were illuminated, but the visual impression belies that fact—it looks like more,” says Johnson.

That type of creative ingenuity has ushered 801 South Figuero from the 1990s to the 2020s. “The final product has a fresh new feel—a bright new look for an aging but now revitalized space.”


Paul Tarricone

Paul Tarricone

Paul Tarricone has more 25 years of experience in association and business-to-business publishing, specializing in the engineering, design, construction and facilities management markets. Mr. Tarricone currently serves as Editor and Publisher of Lighting Design + Application,... More info »