Future-proofing with lighting consultants

Recently while in Oman’s newly opened Muscat International Airport, my eyes were naturally drawn to the lighting of this large-scale project.

The new passenger terminal is certainly a vast improvement on the old one and gives travellers a more up-to-date experience. But I was amazed to see that most of the luminaires used were Compact Fluorescent Lighting (CFL) based solutions. This shouldn’t be the case for a current lighting scheme. CFL is out-of-date technology, particularly on an airport project, which should have a life cycle of 10+ years. LED technology is clearly the future – it’s more efficient than CFL and there’s very little difference in cost.

I understand that the airport project experienced major delays in the build, and the contractor who installed the lighting probably just followed the drawings and specifications they were given. The issue is that the lighting design was probably finalised long ago, and I suspect the design was not updated or reviewed during construction. This means the building was almost obsolete as soon as it opened, because the technology had moved faster than the speed of construction.

As lighting designers we constantly face the issue of designing projects that are often built two, three or four years down the line and making sure that we’re educating clients to review and potentially change or refresh the specification according to the technologies. No one would dream – I hope – of putting a cathode ray television in a hotel room these days; an LED screen is the only option.

Technology moves very fast, so we should be developing designs accordingly, which means building in a proper review within the procurement programme of what we specify. This shouldn’t be limited to just lighting. All technology should be reviewed as late as possible to ensure that the most cutting-edge products are used, without being too bleeding-edge that there’s an increased level of risk.

The advancement of LEDs over the past four or five years means that there’s no benefit in using CFL sources over LED. Muscat’s airport facility management will have to spend a lot of time and money replacing the CFL lamps, as they fail, in order to keep the terminal’s lighting levels up to industry standards.

Unfortunately, Project Managers and Facilities Managers are often so worried about further delays that something as simple as amending the original specification and employing something that is more aesthetic and more economical in the long run is dismissed. Fittings that have been ordered and delivered to site, in some instances years before the actual opening, will be edging ever closer to their expiry date. It quickly all culminates in wasted money, energy and time. Yet as clients look to save money in the short term and prematurely cut short a consultant’s scope, these false economies continue to play out.

So what’s the solution? First and foremost it’s about educating the client on the value lighting designers bring as design guardians through the entire life of a project. Good lighting designers will supervise from start to finish and ensure there is an allowance for review, and potentially a change of the specification. This doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in cost (if anything, it often means a cost saving, as technology gets cheaper). Our post-contract supervision fees are usually a fraction of a percent of the total construction build cost, which means keeping us involved through to the end of the project will have very limited impact to the bottom line.

Additionally, using international lighting consultants who have a local office, knowledge and services, makes the whole process more straightforward and cost-efficient, because designers from Europe (or beyond) are not being flown in.

Retaining the services of a good international lighting designer, who oversees the lighting budget and keeps an eagle eye on the very latest technology, means a longer project life cycle and a reduction in future maintenance and energy costs.

So what does this mean for Oman’s new airport? My guess is that the client has probably got a big bill heading its way with the additional costs of replacing luminaires and bringing them up to current standards.