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Updated 2:30 PM July 7, 2005




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  Taubman College
Finding the balance between light and dark on campus

"There are two kinds of light, the glow that illuminates, and the glare that obscures."—James Thurber
(Photo by Mojtaba Navvab)

Debates about light often focus on amounts. Too little limits activity and raises safety concerns, while too much wastes resources and becomes a nuisance.

This debate at U-M has shifted to a pursuit of balance as administrators grapple with new lighting technology, updated city of Ann Arbor codes, and real or perceived public safety concerns.

Associate Professor of Architecture Mojtaba Navvab, enlisted by the University to survey and research lighting campus-wide, believes understanding how the human eye reacts to different combinations of color and light may be the key to finding the right balance between darkness and light.

To evaluate the present lighting conditions, Navvab divided the campus into four zones, North Campus, a combined Central/Medical Campus, Athletic Campus and Campus Housing. He then broke the zones into smaller sectors, based on the city of Ann Arbor's geographic information systems (GIS) grid. GIS combines maps with data to better understand how variables relate to one another in space. Navvab then measured exterior and pathway lighting within each grid space.

To gather accurate low-light (scotopic) and high-light (photopic) readings and their intensity levels, Navvab designed specialized sensors fixed in the eye sockets of a mannequin head mounted on the front of a golf cart.

The mannequin drives at walking speed during nighttime hours, simulating a person walking through a particular location during low-light conditions. Navvab combines his ground light measurements with digital aerial photometry (airborne light measurements) and a questionnaire about lighting quality to provide a database of both objective and subjective results for analyses and evaluation of exterior lighting around campus buildings.

Decision-making tools in the form of maps depicting perceived lighting scenarios around campus buildings presently serve administrators in helping to identify areas in need of lighting improvement and how new or proposed buildings could impact existing conditions. Future uses may involve campus master planning and lighting standards development.

Navvab isn't sure where the debate will go; he's just pleased he and his golf cart mannequin have been able to shed some light on how we look.

"Good lighting design requires a combination of optimal performance, visual comfort, energy efficiency, healthy lighting, and high aesthetic standards," Navvab says.

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