Stirring up drama: how exterior lighting revitalization projects can deliver sustainability, savings, and cultural value


Paul Boken, BFA, LC, Vice President, and Alan McIntosh, B. Arts, IESNA, Senior Lighting Designer, Mulvey & Banani Lighting Inc.

Are you showing off your building in the right light?

Exterior lighting defines the city nightscape- it creates a sense of identity, a local landmark, that orients citizens and visitors as they embrace the local night life.  Showing off a building in the right light is part civic beautification and engagement, part communication of corporate brand.  Not all lighting treatments are created equal- too often we see unnecessarily high luminance levels upset the natural balance of the nocturnal world, including human sleep patterns, birds, and insects. With older lighting technologies, and/or poor design, large portions of deployed light often miss the façade or exterior element in question. Hence, exterior lighting solutions are call upon to reconcile several conflicting agendas: the enhancement of the cultural value of a building, energy efficiency, unwanted glare, light trespass, and sky glow.

New technologies are redefining façade and exterior lighting.  With easier integration into building façade elements, design teams are taking advantage of technology by merging the lighting into the building exterior envelope, highlighting the most delicate elements of the building form with accuracy, breathing life into typically static elements for the evening.   For Owners with existing façade lighting treatments, modern ultra energy efficient, low maintenance exterior lighting technologies can reduce operating costs up to 25-33%.

Superior Optics and Dynamic Controls

Whether for beautification, energy efficiency or public safety enhancements, there are many ways to approach a lighting revitalization, with wholescale fixture replacement not necessarily being the solution. 25 York Street, is a case in point: exterior LED lighting emerged into the mainstream a few years after the tower was completed in 2009.   In 2018, developer/ operator Menkes was willing to go back-to-the-drawing-board to revitalize the tower’s exterior lighting.

Existing façade flood lights were retrofitted for LED and new custom mounting brackets were designed for grafting onto the existing curtain wall system.   The new luminares have superior optics to their predecessors and will drastically reduce the light spill that previously strayed from the building surfaces into the night sky.   The MBL Team also added a dynamic element to the static lighting treatment with the deployment of wireless digital control modules (DMX) for all fixtures to allow for dynamic programming without additional wiring.  Programmable components designed into the controls allows the building to be interactive with local events (esp. Scotiabank Arena events, Go-Leafs-Go!).  The dynamic system will also be dimmable during bird migratory seasons and after 11pm, an important detail previously not possible with conventional lighting sources.

Façade Lighting, or Public Art?

Soon-to-be-completed, 25 York will enjoy a heightened commercial appearance, with a solid ROI backed by both financial and environmental factors. But the full potential of LED exterior lighting is still being explored. The controllability of the brightness and colour of the LED light sources, their diverse optical characteristics, and compact dimensions, are blowing apart old approaches to façade lighting.

Is the lighting concept for the city of Shenzhen the future? Not everyone’s cup of tea…yet possible. A more modest/real example is the new TelusSky installation by Douglas Coupland, in Calgary, that creatively leverages the ability to now achieve façade lighting from the inside of the building. LED lighting built into a façade this way needs relatively little energy to generate the required luminance levels; additionally each light source is dimmable and controllable, making it possible to set individual switch-on times and intensities. The TelusSky façade is an animated light show, a destination in fact. Good bye, bland brand, hello Public Art/Light Experience! The installation and has already become a branding sensation.

Watch for it…two Toronto tower top icons are undergoing a lighting refresh!

The MBL team has been entrusted with revamping the lighting of the “TD Cube” atop the Brookfield Place tower, and the Canada Life Building’s famous “Weather Beacon”. The team is in full creative mode, leveraging the new technologies in harmony with the original design intent and dignity of these elements.