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Tech Talks with Paula Longato, Buro Happold


Welcome to ‘Tech Talks’ with Ana Andrade, a Q&A focused on how Tech is making the Built Environment SMARTER.

This bulletin series features key industry players from the land technology and built environment space in conversation with consultant Ana Andrade, drawing insights around the topics of  AI, IoT, GDPR and ESG compliance, and much more!

This week we have been in touch with Paula Longato, Lighting Team Lead, Associate at Buro Happold.

Buro Happold are an international, integrated consultancy of engineers, designers and advisers. For over 45 years, they have built an unrivalled reputation by delivering creative, value-led solutions for the benefit of people, places and planet.

What does your role entail at Buro Happold?

I lead the European Lighting Team for Buro Happold and am based in Berlin.


In what ways have you seen this space changing and evolving over the years? In what ways have you seen this space changing and evolving over the years?

Alright, I’m not entirely certain about the context of “this space,” but if we’re discussing developments in lighting design overall, I’ll address that.

Lighting Design has undergone significant transformations in the past 15 years. Technological advancements, particularly the introduction of LEDs, have not only provided energy-efficient alternatives compared to traditional light sources but have also introduced a “digital” aspect. This technological leap allows for unprecedented control over light, far beyond what was conceivable a decade and a half ago. Designers swiftly capitalized on these possibilities, giving rise to innovations like color-changing lights and media facades. This unique approach to lighting has transcended into the realm of architecture, enabling spaces to serve diverse functions and be more easily adaptable to changes.

However, this doesn’t imply that planning has become simpler; quite the opposite. Contemporary lighting planning demands a robust understanding of controls and protocols, often extending beyond the scope of conventional electrical engineering. Consequently, lighting design has become even more diversified in terms of the services we provide. Simultaneously, there’s a growing emphasis on daylight design, propelled by sustainability certifications and the desire to create spaces more attuned to human needs. Given that daylight design involves collaboration across multiple disciplines, it presents its own set of challenges.


It goes without saying that energy saving is a big topic and environmental concern. In what ways has the approach to this changed in your sector over the years?

The strides in lighting technology have been remarkable, particularly in terms of energy efficiency. However, this positive aspect has also contributed to an interesting development. The very efficiency of lighting, requiring minimal energy, has led to a surge in the sheer volume of lighting being incorporated into our surroundings. Regrettably, this has resulted in altering urban landscapes to the extent that artificial light emissions are visible from space, commonly referred to as “light pollution.” This phenomenon raises concerns as it creates a nighttime environment that is detrimental to both human health and the natural world, contributing to a significant decline in insect populations.

Acknowledging the adverse effects of excessive nighttime lighting, efforts are underway to limit illumination in cities, with various individuals, communities, and cities actively working towards this goal. Technological advancements have empowered us to exercise control over nighttime lighting—deciding when and for how long it is employed. Furthermore, scientific research has influenced specific luminaire development to mitigate issues such as upward light spill and unnecessary illumination. Despite these advancements, there is still much ground to cover in terms of sustainability. This encompasses a broad spectrum of initiatives, including aligning with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, advocating for the right to repair LED luminaires, and strategizing for efficient disassembly practices. The entire lighting industry, spanning planners, manufacturers, and policymakers, is collectively engaged in forging innovative approaches that prioritize reduced light consumption and heightened efficiency.


Following the question above, what types of roadblocks do you usually face when it comes to saving energy?

In the context of energy conservation in lighting, the act of saving energy has become rather commonplace. The contemporary challenge lies in amalgamating effective lighting design, implementing intelligent control strategies, assimilating user feedback, and reassessing project specifications. A significant hurdle faced by lighting designers persists in entering projects relatively late in the design process. Consequently, daylight design is often relegated to a superficial aspect of architecture, despite its potential to positively impact spaces in myriad ways. From energy savings to providing optimal lighting conditions for occupants, contributing to passive design principles, enhancing productivity in settings like offices, and reducing recovery times in places such as hospitals—all of these aspects collectively lead to financial savings. Regrettably, architects are often compelled by diverse and competing requirements, making it challenging to involve the right professionals and contributors from the project’s inception. However, there seems to be a gradual shift, with daylighting gaining increasing significance in architectural competitions, signaling a positive departure from the established norm.


I was particularly attracted to your thoughts around natural lighting as a building material – could you share some of that here?

Absolutely, I find the concept of daylight as a fundamental building material fascinating. It serves as a dynamic force that shapes architectural intent. When we look at the most iconic architectural marvels throughout history, daylight has been intricately woven into their design. Consider how sunlight strategically permeates different parts of a structure or moulds its appearance during specific seasons. Reflect on how diffuse skylight fills a space with ever-changing hues throughout the day. This symbiosis between architecture and daylight is what elevates a building. It caters to a fundamental human longing for an experiential connection with light, irrespective of a building’s purpose. Windows, often seen merely as aesthetic elements, are, in reality, conduits to the external environment. They usher in the dynamic play of daylight, offer scenic views, and significantly influence our perception of both spaces and the individuals inhabiting them. It’s intriguing that despite its abundance and cost-effectiveness, we often overlook the transformative potential of daylight.

Recognizing the need to underscore the vital role daylight plays in our lives, I’ve collaborated with fellow daylight enthusiasts to establish a lobby for daylight. Our initiative, titled “24 Things I (Should Have) Learned About Daylight,” aims to articulate why and how daylight design can and should be more deeply integrated into architectural practices. This initiative has been translated into a few different languages now, with the aim of reaching as many people as possible. (


What does ‘innovation’ look like in your field?

The question about innovation in my field often triggers a thought-provoking perspective. Innovation is frequently synonymous with technological advancements, yet I believe we’re standing on the precipice of taking several steps backward. The current trajectory involves rediscovering purpose and seeking solutions to questions that are less driven by high-tech solutions than one might anticipate. We’re embracing passive concepts, drawing inspiration from lessons learned in vernacular architecture, and applying them to contemporary designs, all while maintaining a commitment to simplicity. This shift positions us closer to achieving genuinely sustainable solutions, where our designs not only excel aesthetically but also contribute to lightening our ecological footprint on the world.


Similarly, what does ‘green washing’ look like in your field?

I think we should all be critical of new propositions in any field. Too many promises or new buzzwords that lead nowhere are in too many places today. With lighting design, the industry is still trying to find its way amongst the many different paths there are towards sustainability. There is no “one solution fits all” concept with sustainability. I think we need to see many small initiatives that have small impacts, and the more of those small solutions we have, the more and faster we can move towards achieving positive results. In our field, we approach design from a distinct standpoint, placing humans and nature at the core of our designs. We strive for aesthetically pleasing solutions, working closely with clients to develop a comprehensive design brief that aligns with their priorities and integrates sustainable technologies. Anticipating future changes, we aim to create designs that are “future-proof.” Detecting “green washing” has become easier as people become better informed about our needs and the possibilities of approaching designs from a different perspective. The younger generation, along with experts, plays a crucial role in challenging the status quo and finding innovative ways to address new challenges in design.


How do you see the industry evolving in the next few years, and what impact might it have on professionals, users and the environment more broadly?

I anticipate significant changes in the industry, with a fundamental shift in mindset being the most pivotal. This extends beyond our professional realms to include lifestyle choices, consumption patterns, and community engagement, all of which collectively impact how we interact with the world and each other. Regarding lighting, I foresee a transformation in the approach to public illumination, especially in cities. Growing awareness of the detrimental effects of light pollution has prompted urban areas to reclaim the night and restore visibility of stars by reevaluating nighttime street lighting. This shift benefits both human well-being and the natural environment. Consequently, consultants are adapting, refining requirements based on specific considerations, moving beyond mere compliance with norms to incorporate the latest scientific research into designs. This holistic approach yields numerous benefits for all stakeholders involved.

Within building design, I observe an increased emphasis on the role of daylight. Architects, collaborating with daylight designers, facade engineers, and building physicists, are steering towards transdisciplinary designs that harmonize the diverse requirements of each discipline for optimal outcomes. In the domain of electric lighting design within buildings, a more robust approach is needed. Lighting designers are sometimes overlooked in the design process, an oversight that fails to recognize the unique perspective we bring—understanding both design intent and technological solutions. Planning for human needs necessitates considering not only our physical requirements but also our aesthetic preferences.


Could you share a recent exciting project you’ve been a part of?

I’ve recently contributed to an innovative project involving the design of a science foundation’s headquarters. This multi-use facility integrates offices, labs, and amenities for collaborative work between students and scientists. Our focus was not only on creating an engaging atmosphere but also on the meaningful incorporation of technology. We crafted a poetic concept rooted in the location’s unique history, integrating technology that is intrinsically linked to a digital lighting solution. For this expansive, visitor-friendly building, we proposed technology tied to spatial navigation. Similar to museum spaces, visitors can use a dedicated app to receive information about their location and guidance on where to go next. The scale at which this technology could be implemented made this project particularly exciting.

In another intriguing endeavor, we collaborated with an online reseller of sustainable products. The challenge was to anticipate future shifts in management and office workflows and design lighting that could adapt accordingly. We developed a lighting infrastructure capable of incorporating various lighting equipment and allowing for technological upgrades when needed. Notably, we proposed implementing the lighting solution as “light as a service,” wherein the client rents light instead of purchasing luminaires. This concept offers advantages such as including maintenance and upgrades/exchanges in the rental contract, minimizing client concerns about broken lights. Additionally, the minimal capital expenditure enables the client to allocate funds to other aspects of the design.


What does the coming year hold for Buro Happold and your sector? What are your expansion plans?

In the upcoming years, we are channeling our expertise into a relatively underexplored realm of design. Our internal research project is addressing the role of lighting design in inclusive designs, exploring how we can contribute to creating more equitable spaces. Collaborating with interior designers, co-creators, and researchers specializing in inclusion, we aim to comprehend the needs and investigate how lighting can enhance various public spaces to offer a supportive environment, particularly for individuals with vision disabilities. In this context, we are attentive to the needs of the elderly population with vision restrictions, making this field both challenging and promising. I am optimistic about the significant impact we can make.

In addition to this initiative, we are actively exploring ways to enhance our approach to lighting planning with a focus on sustainability. With my team, we have developed a Sustainable Lighting Road Map, which involves a holistic perspective on projects and introduces a novel approach to lighting. However, this is a long-term plan, as it requires collaboration and contributions from various stakeholders. It’s a blend of co-creation and exploration of better methods for applying lighting to the built environment.


Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring players and entrepreneurs looking to enter this space?

For those stepping into the realm of lighting and lighting design, it’s crucial to recognize the collective desire for change that we all share as humans. The goal is to create places and spaces that are not just for us humans, but also in harmony with nature. While technology is undoubtedly a part of the solution, it’s not the sole answer. We need to foster a planning culture that centres around users and nature, integrating not only our preferences but also drawing from the wealth of knowledge available across various scientific and research fields. In the vast landscape of lighting applications, spanning from architectural and urban planning to luminaire design and research, there’s still much to be explored and understood. My advice is to maintain broad connections with many and different stakeholders at all times. This ensures a swift and effective response to evolving requirements across all facets of design.

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