Campus Illumination: An Implementation Strategy for Sustainable Exterior Lighting

Estimated Amount to be requested from the CSF: $75,000

Letter of Intent:


This project proposes a multi-disciplinary effort that will provide actionable guidelines to improve the energy efficiency and sustainability of campus-wide exterior lighting at the University of Washington (UW) Seattle Campus. The team will develop a palette of outdoor lighting strategies integrated with the Campus Landscape Framework “mosaic” as a roadmap for improved energy efficiency, perceived safety, wayfinding, and reduced maintenance. The primary project team includes faculty and students from the College of Built Environments, the UW Integrated Design Lab, the Office of the University Architect, and Seattle City Light’s Lighting Design Lab.

Lighting technology has rapidly evolved over the past decade, offering a wide array of new sources, controls, and design approaches. These include higher-quality LED light sources that deliver improved design flexibility with significantly lower power consumption and servicing needs. Advancements in digital controls and GIS technology offer the possibility of direct digital feedback, time of day control, and occupancy and event-driven control of luminaires that can enhance the campus experience while reducing its ecological footprint.

Using the “Campus Mosaic” as a typology, the project team will identify case study sites that represent a range of campus experiences, a mix of historic and new construction, and a diversity of landscape mosaic types. For each of these sites the project team will document current exterior lighting using four levels of analysis: (1) lighting design intent, (2) fixture and lamp typologies and GIS data verification, (3) lighting measurement at the site scale, and (4) integration with and transitions from other campus areas.

Following the documentation phase, the team will use site data to develop a comprehensive roadmap for campus exterior lighting that addresses energy performance targets, intent, illumination strategies, light sources, digital controls, and maintenance. This roadmap will contain (1) design guidelines for new projects and for the Campus Engineering Office to reference when upgrading existing fixtures, and (2) an implementation plan that prioritizes lighting projects in a phased approach for upgrade. These deliverables will be developed with input from the students and faculty at UW Center for Integrated Design, the Office of the University Architect, the Lighting Design Lab, Seattle City Light, and Campus Engineering and Operations.

Environmental Impact

This project aims to achieve, at minimum, a 40% reduction in lighting power consumption through the strategic implementation of low-energy lighting technology. Even deeper energy use reductions can be realized if these fixtures are coupled with digital sensing controls that actively respond to the presence or absence of occupants, or vary light levels in accordance with campus events. Additionally, such measures will offer added flexibility to operations staff.

This project will build off of the findings of a recent study conducted on the UW campus, which indicates that improved visibility and perception of safety can be realized at lower power densities by selecting light sources with spectral qualities that improve scotopic (night time) vision. Inneficient high-pressure sodium (HPS) fixtures currently constitute 63% of campus luminaires; replacing these fixtures with LEDs tuned to the needs of specific campus settings will result in a measurable reduction in campus energy consumption and offer much greater design flexibility.

Student Leadership & Involvement

With guidance from Seattle City Light’s Lighting Design Lab and in communication with the UW Office of the University Architect and Campus Engineering, graduate students in the Department of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and at the UW Integrated Design Lab will take leadership roles in administering the project, collecting and analyzing data, and developing and producing the project’s final deliverables.

ARCH 435: Principles and Practice of Environmental Lighting, a long-standing course open to undergraduate and graduate students, will be adapted to incorporate the project’s data collection phase and will serve as a laboratory for investigating and developing conceptual and technical approaches to campus lighting. This evening course is offered annually in autumn by faculty in the College of Built Environments who will also participate in the technical development of the project.

Education, Outreach, & Behavior Change

This project will provide hands-on applied learning experience for students involved in all phases of the project. The UW campus will serve as a living laboratory, providing an arena for investigating environmental lighting within a specific spatial and temporal context.

In order to reach a broader audience, signage will be mounted on targeted outdoor light fixtures throughout campus. The signage will include graphics relating to outdoor lighting energy consumption, as well as the project team’s contact information. Students, staff, faculty, and visitors will be encouraged give feedback regarding their perceptions of current lighting conditions that will inform the future lighting guidelines.

Additionally, this project will serve as a catalyst for collaboration between various campus offices, moving the university toward a more integrated approach to campus sustainability. It will merge the efforts of the Office of the University Architect to improve the experiential qualities of campus, Campus Engineering and Operations’ work in updating, controlling, and maintaining campus lighting, and the UWPD’s objective of ensuring that campus users feels safe and secure. This project will develop a strategy that integrates all of these goals rather than addressing them as separate programs.

Feasibility, Accountability, & Sustainability

The faculty lead for the project will be within the Integrated Design Lab, which performs research and provides technical assistance regarding high-performance built environments to project teams across the country. Additional expertise will be provided by an ongoing alliance with the Office of the University Architect, the Campus Engineering and Operations Office, Seattle City Light’s Lighting Design Lab, and UW Faculty from the College of Built Environments. Of paramount concern is that the  lighting guidelines and implementation plan align with the Campus Landscape Framework vision and are feasible and maintainable for Campus Engineering and Operations. The Lighting Design Lab will coordinate Seattle City Light utility incentive opportunities as they arise from project activities. 

Primary Contact First & Last Name: Kelly Douglas