Store Lighting Is Part Of Impressive Design

May 29, 2009

Any other company might simply install a light switch on the wall of its retail stores–on or off. Not Apple. Inside each Apple store, a sophisticated system of lighting controls are linked to custom-designed fixtures, located and arranged to play light according to an interior designer’s plan. According to those who have seen a typical store lighting plan, Apple has spent thousands of dollars on lighting designs, specifies only the best lighting gear and uses an expensive control system to present a bright and attractive interior space for customers. A typical mall-sized store might have 100 separate fixtures in the retail area, including soft diffused fluorescents and spot incandescents, and another 75 fixtures in the back-of-house area.

The store’s original lighting design was conceived by Sylvia Bistrong, president of ISP Design Inc. (Florida), in collaboration with Apple’s architect, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, and interior design firms Gensler and Eight Inc. Bistrong reportedly spent two years fine-tuning the original lighting lay-out and fixture specifications before the first store opened. With a few tweaks, that same plan is in use today, and Bistrong continues to oversee her rigorous design requirements for new stores under construction.

In general, the retail space is lit by fluorescent lamps in lightboxes located above ceiling diffusers. Between these lights are spot-focused incandescent bulbs acting as “downlights.” The front window area has a similar series of downlights installed overhead. A second set of spot-focused downlights provide lighting for the wall-mounted graphic panels.

Many of the fixtures were custom-designed and are now manufactured specially for Apple, both to provide the light quality the company requires, and to fit into the structural ceiling system of the store. Reportedly, some fixture manufacturing is done by a tiny firm in Texas. To meet safety codes, some of the fixtures throughout the store include a battery back-up for emergency lighting.

Almost all lamps used inside the store are fluorescent, and most are rated at 20,000 hours, or over 2-½ years of routine use. Incandescent bulbs are used provide accent lighting on the retail floor, and operate at 12-volts. All the bulbs inside the store are rated at an energy-saving 54 watts or less.

The fluorescent lamps are four-feet long, while the incandescent lamps are very small, bi-pin types, with a narrowly-focused beam. A typical store has about 120 fluorescent lamps on the retail floor, and about 60 incandescent lamps.

As an example of Apple’s well-known attention to detail, all the fluorescent lamps have a rated color temperature of 4100K, equivalent to full moonlight, and just “warmer” than daylight at 5500K. Incredibly, Apple requires that its fluorescent bulbs be color-matched by manufacturer Osram. If any bulbs in a batch arrive at a new store broken, the entire batch must be re-ordered, and no lamps are installed until the new shipment arrives, so there is no difference in lighting color.

Overall, a typical 30-foot wide store consumes about 12,000 watts of electricity for lighting, considered to be within the limits imposed by many local energy conservation codes. The cost of electricity in the U.S. varies greatly depending upon location, ranging from 6.5 cents to 23 cents per kilowatt hour. Based on the current U.S. average of 10.3 cents for commercial customers, lighting at an Apple store would cost about $4,800 a year.

All the lighting circuits lead to a Lutron LCP128 control panel in the back-of-house space. After local contractors install the lighting and wiring at a new store, a Lutron technician arrives to set up and program the control panel according to pre-set, Apple-designed configurations. The controller is capable of setting complex lighting plans based on day-of-week, time-of-day, holidays, and daylight savings time.

All the lighting is connected to circuits, which are arranged into zones on the Lutron controller, allowing for individual or collective control. According to those who have seen the plans, a typical mall store has eight lighting zones. Not surprisingly, the back-lit Apple logo is always designated as Zone 1.

The Lutron control panel includes a master clock, which allows complex programming of lighting “scenes” by zone. For Apple’s stores, scene programming is fairly simple: all-full from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., reduced lighting from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., and then Genius Bar logo-only lighting from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. Larger stores, street-level stores, and those with an exterior Apple logo are programmed differently. Most stores also have a slightly modified lighting schedule on Sundays, when the stores have shorter hours, and a scene for events that turns off the overhead lighting.

The Lutron panel connects to several remote control keypads mounted in the walls of the store, allowing local and remote control of the lighting. The number and placement of the keypads varies depending upon the size of the store and number of levels.

In the end, the technical details are only important to Apple insofar as they contribute to the overall customer experience. In this case, lighting provides an inviting environment for passersby, and high-visibility for product displays.

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