Designing a Modern, but Subtle, Lighting Strategy

Kohler Co. lives “on the edge of design and technology.”

So what an honor it was for our firm, CharterSills, to be brought on by Gensler to design the lighting scheme for a new building at Kohler’s global headquarters in the eponymously named town of Kohler, WI.

It was like being invited to help perform a concert for Yo-Yo Ma.

If you haven’t been to Kohler, you should make a trip. Far more than just a corporate headquarters, Kohler Co. operates a five-star resort, including top-ranked golf courses and a spa featuring sublime Kohler bath fixtures.

The setting for it all: a vast Midwestern landscape surrounded wetlands.

The client objective:

The challenge was to illuminate Kohler’s new Creative Communications Center. Gensler designed the one-story, 100,000-square-foot, LEED® Gold-certified structure to bring all of Kohler’s brand and communications associates under one roof. 

With little other lighting nearby, our client wanted a modern, but subtle, lighting strategy.

Here’s how we achieved that: 

  1. Rather than light the building itself, the lighting treatment we designed lets it glow internally like a lantern, taking advantage of the building’s large expanses of glass.
  2. Interior luminaires are positioned so that light distribution near the perimeter windows is below 90 degrees.
  3. We backlit the building’s signature element— a large perforated metal screen wall that rises from the rooftop ——with 3000K high CRI metal halide floodlights. To reduce light spills, the fixtures utilize shrouds, lockable aiming, and a tight horizontal beam spread. The result: the wall is visible up to 1,000 feet away, while light pollution is minimized.
  4. We kept site lighting low. For bollards along the main walkway and pole lights in the parking lot, 3000K LED sources housed in fully shielded, full-cutoff luminaires provide a low-glare environment with a comfortable 3:1 contrast ratio at grade. The poles were deliberately capped at a height of 21 feet so as not to protrude above the building.
  5. In keeping with sustainability goals, all lighting is controlled by a building automation system. An “after hours” setting turns off the rooftop lighting and dims the bollards. The parking lot poles are outfitted with occupancy sensors that dim the lights when no one is present. 
  6. For ease of maintenance, we specified metal halide and LED sources to minimize lamp changes. Roof-mounted floodlights can be accessed by ladder, as well as a fully accessible roof deck.

With some minor revisions, the project was brought in on budget.

The final result: a new structure that connects to the existing campus landscape and glows gently, in harmony with the Midwestern landscape. 

Did I mention you really need to get up to Kohler, WI?

CharterSills recently earned an Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) 2015 Illumination Award of Merit for its work on this project, as well as the further distinction of advancing to the final round of judging.

We are the only Chicago-based lighting design firm to advance this year.