Images and associations spring readily to mind when we hear the word "bunker": a feeling on unease, a sense of being lost, enclosed in a dark space, or even torture. Strangely enough, these are the kind of subconscious feelings we have when we see, or are expected to use, specific workplaces. In the past, probably for reasons
of ignorance. In the meantime, our fascination with bunkers derives from a variety of factors, also because they can provide shelter for inmates and surroundings, thus shielding themselves from the latter. In this project, the bunker – sorry, control room – at the PCK Refinery in Schwedt near Berlin/DE is typically windowless, like many other control rooms.
There is no incident daylight; the space is enclosed in thick walls, and the safety doors are tightly sealed. Sounds pretty dark and desolate. Given the lack of any form of purposefully designed lighting or contact to the outside world, this would make it a workplace that no employee could be reasonably expected to occupy for a longer period of time. The processes handled in the control room need to run non-stop: six teams work in three shifts round the clock at the 26 workstations. They know full well what it is like to work in a "bunker". As a consequence, the company decided to have the 1000 square metre space redesigned to make it feel more natural. In comparison to other renovation projects, the focus in this case was not so much on construction, but quite clearly on the lighting design. The concept developed is partly based on the latest know-how (research findings), but is also partly of an experimental nature, since designers do not have sufficient, let alone sound, knowledge of humans’ emotional responses to light or what effects light can have on humans’ feeling of well-being. What they do know is that they need to find solutions to protect employees from health hazards. Whatever people like to believe "HCL products and solutions" can offer, what we are talking about here are basic human needs and a minimum level of quality.
The client’s brief was clear: the designers were required to create an environment with as natural a feel as possible. But what approach did the team from Lichtvision end up taking to achieve an acceptable solution?
The peanut shape of the central meeting area is covered completely by a 110 square metre luminous ceiling. This ceiling is equipped with RGB LED panels with a pixel pitch of 6.25 centimetres. Each light pixel can be addressed individually to create dynamic, changing weather conditions over the course of the day. Passing clouds, blue skies, sunset and dawn can be created. Based on scientific research findings from the Fraunhofer Institute in Stuttgart, colour temperature ranges for the different times of day were specified,
and the real-time rendered weather phenomena were calibrated accordingly. The view of the artificial sky is forever changing like the natural sky outdoors at all times of the day and night. Further more emotionally
stimulating events can be randomly added using the overlay function of the video server: at irregular intervals minor occurrences such as the condensation trail of a passing aeroplane, birds or a hot-air balloon floating by, or for corporate events the rotating company logo. On people’s birthdays, a bunch of balloons floating up into the sky can be displayed.
The "walls" inside the control room are made solely of transparent glass. This creates a pleasant, airy feeling of spaciousness and renders the whole space visible from anywhere within the room. To support the user’s overview of the space, and to enhance the feeling of safety, the solid outer walls are illuminated via a series
of wallwashers. Each of the 26 working places in front of the monitor walls is lit to an optimum using two pendant luminaires, always positioned between two working places. The direct flux for a workstation is delivered by the two fixtures to the left and right of the user of the workstation. The direct component at each workplace can be dimmed individually, whereas the indirect component is controlled teamwise. The pendant luminaire is DALI-controlled, covering the direct components from right and left with a colour temperature of 3000K, and the indirect component with 4000K. All luminaires are equipped with DALI drivers connected to a KNX backbone.
The client was more than keen to avoid generating the typical gloomy, oppressive atmosphere associated with a bunker. As a result, this led to the development and introduction of two key elements into the space: a virtual sky and digital windows. To achieve this, screens mounted on the walls at the end of the lines of sight in the space display scenes outside the space live via webcam. This enables users of the space to observe what is happening outdoors in the respective direction of view.
Thanks to all these elements, the lighting makes a significant contribution towards the creation of a pleasant, inspiring atmosphere in which to perform the work required in the control room at the refinery. The lighting concept was in dire need of an update given the negative spatial situation. The result in the form of a cool and convincing virtual sky cut-out in the ceiling is not only a great idea. What is even better is that it has been realised using highly efficient state-of-the-art technology – not to simply generate brightly coloured waves of colour-changing light – but to depict a sincere replica of the sky and the dynamic lighting scenarios determined by nature in real life. Attention also needed to be paid to providing optimum lighting for the workstation set-ups and other zones to be used by employees. Like all bunkers, this one fulfils all its designated functions and offers fascinating protection – not only against fire and explosions, but to prevent the emergence of a poor working atmosphere.
Client: PCK Refinery in Schwedt/DE
Architecture: Obermeyer Planen + Beraten GmbH
Lighting design: Lichtvision
Design head: Raoul Hesse