Designer Spotlight: Nancy Clanton, Clanton & Associates, Boulder, CO

Nancy Clanton, PE, FIES, FIALD, LEED Fellow

President at Clanton & Associates, Inc. – Boulder, CO

By: Ashley Rothey, WE-EF USA Marketing Coordinator

In the industry of lighting design, the face of the designer is rarely identified.  When viewing a project in an architectural magazine, we may know the architect or recognize the final product, but the lighting designer is usually left in the shadows.  WE-EF USA wants to shine the spotlight on the person who brings architecture to life: The Lighting Designer.

Nancy Clanton has a vision for the future.  Not tomorrow or next year, but five to ten years down the road.   Much like a surfer spotting the next wave, Nancy senses the shift in current and knows which wave to ride.  She sees what’s to come and embraces the change.

Nancy’s passion for lighting is contagious, just ask anyone who’s had the pleasure of meeting her.  Her love began when one professor introduced her to the science and creativity of lighting. Since then she has been a champion for sustainable design and energy efficiency and a major influence in the industry.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Nancy about where her passion comes from and what trends she sees for the future.  It may sound cliché, but I truly feel enlightened.


AR: When attending University of Colorado at Boulder, you received your Bachelor’s Degree in Architectural Engineering with an emphasis in Illumination.  Where did the love of lighting come from?

NC: My professor, Dr. Ronald Helms [then an instructor at the University of Colorado] was not only a registered professional engineer but he was a licensed architect.  His PhD was in Vision Science and he worked under [H. Richard] Blackwell, the guru of everything at Ohio State. Originally, I was going to go into acoustical engineering until I took Dr. Helms’ classes.  Acoustics is great but you’re just going in and doing measurements of somebody else’s stuff and predictions.  I realized that lighting was what I wanted to do because you can create with it.  So, I switched from acoustics to lighting.

What was so good about Dr. Helms education to us was not only engineering, but he made it mandatory to take theater lighting and volunteer for crews.  We took the history of architecture and worked with architecture students.  We had one whole semester just on how the eye worked; the visual aspects of the eye.  I think a lot of engineering degrees just don’t go that in depth.  We were very, very fortunate.  He was an amazing professor.  It was all about lighting.


AR: In your career, sustainable design, energy efficiency, and light pollution have been a focus for you.  Why?

NC:  I backed into energy efficiency when working on the Stapleton Airport [the old Denver International Airport].  We wanted to put in some kiosks with individual lighting, everything coming in from overhead.  The property managers instructed us to not put in anything that wasn’t a fluorescent or a metal halide because the maintenance was just too awful.  At that time, the first PL lamp had just come out which was a compact fluorescent.  We got a couple of samples and realized we could put them in as alcove lights. It was very little energy!

My conversion to daylighting and energy efficiency probably came through Greg Franta who was an architect and had a solar energy research institute, which is now NREL.  He was on his own and working as an architect on buildings that use very little energy.  He introduced me to Amory Lovins with Rocky Mountain Institute and I started working on projects with them.  We looked at how daylight could really help in healing.  Our first big project was for a mental institution called Way Station.  We decided to bring daylighting into this mental institution.  It was the first dimmable fluorescent system in response to daylighting that there ever was.  No one had ever done it before.  We did it not necessarily to save energy, but because it just made sense to get electric lighting and daylighting to work together.  Then we realized how much energy we were saving.  It was a byproduct of doing things right.


AR: You collaborated with WE-EF in the development of the P65 Pedestrian / Bicycle Lane distribution.  How important is it to collaborate with manufacturers?

NC:   It’s huge.  We come up with these innovative ideas.  With the Pathway product, you realize all of the [past] research was done on vehicular angles – roads and cars – and they’re taking that data and applying it to paths and bikeways.  No one had done any research on what the bicyclists need.  In just talking with WE-EF, we knew bicyclists needed something very different as far as glare and what they needed to see.  We did a lot of surveys.  Most of my staff are avid bicyclists, so they would ride the trails of Boulder with the city designers and public works staff and really came up with what you need in a light that is lighting bike paths.  It’s very different from anything else.  WE-EF was the only manufacturer that picked up on that idea.  They totally got it!


AR:  Clanton & Associates has specified WE-EF on several projects – past and present.  Why WE-EF?

NC:  WE-EF has quality stuff.  They have distributions that we like, low glare, and it looks great.  Also, if I have any questions at all, I know who to go to.  We ask a lot of “what if’s” to WE-EF.  They are extremely responsive to that.  We need to work with a manufacturer who is creative along with us.  There is nothing that I can’t discuss with [Western Regional Manager] Kevin Rose that he won’t understand.  To be able to have access to really smart people in a company is a mandatory for us.  We go through all of the local channels, but it’s nice to know that we can have a direct conversation with the manufacturer.


AR: Looking forward to the future of lighting, what are you most excited about?

NC:  The one trend I see in the far future would be to look at other solid-state lighting opportunities and maybe moving to laser diodes instead of LED diodes.  The advantages of laser diodes are they are extremely small and you can hand select any nanometer you want, any combination.  LEDs is all blue and you cover it with phosphor, but with lasers we could double the efficacy of a light source.  Distribution-wise would be amazing because they’re so small.  You could put a micro-lens on every diode and get exactly what you wanted.  As we get more and more advancement in that technology, what we could do with that in outdoor lighting is stay away from the harmful bandwidths and match natural phenomena of light.  You could actually match the sky; the light nature provides.  There is a lot out there in the solid-state lighting industry to explore.


AR: How can manufacturers help in sustainability and reduction of light pollution?

NC:  Listen to us.  I don’t understand this push from certain manufacturers wanting to promote high glare and junk out there.  I’m confused over the promotion of poor quality equipment versus pushing to improve quality guidelines.  Work with us, talk with us, dream with us.   [WE-EF] listens to us, dreams with us, and follows through.  It’s not all “that’s a great idea,” then ignore us.  WE-EF follows through and I appreciate that.


AR: What project brought you the most joy upon completion?  Why?

NC: Specifically to WE-EF, I think the Boulder Bike Path.  The lights are now up by the Municipal building and it looks so good!  That’s the joy!  In a city like Boulder they are really picky and neighbors will complain about everything, we’ve received zero complains.  It’s a joy to be on projects where we’ve tried new things and we’ve got total support from the manufacturer – from dimming and distribution to color.  The manufacturers are there with us –  understanding it and supporting us.  To have it installed and realize, “Wow does this look good!”  Those are my happiest projects.


AR: What advice would you give to the next generation of lighting designers?

NC:  Question everything.  Don’t just do something just because it’s always been done that way.  If you see a better way of doing things, explore it.  It may come from the most unusual direction – it may be a child that gives you some ideas or an elderly parent.  We need to work amongst the generations and amongst the diversity.  Diversity of thought and innovation is critical to really dig to the bottom.  That’s something our core values at our company is diversity at all levels – gender, age, culture.  Everyone has input and fabulous ideas no matter what your experience level is.  It’s listening and asking questions and working together and not feeling that the older generation has more experience and all of the answers.  Absorb what you can from their experience but then explore the new territory.