Education, Feature, Hospitality/Leisure

This university cafeteria in Beirut changed its lighting – and increased its turnover fivefold

A biodynamic lighting scheme appears to have done more than just make students more alert at the Lebanese American University in Beirut – they’re also bigger spenders in the cafeteria.

There is no daylight in the student centre cafeteria at Beirut’s Lebanese American University. Until the place was refurbished four years ago, it was difficult to get the students to use the café, which is situated in a dark courtyard between four buildings.

‘If the lighting had been the same all day, the students wouldn’t have known that time is changing.’

Chérine Saroufim Sacy

‘The students avoided it because we live in a country where there is a lot of sunlight, so they’d rather go out to the shops around the university than stay at the cafeteria here,’ explains Chérine Saroufim Sacy, assistant managing director of Idepconsult, who designed the new lighting scheme at the student centre.

To make the space more welcoming, Sacy came up with a lighting scheme using three skylights that change colour temperature throughout the day to mimic changing daylight and follow the students’ natural circadian rhythm.

Fluorescent lamps behind a diffuse cover combine warm and cool colour temperatures, and an intelligent control system adjusts the light intensity and colour according to the time of day.

In the morning, the cafeteria is illuminated with a cool 6500K to activate the students. During lunchtime the lighting scene changes to a neutral 4200K, and as the afternoon progresses, the lighting reaches a relaxing 2700K.

The plan was not only to enhance the wellbeing and alertness of the students, but also to increase the footfall in the cafeteria.  

‘We wanted a dynamic space where the students would feel welcome but wouldn’t stay for too long, as we wanted more customers coming in and out,’ says Sacy.

‘If the lighting had been the same all day, the students wouldn’t have known that time is changing.’ With the skylights simulating changing daylight, the cafeteria is no longer a timeless void and students are reminded to move on.


Higher turnover, lower energy use

The cafeteria’s business results after the refurb seem to suggest that a sense of daylight, even if it’s artificial, is good for business. ‘The previous caterer wasn’t making money from this cafeteria, but our client told us that the current one is making more than five times the turnover of the previous one,’ says Sacy. ‘The first week they opened after the refurb, the hamburgers were sold out at 11am.’

Sacy points out that there are other factors to include into any cause-and-effect calculations: ‘The refurbishment included some architectural changes to the interior. But the lighting did change the look and feel of the space and it’s likely that it made the students re-consider spending time there,’ Sacy says.

Elsewhere in the student centre, the gym, dance and music hall required bright and uniform lighting with a modern feel. Sacy used a combination round, recessed luminaires and linear luminaires with a diffuse light, all from Zumtobel. ‘We decided to use linear fixtures to produce a dynamic and vibrant feeling,’ Sacy explains.

Although energy efficiency wasn’t part of Sacy’s brief, energy consumption has been reduced significantly as a result of the lighting upgrade. ‘As is common in our country, we didn’t have a big budget and LEDs were very expensive at the time,’ Sacy says. But swapping the existing T26 [T8] lamps with T16 [T5] and using a control system was enough to bring down the power bill significantly.