Feature, Industrial, Office

Workers in the underground nerve centre of this Saudi oil giant now have dynamic light

A 3D rendering of the new lighting design for Aramco's operations centre

Aramco, the Saudi petroleum and natural gas giant, has introduced the dynamism of natural light to its underground operations coordination centre (OCC) in Dhahran. The new LED-based system is designed to provide a stimulating working environment that also supports the comfort and wellbeing of staff and visitors.

The OCC is the nerve centre of Aramco’s oil supply planning and scheduling department, which controls the management and distribution of oil and gas. It gathers data constantly from plants, refineries, gas-oil separation plants, terminals, pipelines and electrical power operations, and projects it on to a gigantic electronic video wall.

The nature of the environment and the work performed there presented a number of challenges for the lighting team. There are no windows and therefore no natural light, meaning that the lighting solution had to be wholly artificial. The centre operates around the clock, requiring shift and night-time working. In addition, part of the space is set aside as a lounge area for visitors, including high-profile dignitaries and heads of state with certain expectations of their surroundings.

Italian lighting designer Stefano Dall’Osso and his team decided the concept had to be rooted in the principles of dynamic lighting. Night working and exclusion from natural light have the potential to disrupt the body’s circadian rhythms, leading to stress, poor concentration, fatigue and disturbed sleep patterns – not a good idea in a workplace like this. The new lighting needed to simulate the quality and changing nature of natural light, triggering the right physiological responses to maintain health, wellbeing and alertness.

It was also crucial that the lighting supported the nature of the work being done – particularly the hours spent monitoring visual display screens. Factors such as illuminance and luminance values, colour rendering, colour temperature and level of contrast all have an impact on the psychological behaviour of individuals and their sense of comfort. Well defined, adequate luminance was essential, with plenty of contrast to avoid a monotonous effect.

The lighting team began by defining the visual tasks, evaluating the luminance distribution required. It was important to avoid excessively high luminance levels which might cause glare, and low luminance levels or excessive contrast which might strain the eyes. Next the team calculated the required maintained illuminance value (500 lx on workstations, 200 lx in the lounge area), always keeping account of glare (the unified glare rating was not to exceed 16).

The chosen solution also had to work with the configuration of the space, particularly the ceiling. Part of the ceiling is made of micro-perforated metal modular panels, while the rest is a suspended gypsum ceiling with bays at considerable heights from 2.8 to 3.5 metres.

All of these factors pointed to flexible, controllable luminaires with the ability to emit powerful light at the low end of the spectrum. LED fittings were the obvious choice, deemed capable of providing good biological efficacy even at low luminous levels. The luminaires used include a customised version of Erco’s Quintessence workplace fitting, with a colour temperature ranging from 2700K to 6500K and known for its low glare risk.

The lighting is managed by a Helvar control system that adjusts colour temperature to mimic natural daylight, producing a sequence of light colour changes that are synchronised with outdoor light. It can be managed on-site or remotely using a computer, tablet or smartphone.