Benefits of a lighting advocate: Meet Chicago Lightworks

Oct. 17, 2023
When designers have a specific or unique challenge on hand, they can seek help from lighting agencies with expertise in product sourcing.

For straightforward lighting schemes, lighting designers typically have the wherewithal to specify and source their own solutions. But sometimes they have a creative or atypical solution and can’t find the right product to bring their design to life.

This is where Chicago Lightworks comes in.

Representing more than 110 lighting product lines, the firm agency has the latest products and technologies at its fingertips to help designers find that unicorn they’re looking for.

Building and nurturing relationships with both manufacturers and lighting specifiers, the group often goes that extra mile to bring a successful project to the finish line.

For example, on a recent pair of high-profile projects for a high-profile specifier, the designer discovered shadowing and LED diode imaging in the lens of the linear fixtures on the first project.

Managing principal Julie Blankenheim explains that her team was able to facilitate the factory changing the design flaw in the fixture for the second project and replacing some of the installations on the first project.

A great example of a successful two-way street, the lighting manufacturer was responsive to Chicago Lightworks request and the lighting designer trusted CLW to fix the situation, in lieu of pulling the product out of the second project.

In a similar vein, the company can find the right person at the manufacturers they rep to help push an order through.

“With these supply chain challenges, you need to partner with your reps,” Blankenheim says. “We can help drill down to find the right people at the factories to make your project a priority, if possible, or suggest an alternative. We are truly gratified when we can save a project in the midst of the current climate.”

The line card

To stay abreast of advancements and changes in the products that Lightworks represents, team members are assigned as champions for the different companies on their line card. “We lean on each other to cover all of our lines everything,” Blankenheim explains.

As a successful company with many connections in the industry, Chicago Lightworks is approached by manufacturers asking to rep their lines on a weekly basis. But the agency will only take on a line that they believe then can actively and enthusiastically sell.

In addition, Chicago Lightworks’ dance card is already quite full and will only consider a new manufacturer if it has a product that provides a solution that CLW customers need and that the agency doesn’t already have. If the product passes that filter, an evaluation is made regarding whether the product’s addition will enhance their line card. Finally, the lighting manufacturer is vetted to determine if it is a company with which Chicago Lightworks is interested in working and if it will be a true partner.

Fast-growing service

Since opening its doors in 2017, the company has rapidly grown from 19 to 54 people, working on high-profile projects like the O’Hare Terminal 5 Extension and re-lighting the Willis Tower spires with Color Kinetics technology.

For O’Hare’s T5 extension, more than 300,00 square feet of new space was added. The gently raised ceiling creates a signature vaulted space that welcomes natural light and offers views across the airfield toward the Chicago skyline. Lighting design firm Schuler Shook worked closely with the design team at HOK and Muller and Muller to design a timeless, functional and clean aesthetic with small aperture downlights and hidden sources. Schuler Shook trusted Chicago Lightworks and their brands to help provide the products to achieve this.

Prior to the Willis Tower spires upgrade, the process of changing out the antenna light color involved a four-hour process of manually placing color filters over every light on the 109th and 110th floors. The Willis Tower spires, which are actually HD TV antennas, are 294 feet, 5 inches and 290 feet, 7 inches in height with 12-inch-diameter cylindrical bases. With the Color Kinetics fixtures, there are now 102 individually adjustable optics mounted on the 109th and 110th floor roofs. The lighting can easily be controlled wirelessly via the Willis website with a smart phone or tablet, or by computer on site.

“Driving east on Interstate 290, the Willis Tower appears in the middle of your view. At night, the spires are lit and you can see them from miles away,” Blankenheim shares. “To know that our team played a part in that lighting experience—and in connecting people to the bigger picture of Chicago and how people experience light—is extremely gratifying.”

This article appeared in the September 2022 issue of Architectural SSL magazine.

About the Author

Barbara Horwitz-Bennett

Barbara Horwitz-Bennett has more than 25 years as a trade press journalist and writer in the building and construction industry. Her articles regularly appear in several leading architectural publications. 

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