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Arizona's Outdoor Lightscapes


Agreat landscape lighting design is one of those creations that can turn even the most dreary facade into a wonder of color and movement. Have you ever visited a home that was dramatically lit, only to return in the daytime to something less than what was expected? Effective lighting can emphasize architectural features and draw attention to visual attractions, articulating a property's outstanding qualities and connecting complementary elements while de-emphasizing obtrusive ones.

The importance of appropriate lighting is nothing new of course. Even the ancients understood the power of lighting. Indeed, one of philosophy's most intriguing metaphors, Socrates' cave allegory, describes the play of light and shadow on man's sense of perception. The story depicts a group of men who are chained to the wall of a cave while the silhouettes of different objects are paraded before them on an opposing wall of the cave, cast by the glow of an eternal fire. The men argue and debate the respective qualities of each silhouette, giving opinions on the aesthetic and moral attributes of each image as they pass into and out of view.

The moral of the story is that our notion of reality is merely a fleeting shadow of a more perfect world. In this respect, the lighting designer is the master of illusion, invisibly creating silhouettes to tantalize and gratify our senses. He is the magician of the landscaping profession, subtly revealing and then disguising the environment with slight of hand and misdirection.

The SaguaroPetite is a long life halogen lamp designed for narrow planters. The lamp mount is adjustable to allow the installer to fine tune the beam spread for maximum projection with a minimum of glare.

Berghoff Design Group

Jeff Berghoff and Jonathan Hille of Berghoff Design Group, are one of the few specialists in the field of lighting design. BDG is responsible for rigging some of the largest projects in the most exclusive communities of Arizona and is the largest exterior lighting company in the Phoenix area with over 15,000 fixtures installed.

BDG has made a major investment of time researching lamps and fixtures. Approximately 70 percent of BDG's installations are made with products from FX Luminaire. The San Diego manufacturer of lighting fixtures has gained prominence for making a durable and reliable product. BDG particularly favors the serviceability of its products and is the number one purchaser of the company's products.

Perhaps the best feature of its products, according to Berghoff, is that "you don't need tools to make adjustments." Bulbs are easily changed and adjustments can be made without the use of an alan wrench or a screw driver. When it comes to regular bi-annual or quarterly maintenance, easy inspection and repair is critical, especially on a property with upwards of 2,000 fixtures.

BDG has used these fixtures to great effect in its desertscapes by using innovative lighting techniques that it has developed over years of working in the desert environment. One of the techniques that lighting contractors might be interested in learning about is how they treat the subject of the Saguaro cactus.

 The FX Luminaire ReflectorSpot is a micro luminaire that provides the power and control of the halogen MR-16 lamp family. Through the use of an O-ring hydraulic compression cap seal, potentially troublesome threads and screws are eliminated. The ReflectorSpot accommodates 20 different lamps ranging from 20-50 watts with a variety of beam spreads.

Perhaps no living creature is more symbolic of a landscape than the saguaro. Particularly in the Western half of the United States, the saguaro is a potent reminder of this region's pioneering history and the fearless individuals who found both fortune and calamity in the arid lands of the "Great American Desert". Like the settlers who braved this unforgiving land, the saguaro represents the triumph of life against adversity. The saguaro provides shelter and sanctuary for the many creatures that rely on it for protection from the fierce environment that alternately sears and freezes the landscape. It might even be described as the Winston Churchill of the plant world, raising a familiar victory sign to the seemingly insurmountable forces arrayed against it.

In Arizona, where the name of the game is low impact, non-invasive landscapes, the saguaro finds itself the focal point of many a scene.

Jonathan Hille and his crew have a found a unique way of displaying the saguaro that emphasizes its strength and implicit beauty. The technique involves placing a lamp at the bottom of the plant to illuminate the first third of the trunk. Then, using another MR-16 halogen fixture approximately 8 feet back from the base, the upper portion of the saguaro is accentuated, making its 15 to 28 foot length appear lithe and supple.

The LunaSonora micro-size down light is specifically designed to create a moonlight effect from very small caliper trees such as those found in the Desert States. A unique telescoping body allows the installer to adjust the beam spread from 15 to 180 degrees.

"Sometimes it's not what you light, it's what you don't light," commented Berghoff. This deceptively simple solution to lighting one of Arizona's most prolific monuments is just one of the many ideas that BDG has developed as a response to the environment.

Another common visual attractor in the desert are the many boulders that are strewn across the landscape. Boulders ranging in size from soccer balls to minivans are scattered throughout the entire region offering a unique challenge to rock climbers and landscapers alike.

Using glass filters or "dichromics", BDG alters the color of these rocks, changing their appearance to a warm golden hue. The advantage of these filters is that they don't require colored lenses typical of the do-it-yourself models with their interchangeable plastic covers. Instead, the clear glass filters remove specific frequencies that have a tendency of washing out or bleaching the target of interest. The result is an enriched realistic look that preserves its true color for a more authentic and intense visual experience.

The PX Transformer from FX Luminaire is fabricated from heavy guage stainless steel and is available in 300 or 600 watt capacities. The transformer also offers a variety of switching options including: manual, timer, photocell and timer/photocel

Though BDG has developed unique ways of accenting the indigenous flora and geology of Arizona, Berghoff argues that what his company accomplishes goes beyond mere accents and highlights.

"We wire scenes of light," says Hille. "We look at all the different zones and qualities." His repertoire includes everything from soft moonlighting and stroll modes, to accents, architecture lighting, fountains and party extravaganzas.

As compared to many contractors who put all of their lights on the same line with little differentiation, BDG uses an array of computer control systems to create a variety of moods.

Berghoff explains that his customers are a sophisticated clientele who appreciate the subtleties that BDG creates in the visual field by contrasting different textures and colors. After all, says Berghoff, "They live in the desert because they want to see the stars." At night Arizonan's come alive. Emerging from their air conditioned homes into the warm evening air, residents engage in a lifestyle that finds its greatest expression in outdoor living. The whole concept is dark sky. In fact, there are strict ordinances in the Paradise Valley community of Scottsdale, which expressly forbids overhead lighting on streets and public access ways. This effects how lights are positioned and determines how fixtures are shielded in specific locations like entryways. The idea of lighting an estate like a birthday cake would be out of the question for the subdued and reserved taste cultivated by BDG. Glare free fixtures like FX Luminaire's LunaSonora are ideal for this space because they can be adjusted with a beam spread of 15 to 180 degrees and can be mounted 12' off the ground or as close as 2' without creating a "hot" center beam pattern.

Underneath It All

As important as choosing the right fixture can be, and deciding the balance between zones of activity and areas of visual silence, Hille describes the installations below ground as taking precedence over all.

"The best infrastructure is what is important. We put an incredible amount of systems in the ground. Landscapers don't understand the repercussions of what happens with lighting," he says. "They don't figure the voltage loss. They use a thin guage wire and put a succession of fixtures on the same line. The first lamp is bright but the last one is dim."

An example of technology that compensates for improperly installed wiring is FX Luminaire's PX Transformer. The transformer supplies halogen lamps with a constant non-fluctuating voltage current to prevent premature lamp burnout. Available in 300 or 600 watt capacities with a variety of control options, the enclosure is fabricated from heavy guage stainless steel for long life in corrosive exterior locations.

Frequently, Hille and his crews are called in to replace the fixtures at sites wired by other contractors. Almost inevitably, when they inspect the system they find that it's not the fixtures but the electrical system that needs replacing. In the dry Arizona climate, fixtures can last as long as 15 or 20 years. However, improperly made wire connections can corrode rapidly and overloaded wiring will never do justice to the above ground fireworks, no matter how new or expensive they may be. That is why BDG has developed a proprietary gel connection that is completely impermeable to water. Having witnessed, first hand, how water can literally suck the silicon grease out of certain brands of connectors, Hille and his team created a connector that will last. Don't look for this item in stores, however. The innovative connector design is only available to customers of BDG.

Toward A Sustainable Future

A growing population of retirees continue to expatriate themselves from California and the MidWest, opening up sprawling developments which reach ever further into the virgin Arizona desert. As water resources are stretched near to capacity it will be the task of the Landscape Architect to find new ways of beautifying the landscape that relies on native plants rather than wasteful lawns and English-style gardens. The artistry of the lighting designer will be one of the key ingredients in satisfying peoples' desire for visual drama while preserving the desert's most precious commodity. LCM

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December 14, 2019, 8:33 am PDT

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