Building Lightning Safe Communities: an architect’s perspective

LPI is an authorized provider for the AIA Registered “Lightning Protection 101” Program, a Continuing Education Course that provides a review of safety standard-compliant lightning protection system design and application.

The Lightning Protection Institute is working to shine the spotlight on the lightning peril and expand its “building lightning safe communities” initiative through outreach efforts with mitigation-minded partners; including architects, engineers and risk-management stakeholders.

This month, LPI reached out to experts in the architecture community to get their thoughts about lightning and lightning protection. For our January blog, LPI is excited to share a few highlights from Kim Loehr’s  interview with a talented and engaging, innovator, Michael Lingerfelt.

Building Lightning Safe Communities: Architect Q&A  

Michael Lingerfelt, FAIA, LEED AP, President of Architecture and Design Lingerfelt International

As a registered architect with over 37 years of experience in design and project delivery, Michael Lingerfelt’s work has included architectural services for Marriott Hotels and Disney Theme Park Attractions. He is the former chair of the American Institute of Architects Disaster Assistance Committee, where he instructed over 1,800 architects, engineers, building officials, and inspectors as a California Emergency Management Agency Safety Assessment Program Trainer, and provided safety evaluations following hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, and floods. In 2012, Lingerfelt was named to the prestigious American Institute of Architects College of Fellows for his efforts in advocating that architects should serve the public surrounding a disaster.

Q. How familiar are you with lightning protection?

A. Having lived in central Florida, I’ve witnessed lightning’s power first-hand; including the time I experienced lightning striking six feet away from me at Animal Kingdom. The strike was so stunning; it left me deaf for a few hours! So when it comes to the built environment, I understand the role that lightning protection systems play and consider these systems to be a critical component for many architecture and engineering projects.   

Q. As an architect, what would you like to learn about lightning protection systems?

A. I’d like to understand more about the ‘rules of engagement’ for lightning protection design; what are the variables I can play with–without compromising safety requirements? When presented with a lightning protection plan, I’ve sometimes found myself thinking: there’s got to be a better way to troubleshoot design while still satisfying safety standard requirements. This is why it’s helpful to bring the lightning protection expert into the process early, so that it doesn’t look like an after thought.

Q. Are there design/building trends that you see where lightning protection can play an important role? 

A. Innovation in lightning protection design where components and elements are implemented as functional aspects of the structure are trends I’m seeing and encouraging. It’s great when elements of the lightning protection can be strategically placed to be made part of the construction. For example, it’s ideal when you can make the lightning protection spire part of the Milky Way for the Mission Space project, or when you can strategically implement flat metal plates as a design element of Tibetan culture prayer flags. These are a few design mannerisms I’ve helped replicate for Disney projects. Other exciting projects include the Animal Kingdom Expedition Everest, Hulk at Universal Roller coaster, the Orlando Eye on International Drive and the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom–all of which have incorporated lightning protection using unique, yet safety compliant methods. 

Q. Did you know that LPI provides an AIA registered Continuing Education course for architects? 

A. No, I did not, so I’d recommend work to get the word out to the state AIA chapters and their Allied members! Continuing education is a requirement of architecture license and vital to the health, safety, and welfare of the community. Since most architects look at lightning protection as part of the electrical engineer’s scope, the industry could be better served to convey that lightning protection doesn’t have to compromise the integrity of the designer. Safety is the message that needs to get out, so there’s a need to change the conversation–perhaps stress that lightning protection can be a design element and also play an important part in the function of the building.