Our Approach: The Benefits and Methods of Maximizing Natural Light
The importance of sun modeling is expressed quite often when we present the bodies of work that Jesse has developed. Today we wanted to offer some insight into the methodology behind this practice. Behind every 3D visualization you see our firm develop there is a sun model that tracks the suns path, allowing us to design around its positioning. Sun studies are an essential aspect of designing a home, as they help to determine the amount of sunlight that a home will receive throughout the day, as well as the direction and intensity of that sunlight. This information can have a significant impact on the design of the home and its interior spaces, as well as the energy efficiency and comfort of the home.
While there are several methods of completing sun studies, Jesse utilizes a combination of both observation of sun paths in the early phases of the design process, alongside sophisticated computer generated sun models in theater phases. Typically, this first approach of observing the sun would be used to determine the suns rough position at different times of day in order to aid in the creation of the floor plans that are optimized to harness natural light in each room based on the average highest time of use. In later phases we rely on the above-mentioned highly technical sun models that our software aids us in plotting, taking into consideration not only room positions, but window sizes, energy efficiency data, and exactly how much natural light is going to flood each space on an hourly basis!
Benefits of Completing Sun Studies:
- Optimizing the Home to Harness Natural Light: Sun studies allow you to determine the suns location at different times of day. By understanding the locations of the sun on an hourly basis, we are able to place each room strategically to harness natural light based on the average time of highest use. The result is that this approach inevitably shapes the floor plans of the home, and it is for this reason that we believe that no two designs can be copied. Having this information available also helps to determine the best placement for windows, and skylights. By knowing the direction and intensity of sunlight, designers can place windows and skylights in the most advantageous locations to maximize the amount of natural light entering the home at different times of day in its “in between” phases of the day to draw natural light into hard to reach areas. This can reduce the reliance on artificial lighting, resulting in improved energy efficiency and a more comfortable and inviting living environment.
- Views of the Home at Different Times of Day: By understanding the suns position during the day, we are also able to utilize our computer generated sun models to understand how shadows created by surrounding trees, buildings, and exterior protrusions such as covered porches will impact the initial sun paths we designed around. Of course, for vanity’s sake, we are also able to use this software to see what the design will look like at different times of day. From there, we are able to plot our exterior garden lighting to highlight specific trees at night, as well as wall washers and spot lights on the structure to highlight specific architectural details, further accentuating the environment we create at night.
- Improved Energy Efficiency: Sun studies can provide important information about the amount of sunlight that a home will receive throughout the day, which can help to determine the most energy-efficient orientation for the home. For example, by knowing where the sun will shine the brightest, designers can determine the best placement for windows and shading devices to reduce the amount of heat gain in the home, resulting in reduced energy costs for heating and cooling. The information from sun studies can also be used to design passive solar heating and cooling systems, which can help to further improve energy efficiency in the home.
- Improved Comfort: Sun studies can help to determine the best placement for shading devices, such as awnings and overhangs, which can improve the comfort of interior spaces by reducing overheating and glare from the sun. By knowing the direction and intensity of sunlight, designers can place shading devices in the most advantageous locations to reduce the amount of heat and glare entering the home. This can result in a more comfortable living environment, with reduced need for air conditioning and reduced eye strain from glare.
- Better Planning Capabilities: Sun studies can help to determine the best placement for windows, shading devices, and other elements of the home’s design. By knowing the direction and intensity of sunlight, designers can place windows and shading devices in the most advantageous locations, resulting in a more aesthetically pleasing and functional design. Sun studies can also be used to design outdoor spaces, such as patios and gardens, to ensure that they receive the desired amount of sunlight. This information can be used to create outdoor spaces that are comfortable, functional, and attractive, providing an enjoyable living environment for homeowners.
- The Impacts of Shadows Cast by Your Structure on Neighbouring Homes: While this may seem to be an unusual thought to consider through the design process, we see it all the time where neighbourly relations become strained as a result of the perceived impact of the new design on the natural light currently being harnessed by a neighbouring home. By completing a detailed sun study that takes both our clients, and their neighbours homes into consideration, we are often able to help all parties involved understand the impacts. The result is typically that knowledge of the approximate reduction in natural light harness is far less than originally anticipated, allowing for a far less tense approval process.
Combining sun study methods of observing the sun’s position with computer generated sun studies has numerous benefits that enhance the accuracy and effectiveness of sun analysis. Sun studies are a crucial tool for designers, engineers, and interior designers to ensure that homes are designed to optimize natural light and minimize heat gain.
The traditional method of observing the sun’s position involves manually tracking the sun’s movement and recording its position at specific times of the day. This method provides valuable information about the sun’s behavior and can help identify areas of a home that are at risk of not receiving enough natural light. Alternatively, this process aids in determining the areas of the home that could be susceptible to excessive heat gain. However, this method is limited by the observer’s ability to accurately record the sun’s position and can be time-consuming. For this reason we almost strictly use this approach in the early phases of the floor plan sketches to lay out rooms in the approximate path of the sun based on the average highest time of use for that room. An example of this early phase sun study can be seen below
Computer generated sun studies, on the other hand, utilize computer software to simulate the sun’s position and behavior. This method is much faster and more accurate than manual observations, as the software takes into account the latitude, longitude, and time of year to produce a more detailed analysis. Additionally, computer generated sun studies can simulate the sun’s position at different times of the day and year, allowing for a more comprehensive analysis of a home’s sun exposure. An example of our computer generated sun model can be seen below
Combining the traditional method of observing the sun’s position with computer generated sun studies provides the best of both worlds. The manual observations provide valuable data that can be used to validate the accuracy of the computer generated results. This also provides an opportunity to fine-tune the software to better match the observed sun behavior. This combined method also provides a more comprehensive analysis, as you get to see a photorealistic confirmation of your previous hypothesis when designing with far more access to technical data!
By undertaking this process of creating sun models, our firm is also able to utilize these same exercises through the interior design process to provide even more granular feedback on the amount of natural light that can be harnessed into each space. Of course, high quality interior visualization tools help the imagination greatly in a few other categories at this phase of the design process. We have also provided an example of this below:
Another great example of the accuracy of our 3D visualization tools is the view of the staircase to the second floor from the main floor hallway at our Mediterranean Beach House. This area was a particularly challenging area of the home when it came to making it bright for more than four hours of the day, while still maintaining a wall in the middle of the home for sound proofing and privacy purposes. Part of the solution was utilizing these models to determine the impact of the skylight above the stairwell. The result was ideal and so we moved forward with the skylight placement in our design. See an example below:
However, a simple skylight isn’t the only trick Jesse has up his sleeve. No, there are far more creative ways to harness natural light from one area to another. One of our favorite examples of this is depicted in a photo of one of Jesse’s sketches below, where a garden was placed between the office and dining room of our Mediterranean Beach house. The result is that regardless if the sun is at the front or back of the home, the windows reciprocate natural light into both spaces as well as the main floor hallway (as seen above in the photo below), and the second floor hallway (not depicted here).
Of course, the garden offers a unique connection to nature in both spaces as well, improving the overall aesthetics of every space connected to this feature significantly. 3D models of this feature in the dining room of the home can be seen below.
Famous Designers and Their Relationship With The Sun
Many renowned designers have utilized sun studies to enhance their designs and create energy-efficient, comfortable, and aesthetically pleasing homes. Here are a few specific examples of how sun studies were used by each designer to improve their design:
- Frank Lloyd Wright: Frank Lloyd Wright’s innovative use of natural light in his buildings is well-known, and he utilized sun studies in the design of several of his homes, such as the Robie House in Chicago. He placed windows and skylights in strategic locations based on the results of sun studies, maximizing the amount of natural light entering the building.
- Louis Kahn: Louis Kahn used sun studies in the design of several of his buildings, such as the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, to determine the best placement for windows and shading devices. He believed that the quality of light was just as important as the quantity, and sun studies helped him balance light and shadow in his buildings.
- Renzo Piano: Renzo Piano is known for his attention to detail and use of natural light in his buildings, such as The Shard in London. Sun studies were an important part of his design process, as he used them to determine the best placement for windows and shading devices to take full advantage of the sun’s energy and light.
- Richard Neutra: Richard Neutra utilized sun studies in the design of several of his buildings, such as the Kaufmann House in Palm Springs. He was focused on energy efficiency and used sun studies to determine the best placement for windows and shading devices. This helped him create buildings that were responsive to the climate and context of the site, and took full advantage of the sun’s energy and light.
Historic Origins of Sun Studies
Of course, sun studies were used in historic design practices far before any of these renowned designers picked up a pen! Sun studies have been used in design practices for centuries, with ancient civilizations utilizing the sun’s path to align their homes and create optimal living conditions. In modern times, designers continue to use sun studies as a key tool in designing energy-efficient, comfortable, and aesthetically pleasing home.
The use of sun studies in design can be traced back to ancient civilizations such as the Greeks and Romans, who utilized the sun’s path to align their homes and create optimal living conditions. The Greeks, for example, designed their homes to maximize the amount of light and warmth entering the structure during the winter months, and to minimize the amount of direct sunlight entering the structure during the summer months.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, designers began to use sun studies more systematically to determine the best placement for windows, skylights, and shading devices in their homes. Some of the different methods of completing sun studies are listed here.
Different Types of Sun Studies
- This was one of the earliest methods used for completing sun studies, and involved observing the sun’s path over a period of time and marking its position at different times of the day and year. Ancient civilizations, such as the Greeks and Romans, used this method to align their buildings and create optimal living conditions. By observing the sun’s path, they were able to design homes that maximized the amount of light and warmth entering the building during the winter months and minimized the amount of direct sunlight entering the building during the summer months.
- Sundials: In the 19th century, designers began to use sundials to complete sun studies. A sundial is a device that uses the sun’s shadow to determine the time of day, and designers used this device to study the sun’s path and understand how it affected their designs. Sundials allowed designers to make accurate observations of the sun’s path, and to use that information to design buildings that were responsive to the climate and context of the site.
- Heliodons: A heliodon is a device that simulates the sun’s path and allows designers to study the sun’s effect on their designs at different times of the day and year. This method was used by designers in the 19th and 20th centuries to design buildings that took full advantage of the sun’s energy and light. By using a heliodon, designers could see how their designs would be affected by the sun’s path at different times of the day and year, and make adjustments accordingly.
- Photography: In the 20th century, designers began to use photography to complete sun studies. This involved taking photographs of the sun’s path at different times of the day and year, and analyzing the results to determine the best placement for windows, skylights, and shading devices. Photography allowed designers to make accurate observations of the sun’s path and understand its effect on their designs, and was an important tool in the design process.
- Computer Programs: With the advent of computer technology in the latter half of the 20th century, designers gained access to sophisticated computer programs that made completing sun studies much easier. Today, designers use a variety of software programs, such as Radiance, Ecotect, and SketchUp, to complete sun studies and understand the sun’s effect on their designs. These programs allow designers to complete sun studies quickly and accurately, and to analyze the results in a matter of minutes. Computer programs also allow designers to make virtual observations of the sun’s path, and to see how their designs would be affected by the sun’s path at different times of the day and year.
In conclusion, combining sun study methods of observing the sun’s position with computer generated sun studies provides numerous benefits that enhance the accuracy and effectiveness of sun analysis. This combination provides a more comprehensive analysis, reduces the margin of error, and saves time and effort compared to using only one method. As technology continues to advance, it is likely that the use of computer generated sun studies will become increasingly widespread, and the benefits of combining traditional methods with computer analysis will become even more pronounced. We believe that this can only benefit the design world as adoption of the practice grows, as natural light being harnessed into the home has a wealth of benefits to the quality of each space, and the end users enjoyment of the spaces we create for them.