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Designing for Natural Light
Forensically accurate sun studies
Posted on August 1, 2023 @ 5:42PM

One of the first things we do with a new project is build a detailed and accurate three dimensional computer model of the land and its physical features from a survey. The survey work is usually completed using both a laser theodolite and satellite GPS data. The topographic model created from this data is calibrated with the specific altitude, latitude, and longitude of its physical location on the planet.

This computer model becomes the context for all subsequent design work completed in the virtual world of 3D computer modeling. We create and explore the early conceptual models there, as well as the increasingly refined versions of the project as it advances through the development process we think of as design. This makes the creation of architecture that is gracefully wed to the landscape far easier to achieve, and simultaneously helps us design projects that are more cost effective to construct, less costly to heat and cool, and more comfortable and enjoyable to be in. We use an array of computer programs that take advantage of the existence of a topographic model with a specific site location to generate forensically accurate sun studies throughout the design process. We can rapidly and accurately explore what sunlight will be doing at a specific time of day and day of the year, so the architecture can be developed with that knowledge. 

This project demonstrates how south facing doors and windows are effectively shaded in the summer, but in the winter will admit the sun to flood the interiors with natural light and warmth. We will amplify that seasonal shift with the landscape design, which will include deciduous trees placed to create summer shade but allow sunlight to pass through bare branches in the winter. The placement of these trees will also be studied in the computer model to maximize this benefit.

Author: Sam Rodell

Sam has practiced as an award winning architect for forty years, and has also built many of his clients' projects.  He is licensed throughout most of the western USA and Canada, and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) which expedites registration in other states and provinces. He was the first Certified Passive House Consultant architect in eastern Washington and northern Idaho.