Designing architectural structures go way beyond aesthetics; architecture is a practice that involves a lot of planning and analysis in order to achieve both form and function. Designing a structure should embed itself seamlessly with the built environment, and should react in a desirable manner with respect to the elements.
Diving deep into the concepts of solar orientation, sun path, and shadow analysis will help you create the best design choices for a building you will soon construct. With the help of technology, we are now able to create a real-life simulation of a structure with accurate geographical mapping, analyzing how a building reacts to the sun’s movement along the horizon during a specific time and day of the year.
Each site has a unique solar orientation. The positioning of a building or space in relation to cardinal directions, and more importantly the sun's path, is known as solar orientation. Generally speaking, solar orientation refers to how your building faces the sun, with respect to its’ actual geographic coordinates during a specific time of the year.
An in-depth study of your house or building’s solar orientation can bring a lot of advantages. Knowing how to play with your architecture’s form with respect to its’s solar orientation can help you maximize the benefits brought by how the sun is positioned at a specific time of day, and how it reacts when shadows are cast.
Day arc, or sun path, refers to the arc-like path that the Sun appears to follow across the sky as it travels from one sunrise to the next. It is affected by the seasons and daily rotation of planet Earth.
Using a sun path diagram, you can predict how much sunlight will influence a specific building throughout the year. Stereographic sun path diagrams can be used to estimate the solar azimuth and altitude for a given location. It is an essential tool that can help you predict the impact of the sun on your site or building.
The use of stereographic sun path diagrams is essential in mapping out your site’s sun path. Through this, you will be able to assess the location of the sun with respect to your building during different times of the day, and various days of the year.
The idea of a sun path diagram is to capture the most important solar information, making it easy for anyone to understand. The sight of a well-made sun path diagram makes an immediate visual impression. It invites you to study it, and spend more time absorbing the information. A good diagram gives you instant insight into the general pattern that the sun follows in a given place throughout the year.
The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Its position in the sky can be described by its altitude and azimuth (direction). The altitude is how high or low the sun appears in the sky. Zero degrees is when it appears to be on the horizon; 90 degrees is when it's directly overhead. The azimuth is wherein the horizon the sun appears to be rising, measured relative to true north.
Altitude and Azimuth are numerical values expressed in degrees. These describe the exact position of the sun given a specific day and time of the year.
The summer sun is often located at a higher angle with respect to the ground’s horizontal plane. In contrast, the winter sun moves at a lower angle. Knowing the difference is beneficial when designing and planning buildings within an area with both summer and winter.
Through different architectural elements, you can maximize heat gain during the winter months, and minimize heat gain during the summer months. All of these can be made possible through careful analysis of your building’s sun path.
An architectural shadow diagram shows how shadows move throughout the day. You can use the shadow diagram to see where shadows will fall, and how they will move over time.
A shadow diagram presents a visual picture of how the proposed development could cast its shadow. It shows shadows on sensitive areas, such as public spaces, communal amenity areas, traditional and arterial main streets and residential private outdoor amenity areas. In addition to the shadow diagram, any potential impacts identified in the shadow analysis should be mitigated.
Solar Orientation, Sun Path, and Shadow Diagrams work hand in hand in analyzing your site. Architecture is not purely aesthetics; there is a lot of analysis concerning the built environment and the natural features around it. These can all be achieved through analyzing the natural environment and how it responds to architecture, and vice versa. Through these, concepts on solar orientation, sun path, and shadow diagrams come into play.
Shadow diagrams create a visual representation that presents sun path data that can be understood and appreciated by the human eye. Creating shadow diagrams makes it easier for people to see how sun path data directly affects a structure and the environment around it. It creates an accurate representation of how the sun moves with respect to a building, helping users to make wise design choices.
Areas that receive less sunlight tend to be cold and damp inviting mold and mildew to grow on the surface. Without the harsh UV rays to kill these microorganisms, areas cast under a shadow all-year-round tend to be high maintenance in terms of ridding surfaces of mold and mildew growth.
Problems usually arise in landscaping yards that have shadows cast over them year-round. Most grass species do not grow without sunlight. Identifying outdoor areas that are cast by shadows can help you make smart decisions regarding the type of vegetation you will be adding to your landscaping work.
It helps knowing where your shadows lie, to give you an idea of which areas of a building may feel damp and humid all year round. Dampness in rooms contributes to what is called a “sick building syndrome”. Knowing this will help you make wise design choices that will help introduce natural ventilation in these cold and damp areas of your structure.
Preventing or Maximizing heat gain is important when designing any structure. Through a shadow and solar analysis, you can identify parts of your house that receives sunlight the most. With this, you will be able to revise your plan or design accordingly, to introduce measures that will minimize or maximize heat gain in certain areas of your home.
Knowing how the summer and winter sun affects your building is a crucial facet in planning your building. These can contribute a lot to your architectural design solutions that can either minimize or maximize heat gain, for the occupant’s benefit.
Glass-clad facades are a popular and desirable design solution. Despite its’ popularity, it poses a headache to those who are not well aware of the concepts on solar orientation, sun path, and shadow analysis. One tip is to avoid glass and glazing in areas that face the morning sun and the hot afternoon sun. It’s much more desirable to position glass windows in the shaded parts of your structure because it maximizes natural lighting and illumination while preventing possible heat gain.
Knowing which sides of your house are exposed to the sun can help you orient your rooms properly. In areas of your building facing the sun directly, you can incorporate various architectural solutions. Thicker insulation, narrow windows, are some of the ways you can combat heat gain.
On the other hand, rooms that are oriented towards your building’s shadow can take advantage of the cool air and absence of heat from the sun.
A building’s energy and environmental performance can be enhanced by passive solar design and by ensuring that it has access to sunlight and a pleasant microclimate. Analyzing concepts on sun path and shadows can help you plan a passive building, with fewer carbon emissions. As we all know, artificial cooling and heating methods create a high energy demand in structures. By planning to minimize artificial methods, you are contributing to the earth’s sustainability efforts.
Solar panels are an expensive investment that can either make or break you. Positioning solar panels can be tricky because there is an ideal orientation to install these, based on your building’s solar orientation.
Knowing where your shadows are can help you avoid positioning your solar panels in areas where they will not be of use. In order to maximize your solar panel’s efficacy, you need to orient it towards the region where it can receive as much sunlight as possible. You can do this by mapping out your building’s sun path and analyzing its shadows. It’s also crucial to map out the environment that directly affects your building. Adjacent structures, trees, and major landforms are crucial when creating a shadow analysis. Shadows from these elements may contribute to your solar panel’s efficacy.
There are a lot of case studies that could support the lack and absence of shadow analyses creating lawsuits ending as nightmares. The fact is this: the presence of a new building can shift an area’s microclimate dramatically. May it be caused by overcast shadows, or extreme glare caused by the sun’s rays hitting a building’s surface, one thing is for sure: analyzing how your structure responds to various environmental stimuli can save you from expensive lawsuits in the future.
In most cities and townships, they would require the developer to submit a shadow analysis of its’ project. May it be a large skyscraper, a mid-rise building, or a planned unit development, a shadow analysis helps you determine possible cases of overshadowing, even before a project is built.
It is a known fact not to rely on paint swatches alone. The truth is, lighting in a specific area contributes to the vibrance of color. Your house facade may render differently at noon, compared to sundown. Mapping out your sun path and creating a shadow analysis can help you make wise decisions on the paint colors and materials you will be using inside and outside your structure.
In knowing how the sun moves with respect to your building, you can make wise decisions regarding the materials you will be using in your project. For starters, you would want to avoid using brick or any porous material as cladding in shaded parts of your house because that would invite the growth of moss. Similarly, you would want to avoid the use of highly reflective materials in parts of your home that directly faces the sun.
Making wise material choices go far beyond aesthetics. Choosing the right materials to go with your structure’s design contributes a lot in terms of functionality and maintenance. Making the best possible decision in terms of cladding and other architectural materials can be made possible by analyzing your site.