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Daylighting on the Brain

February 7, 2011


Oh the irony!  It figures I would write a post about finding a healthy balance between life and work, only to find myself four weeks later mired in a state of 24/7 school work. With the limited free time I have right now, though, I wanted to briefly post an update about the things I am learning about at Parsons this semester, because it is really fascinating work that deserves to be shared.

This semester in the Parsons MFA Lighting Design program is all about daylighting.  Yes, we are learning spells to control the movement of the sun and the clouds with our magic wands.  It’s really not that difficult … it’s just Quidditch practice takes up so much of my free time that I can’t keep up with all the homework!

But I digress … Parsons, alas, is no Hogwarts.

Daylighting, briefly, is actually the use of natural lighting (from the sun or from the sky itself) to light the interiors of buildings, saving energy and improving the quality of the indoor environment.  It involves the study of the movement of the sun in relationship to a building in order to maximize the natural light available inside it, through the use of strategically placed windows, skylights, etc.  It’s the exact opposite of our area of study last semester, which was artificial, electric lighting.

Let me present an example to clarify:

"kroon hall" daylighting lighting design green sustainability leed architecture

Kroon Hall at Yale University in New Haven is an example of a recently completed project (in 2009) that was designed to maximize daylighting.  Notice how, in this photo, the building is completely bathed in sunlight — this is because the architects (smartly) oriented the building on an East-West axis on the Yale campus.  The positioning of the building drenches the building (and the 100kW solar array visible on the roof here) in sun throughout most of the year, minimizing the need to use the electric lighting on the interior of the building and creating a pleasant environment inside.  Interior photos offer an even more dramatic illustration of the capabilities of the daylighting design of this building.

"kroon hall" daylighting lighting design green sustainability leed architecture

Here, on the fourth floor, the long East-West skylight allows direct sunlight into the building and the stairwells below, negating the need to use the electric lighting (which is turned off in this photo) for most of the day.

Daylighting design is really a fascinating topic, but it’s ten times more complex than it might appear on the surface.  The complexity lies in the amount of scientific data that needs to be analyzed in order to effectively design a daylit building.  Let me offer an example of one of my recent small projects as an illustration:

daylighting lighting design green sustainability architecture

In this project we are analyzed the daylight available to a room in the Parsons building (visible here as the small yellow area inside the large purple building in the center of the image) as if the room had no front window or ceiling.  Here’s a closeup of the room:

In order to find out what times of the year direct sun is available to the room we created a virtual 3D model of the city (and the room) in a computer program, then inserted it at the proper longitude and latitude on the Earth to analyze the path of the sun around it.

daylighting lighting design green sustainability architecture

This diagram, generated by the computer program, allows us to see exactly what times of the year a point in the room will be in the shadow of other surrounding buildings (hence it’s name: an overshadowing diagram).  The blue lines indicate the path of the sun, from sunrise to sunset, at every day of the year.

daylighting lighting design green sustainability architecture

This diagram, called an illuminance grid, allows us to see exactly how much light would fall on the floor of the room at a given date and time.  This diagram, for example, represents the light available on February 17th at 3:30PM in the afternoon.

insolation daylighting lighting design green sustainability architecture

Finally, this diagram allows us to see how much radiant heat from the sun will penetrate into the building at a given date and time, allowing us to analyze how our design will impact the need for cooling/heating systems in the building.

These are just a few examples of some of the types of data that we have been asked to analyze in our first two weeks of this semester.  Of course, there is a lot more where this came from, but more news about that in another post.

I’m really excited to learn more about this new area, especially since I know so little about it.  Our professors really know their stuff, though, so we’re in good hands.  It’s exciting to be on the cutting edge of building design since sustainability and environmental responsibility are becoming such important factors in our lives today. Hopefully, with this knowledge, we will eventually be able to design zero-energy buildings that are both highly sustainable and pleasant to live and work in.

Now off to lighting studio to work on my daylighting design for my next project!


One Comment

  1. Stacy #
    February 7, 2011

    Yay, you’re back (I was going through “Ryan” withdrawal) and with another incredibly interesting post! The synergy of computer technology and lighting design is so powerful, and what can be accomplished by joining the two is phenomenal! This is a far cry from theatrical lighting, but it sure sounds like you’re enjoying your foray into daylighting. Keep up the great work. We all appreciate your taking the time to share your insights!

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