Design Should Strive To Capture Sunlight

Whether you’re basking in its glow or simply stealing a few rays to brighten your day, we’re all naturally drawn to the sun. Take a stroll down Lonsdale Street after a prolonged period of rain and you’ll experience it first hand. We all want sunlight. We need it. Why is it then that so many homes fail to capture it?

The position of the sun in the sky is determined by the time of day, the season and the particular location you’re situated at. In northern latitudes, facing south means facing the sun. It rises in the east and sets in the west. We all know this but we often fail to translate this understanding into a meaningful expression when it comes to our homes.
When approaching the layout for a new house an architect will start determining the lighting requirements for given spaces in plan and will then group these spaces to best take advantage of natural light. It might be the lazy rays of morning for a breakfast nook or the smoldering glow of a sunset in a dining area but the understanding of what light will affect what space is a critical first step in the thinking of room placement.

As a general rule rooms like the library and den require less light than do the kitchen and living areas. Morning light is best utilized by morning activity areas like change rooms and en-suites while afternoon and evening light better services zones that buzz later in the day. Simple ideas but important ones.

Technology has given us the ability to create functioning spaces even when we ignore our natural environment but invariably we loose something in the process. The intensity and spectrum of colour in sunlight can’t be matched by artificial light. We innately sense daily and seasonal changes through the light of the sun. The long, cool rays of a winter’s afternoon can never be confused with the sharp brilliance of a mid-summer day.

Once the rooms have been roughly located in plan, the architect begins to consider how natural light will illuminate the spaces within. Light coming from two directions is always the ideal. This might be from windows on adjacent walls or from a window wall and skylight above but having light wash over an object from two directions adds a vividness to it and enhances its three dimensionality in space. Using wall and ceiling surfaces as reflectors can also create interesting and appealing lighting options. A clerestory can be a wonderful way of bringing additional light throughout house.

With sunlight comes warmth. Incorporating well designed overhangs on a house can block out the unwanted, near-vertical rays of summer while still allowing the warming glow of a winter sun to make its way deep into the home.

Everything seen in space is perceived and understood through the light that falls upon it. The quality of this light adds to the comprehension of what we’re looking at and affects our feelings for it. It’s easy to see why natural light is an essential aspect of any well designed home.