Spending time in and observing nature has always been important to me. I think Henry David Thoreau’s writing has greatly influenced or reinforced the way I see the world. Perhaps that is why fell in love with Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideas and buildings. There are so many lessons to be learned by studying how Frank Lloyd Wright integrated his buildings with Nature. Isn’t integrating buildings with Nature the objective of Sustainable or Green Design? If it isn’t, it should be. There are so many ideas today about Green Architecture and what constitutes a green building. Much of the conversation is about materials, mechanical systems and energy conservation. What about space? The architects of the last century focused on spatial design and created free flowing open spaces. What constitutes a Green Space? I am convinced that by thoughtfully designing and organizing spaces that relate to the solar and seasonal cycles we can make buildings greener as well as enhance the quality of existence for users of the building. Whether we like it or not buildings interact with nature and natural energy flow. We can make use of this energy or we can ignore it. If its ignored there can be detrimental impacts on a building and its users. Examples of results could be overheated spaces that require cooling by mechanical means or increased use of lighting systems-all which increase fossil fuel consumption. If architects think hard enough and carefully configure spaces in buildings, better use can be made of the free heat and light provided by the sun. People often complain about the quality of light given off by compact fluorescent and LED bulbs. The sun’s light, whether direct or diffuse, is preferred. There is something mystical about the sun and its light; it is essential to our survival. Many great architectural works take advantage and make use of the sun’s light. The Gothic Cathedrals, spiritually, suck in large quantities of daylight and tint it using amazing pieces of stained glass. Using daylight to accentuate architectural form was a standard theme in the architecture of the modernist. The daylight was as essential as the materials from which the buildings were built. I studied this topic in depth during my graduate studies and wrote a thesis entitled “An Architectural Exploration of the Solar and Seasonal Cycles.” I continue to try and integrate the ideas I studied years ago into my work today because I think this is a way to both make spaces more uplifting for the inhabitants and “green up” the building, without adding any fancy bells and whistles.
Excerpt From My Thesis:
Planning spaces in response to the solar and seasonal cycles requires basic assumptions about users, the time period in which the space will be occupied and the activities that will take place in the spaces. Assumptions about the appropriate lighting and thermal conditions required by humans influence the spatial strategies. Different regions of the earth have varying solar conditions; this ultimately changes what the user requirements are. Site conditions further complicate the issue and make it difficult to establish steadfast rules.
Orientation is the alignment of a building with respect to the cardinal points. There are many ways in which a building can be oriented. A building’s orientation can greatly influence the organization placement of interior spaces and the way in which the faces of the building need to be treated. Victor and Aladar Olgyay have done extensive research on building orientation and the resulting lighting and thermal conditions that result from varying orientation in different climates. The diagrams included here are based on some of the Olgyays’ studies. While the diagrams simplify the Olgyay studies, they demonstrate how a building can be oriented to block or receive incoming solar radiation.
This strategy involves combining or grouping spaces according to daylighting and thermal characteristics required by the activity that will take place in these spaces. In the book Sun, Wind and Light by G.Z. Brown, the author provides various solar organizational strategies and expands on them with examples.
This strategy requires placing or situating a space based on the thermal and daylighting characteristics of the activities that will take place. Positioning is about the specific location of a given space with respect to the overall spatial composition.
AN EXAMPLE OF ORGANIZATION AND POSITION:
The Lloyd Lewis House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, located in Libertyville, Illinois demonstrates solar responsive organizational and positioning strategies.
The house is long on the east-west axis and has a southern exposure. Looking specifically at the second level, Wright groups the bedrooms, situating them on the southeast end of the building. This allows light to enter during the morning hours signifying the start of a new day.
He positions the dinning room in the southwestern section of the building. This space receives the late afternoon sunlight in the winter, spring and fall. Since this space serves its primary purpose in the late afternoon and evening, its position allows it to be illuminated by incoming solar radiation. He positions the sanctuary in the northeastern portion of the building. If this space receives any direct sunlight it is in the late afternoon during the summer months. Ambient lighting would be prevalent in this space and it can be assumed that this space would tend to be cooler than the other spaces on the 2nd level. These conditions represent what a person would want to find in sanctuary or a place of refuge.
It is disappointing to me to see architectural plans that don’t have a North arrow. Even firms that claim to be Green will forget this detail. Missing this detail reveals so much. If you don’t label where North is, you probably aren’t paying attention to which side of your building is facing north and to what spaces are grouped along the North walls. If you don’t pay attention to your building’s orientation then your are not paying attention to Nature’s primary energy source. Your building won’t integrate with Nature. If you are creating a new building, at this point you failed. I don’t think it matters how efficient a mechanical system, how over-insulated your envelop is or what renewable materials you are using. If your building doesn’t integrate with Nature, how can it be Green?