Daylight, urban density, and the role of regulation

If daylight guidelines were strategically implemented within building regulations, more naturally lit cities would evolve.

11/09/2016


If daylight guidelines were strategically implemented within building regulations, more naturally lit cities would evolve. Courtesy of: ArupFor many centuries, humans have designed buildings to make the best of the elements and resources around them: resisting the wind and the rain while taking advantage of the sun's heat and light. But in modern cities, design is driven by a more complex agenda, with a strong emphasis on commercial value, leading to cities full of taller, more densely packed buildings. I believe that if daylight guidelines were strategically implemented within building regulations, more naturally lit cities would evolve.

The tall glass and steel towers that dominate the skylines of New York, Hong Kong, Sao Paulo, or New Delhi not only often make poor use of daylight, but they also cause secondary issues. Strong wind effects are amplified by buildings' proximity and height, and overheating and overshadowing are other common problems. As a result, the job of urban planners has become more focused on mitigation of these problems, rather than applying regulations to work with and welcoming natural environmental factors.

Geometrically speaking, the more spread out a city is, in terms of lower building heights and greater distance between buildings, the more daylight can be harvested. Consequently, the more concentrated and dense a city is, the less daylight is available for its buildings and interiors.

Electric light has made this level of urban density possible. This pivotal invention has transformed the traditional rhythm of day and night building use, making interiors usable at any hour. Once artificial light became a mass commodity, buildings could become deeper and taller environments, leaving occupants further from windows. In the era of the light bulb, design seems to have lost sight of the beneficial role played by natural daylight.

But perhaps the 20th century's focus on highly populated buildings is no longer relevant. Modern technology, like email and video-conferencing, potentially reduces the need for high-density office environments. This raises the possibility that cities could embrace lower-rise buildings that make better use of natural light. And with improved natural daylight performance, buildings could also use the sun's power as an energy source.

The tools and technology to achieve these goals already exist. Today's parametric design practices allow the dynamic and interconnected aspects of a proposed design to be modeled and understood. This helps designers to incorporate natural daylight considerations relevant to the proposed location and orientation of a building, street, or site in ways never possible before.

I believe that with the right building regulations, a more strategic citywide approach to maximizing daylight could be taken. Vertical as well as horizontal surfaces (e.g., façades and rooftops) have a vital role to play. Regulatory encouragement for innovations like bio-reactive facades (where sunlight activates natural photosynthesis to provide power and heat) and solar panels would encourage building design that emphasizes natural daylight's value. This could change the visual experience of our cities dramatically in the coming decades.

-Paula Longato is lighting designer at Arup. This article originally appeared on Arup Thoughts. Arup is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Joy Chang, Digital Project Manager, CFE Media, jchang@cfemedia.com.



Consulting-Specifying Engineer's Product of the Year (POY) contest is the premier award for new products in the HVAC, fire, electrical, and...
Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine is dedicated to encouraging and recognizing the most talented young individuals...
The MEP Giants program lists the top mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering firms in the United States.
Exploring fire pumps and systems; Lighting energy codes; Salary survey; Changes to NFPA 20
How to use IPD; 2017 Commissioning Giants; CFDs and harmonic mitigation; Eight steps to determine plumbing system requirements
2017 MEP Giants; Mergers and acquisitions report; ASHRAE 62.1; LEED v4 updates and tips; Understanding overcurrent protection
Power system design for high-performance buildings; mitigating arc flash hazards
Transformers; Electrical system design; Selecting and sizing transformers; Grounded and ungrounded system design, Paralleling generator systems
Commissioning electrical systems; Designing emergency and standby generator systems; VFDs in high-performance buildings
As brand protection manager for Eaton’s Electrical Sector, Tom Grace oversees counterfeit awareness...
Amara Rozgus is chief editor and content manager of Consulting-Specifier Engineer magazine.
IEEE power industry experts bring their combined experience in the electrical power industry...
Michael Heinsdorf, P.E., LEED AP, CDT is an Engineering Specification Writer at ARCOM MasterSpec.
Automation Engineer; Wood Group
System Integrator; Cross Integrated Systems Group
Fire & Life Safety Engineer; Technip USA Inc.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me