Architectural Design Process | Form, Orientation and Sunlight

Hey, Eric here with 30 by 40 Design Workshop,
I wanted to talk about how architects use the Sun to influence their designs, but rather
than speak in generalities, I wanted to use a detail from a project to show you how it
works in practice. Before we get into the detail you’ll need
a little background. One of the most responsible things you can
do as an architect is to listen and that, for me, always begins with the site: the climate,
geography, wind patterns, and of course, the Sun. Architecture is nothing without light and
it’s perhaps the most important organizing force for our work. It’s usually where I start my site analysis,
by diagramming the path of the Sun as an overlay on the site plan, and I’ll get into the specifics
on how I do this in a minute. The predominant solar orientation – where
the most direct sunlight comes from – here in the northern hemisphere, is the south. So, the more of our building that can face
south the more efficiently we’re able to capture and use the Sun for natural light, and passive
heating, and even cooling as we’ll see in a minute. This approach not only saves energy reducing
lighting, heating, and cooling costs, but it’s also better for our own health and well-being. For this project, the lot was sloping and
rather long with the neighboring residents close by to the north. The views to the ocean were all off to the
east. With an east facing site like this you’re
faced with a dilemma: do you orient the long axis of the building north and south to give
the client the view of the ocean they requested – from every room – or, do you deny the
water view in favor of a more sensible solar aspect? Truthfully, I wanted it both ways. The solution I designed divided the program
into public and private wings, each oriented with their long axes east and west as you
can see here in the site plan. This gave me the long flank of the building
to collect sunlight and I could still orient some of the most important spaces, the master
suite, the living room, and a guest suite, toward the water view. The, “every room has to have a view of the
ocean” is a common request where I practice; it’s one of the main draws of buying a piece
of waterfront property obviously. But, I always try to advocate for a deeper
exploration of the site and an interweaving of the architecture into the larger whole. This site has many other features to explore
in addition to the water view. By using the circulation to stitch the building
volumes together, I could continually change the perspective as my client moved throughout
their house and their day. Arriving home they would head east and then
south and then east again and this combined with a changing horizon line and sets of interior
steps, which mirrored the sloping site, this allowed each space to capture a different
perspective on the site. Now, let’s dig a little deeper on the impacts
of the Sun on this specific design solution. The plan is laid out as three linear bars
each stepping down with the topography toward the water. An initial approach might be to simply extrude
the bar and put a flat roof on it, but this is less dynamic it doesn’t really react to
the solar exposure in any specific way. But, by picking up the southern eave of the
roof like this and adding a glazed clerestory in the void this became a really efficient
device for letting in sunlight on the southern exposure. The higher you can locate a window on a wall,
the deeper it will admit daylight into the interior. As we look at the section you can see another
solar advantage of the shed roof, it allows daylight to pass by the roof form and reflect
off the taller northerly wing. Because the private wing contained a lot more
program than the public wing – five bedrooms, a laundry, a library, and a mudroom area – we
had to design it as a two-story volume. The site analysis made it clear that placing
it to the northerly edge of the site would confer a number of advantages, it blocked
the views to the neighboring residence, it served as a wind block from the harsh northerly
winds on the site, and if we made it two stories tall we could use it to help bounce light
back to the northerly face of the living wing as you can see here. So, I’d encourage you to think about a diverse
range of uses when it comes to sunlight and how it interacts with your architecture. How can you exploit it understanding that
buildings can absorb, block, filter, consume, store, and reflect sunlight? Alright, now that you’re up to speed on the
larger design moves it’s finally time for the details. Clerestories efficiently daylight interior
spaces as we’ve said, but along with all that natural light comes solar radiation too, which
can quickly overheat spaces and make them uncomfortable, which is just the opposite
of what we’re trying to do with our design. And, here’s where the details matter. To control the light and heat on southern
exposures you’ll predominantly want to be considering horizontal elements for screening,
that’s because the Sun moves from a low altitude in the winter to a high one in the summer. Horizontal objects act like the brim of a
hat to shade the building and it’s the high angle Sun that presents the most danger for
overheating while the low angle Sun is good for us here in a cold climate, we want to
let in the winter Sun and use it to offset our heating costs. Horizontal elements can include an overhang,
a sunshade, awnings, screens, louvers, or brise soleil. Because our design was so linear,horizontal
louvers seemed the most appropriate. Now, we could have just matched the coursing
on the siding and called it good but there’s more to it than that. The spacing and depth of the horizontal louvers
can be tuned to your exact geographic location. Why not, right? This is where the Sun charts come in handy. Now, a lot of people have been asking about
these and I’ll quickly show you how they work. There are essentially four dates in the calendar
year that you care about when considering the Sun’s impact on your architecture. The solstices in December and June are the
points when the Sun is at its extreme arc, either high or low, and then there’s the equinoxes
in March and September, these are the midway – sort of transition – points between the
two extremes. To design the depth and spacing of the louver
blades you’ll want to know the altitude of the Sun at solar noon for each of the four
important dates. In this cold climate we can take advantage
of the lower angle of the winter Sun for passive solar heating and our design can keep the
higher angle hotter sunlight out in the summer. Now, there’s a really fantastic podcast by
the Australian architect Amelia Lee called the Undercover Architect and she does a deep
dive on this topic – I think it’s something like a six-part series – which covers each
different exposure and how you might treat it with your architecture how that impacts
design. Now, she’s got her North’s and South’s all
flipped around because, well, she’s Australian. But seriously, it’s really well done you need
to follow her if you’re not already. Links are in the description below. Okay, next step is to take these angles and
plot these values on your drawing. Remember the angle is above 0 degrees which
is – for our purposes – the horizon. So, naturally 90 degrees would be straight
overhead. So, here in Maine it’s something a lot less
than 90 degrees. Okay, so these are our values for the important
calendar dates and given these angles I start with some basic assumptions about my louver
design and then I begin tweaking as necessary to get the intended effect. Now, you can use SketchUp or Revit and I really
like the app Sunseeker and the real-time augmented reality especially for renovations. These tools will all help you study and understand
Sun angles much more quickly – and perhaps intuitively – than sketching it out by hand. But, for details like these I find sketching
to be the most tactile and enjoyable way to design. Now, here’s what we ended up with for our
design and you can see that it balances admitting ample winter Sun and blocking out the high
angle summer Sun. The rest of the year I tried to balance it
out and there’s some bit of magic between the spacing, material efficiencies, and the
depth of the louvers, and for that you’ll just have to play around with it to get it
right. The more materially efficient you can be,
the less expensive the Sun shading system will be to construct. Now, there are a lot of other ways we could
have done this including addressing it from the inside, but the most efficient way to
keep the overheating and glare issues from becoming a problem inside is to keep the Sun
from striking the glass in the first place and that means an external solution. Now, the last thing I’ll mention about the
solar design here is that passively heating spaces this way, it allows you to take advantage
of the stack effect too if you add operable windows up high as we did in our clerestory. As the interior air heats up and rises and
we open the upper windows it sets up a natural convective flow; exhausting warmer stale air
up high and admitting cooler fresh air down low. All the resources I used and mentioned in
this video are in the description below. I hope this helped explain some of the design
opportunities the Sun can provide. The data contained in solar charts are immensely
useful and pretty easy to divine when you know what you’re looking for. Smash that like button below if this has helped
you in any way, it tells me you stick around to the end and I so appreciate that! Be sure to follow me on Instagram for drawings,
sketches, and studio process images, if you’re not already. Cheers my friends, we’ll see you again next


  • 30X40 Design Workshop

    Try the pen I'm using:

  • Ayan Barua


  • Rodney Cromartie

    great solar mapping climate anticipation applicable thx s.

  • Rajiv Kurryah

    that was useful.

  • phillip wilson grande

    This is very helpful <3

  • MySchizo Buddy

    But now the roof is completely wrong for solar panels. For solar panels the roof should be titled towards south not towards north.


    excellent explanation with very helpful illustrations!

  • Elrond Burrell

    Always happy to โ€œsmash the like buttonโ€ for you my friend. ๐Ÿ˜€ Beautiful house & great job on the video – as always.

  • John Wiemeyer

    Exceptional video Eric

  • Saffron Maverick

    Excellent Stuff. Thanks Eric

  • Tristan Selwyn White

    Amazing videos! As an architecture student, these videos have guided me through so many design projects! Thumbs up!

  • Alexander Escobell


  • dnyaneshwar padule

    Thanks from India

  • Lisa Little

    It drives me crazy to see new tract homes in housing developments plopped down willy-nilly without any consideration for sun exposure. You end up with south exterior walls with one tiny window or none at all.

  • Jasmin C

    I appreciate all the resources you give for us students, potential architects! I really do. WOW. Thank YOU ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿป

  • vinolin moodley

    I'm a computer science major, what am I doing here๐Ÿ˜‚……jokes aside though, you make awesome content , have you considered doing a architecture basics course?

  • Ion Josan

    Might sound stupid, but do architects have to draw water pipes, electric circuits, etc. I just wonder because if you do, then I feel bad for skyscraper architects.

  • Blerim Leskovica

    Probably the best architectural video on YouTube!

  • David Cordero

    Hey Eric! I got a question I hope you can help me out with this. I'm trying to achieve a sense of lightness on a 5 stories building I'm working on for my sophomore year. Any suggestions on how to achieve that?

  • jan rab

    Could you please make a video about the way you make your projects in the computer, I mean how to make professional looking plans in autocad, just the way your plans and your site plans.
    Keep this going I LOVE your work, you inspire us architecture students ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ™

  • Albert Shoulette

    Very Helpful, cheers my friend!!!!

  • 412miumiu

    I learned more about sun mapping from this video than I learned in 4 years at design school, thank you so much!

  • fredy gump

    I am a bit skeptical about the importance of this solar orientation. I understand that there needs to be parameters to guide design, because without constraints, possibilities are endless. But I don't see why this is good. Example is sitting in a booth at a restaurant, next to a giant plate glass window. And the sun is shining in. Is this good? To most people it is to be avoided, because having the sun in your eyes is unpleasant. So we have blinds to block the sun… But why is sun orientation important when we then block the sun? I think indirect light is much better, and north windows allow plenty of light.

  • ้ซ˜ๅฎ‡้น

    thank you so much! its really helpful for 1st year student like me!!

  • Jorge Gomez

    How do you represent this "path" on the diagram you provide with your AutoCAD template? Do you change the 'sun' location besides the angles?

  • khin thazin

    Could you share the app for sun orientation.

  • kobe navarro

    how do you determine the wind directions in a site analysis

  • Salma Atef Ghanim

    this is amazing thank you it helped a lot!

  • NAFSAL nzR


  • Hallie Chen

    Incredible video, thank you!

  • Ciaran O'Callaghan

    Great Video. I'm learning a lot of this stuff in school now and this is helpful. By the way, can you recommend any other good architecture podcasts?

  • Ajay Angre

    Great to watch you explain the details in Structural designing how it works.

  • jessica kennedy

    you're awesome dude

  • mhmt bdr

    Hi Eric Can I ask something?When I open Sunseeker , app shows elevation value negative

  • King Isaac

    wow this is really useful

  • Tanvi Kargutkar

    could u plz make a viseo on HOW TO EVOLVE PLANS IN RESPECT TO THE SHAPE OF THE SITE?

  • Draw Technic

    I wish I had run into your channel 6 years ago, its really too good! Thanks for all your info

  • Ryan Reyes

    *images by studio gang

  • Alexander Aitan

    Indeed, Very useful educational videos, please keep making them! Thanks much!

  • Zeppy OntheRoad

    ohhhh man…. I have enrolled at uni this year… and your videos have been so helpfull.
    i really enjoy your approach. i am confident to say that i've been learning more from your videos than from some of my teachers.

    i really really really appreciate.

    god bless you bro!

  • Anna Elizabete Ostosova

    This is very helpful! Thanks a lot!

  • fwapcom

    Am I the only one who HATES light from the south and west? My ideal home would be oriented so that all the rooms have north facing windows. I'd keep the south and west windows to an absolute minimum.

    Light from the south and west is so intrusive and harsh. I've been living in a condo that has all the windows at 240 degrees. It's great in the morning, but awful the rest of the day. When are we home trying to enjoy our home? Late afternoon and evening, which means we have to have our blinds completely shut. Otherwise, the heat and the glare is unbearable. We can't watch TV, can't even sit on the couch.

    Maybe I'm weird, but I hate that direct light from the south that moves across the floor/room. The diffuse northern light is far superior.

  • Chris Perry

    Love your channel. Please keep the videos coming.

  • heat flux

    Is it possible to make a carrier if you're very good in architectural visualisation without architecture degree ? is it possible to find a job in architecturing private companies and maintain a career focusing on this archviz field ? I mean architects could always use someone to build a model out of the autocad file, to texture it and render it ?

  • eyouel haile

    Am in the equator but thought me a lot thanks

  • Kajal Doshi

    ๐Ÿ™Œ๐Ÿป๐Ÿ™Œ๐Ÿป๐Ÿ™Œ๐Ÿป๐Ÿ™Œ๐Ÿปty soo much

  • Munawar Sayyed

    Great Knowledge Eric!!

  • music cliche

    Dude I'm in the mids of consuming all my energy designing meaning I came to a point where I couldn't draw inspiration to create new concept and rather doing cliche stuffs like copying from other previous projects. This video just rejuvenate my mind and fill my inspiration tank. Thanks for people like you man. I'm an architect like you. I just subscribed

  • Philip Crosscup

    Hello, thanks for this, I am studying for my last ARE exam, I watch videos from all over in my studies, funny to see this one/you are not to far away, I am in Bath.

  • Cari

    Is it expensive to study architecture? Like can we also get scholarships for this career?

  • HIGH

    This minecraft thing is getting out of hand

  • J.Jarvis

    Woow… I learned so much on this video.. unreal thanks for sharing this information!! sub forsure

  • Jared Abrahamian

    Hey do you possibly know of a cheaper/free sun seeker. Iโ€™m just using it for this highschool project

  • pablo jimenez

    well done, I like to consider connectivity with nature, such as water and landscapes….actually, I like to start from the landscape elements: the water, the sun, the wind, the soil, the biome

  • Ermias Dejene

    i wish i had known this all while i was at grad school but the best is yet to come so i will keep on looking such an inspiring and motivating and something that push toward the righteous path and by the way ur an amazing architect who are disciplined and knows what to do keep up the good work!!!

  • Senali Gayara

    you are always great.. thank you for doing such great videos

  • Morten Andersen

    This was amazing, very nice knowledge to have, and an app like that is gold… Thanks maestro! ๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿค˜

  • lusayo mwalilino

    Hi, just a quick question, if the sun rises from the east and sets in the west how is it that in that part of the globe the most sunlight comes from the south?

  • hafis Rh

    The kerala south India is in North atmosphere. But it is nearer to center line, then sun light comes from north or south…

  • Rajeev Kamalasanan

    Awesome video. Loved it

  • student arch

    Could you do a video about breezes and wind usage?

  • reign hard

    I was gonna save the video for later because it was 10mins long. but I was mesmerized and watched the entire thing.

  • Princess Yonna

    I want to be a architect, designer , realtor when I grow up but i can only pick one but I want to be all three

  • Violette Mukasugira

    Active solar energy

  • esther kiruba

    Thank u so much for this video. As someone who works in the studio with students, I fee sharing a video like this with them, will give them a broader perspective on designing climate responsive buildings. Thanks.

  • Aybige Tek

    Thank you my dear, loved this, appreciated!

  • Sonia Vivo Sarria

    Amazing! Very easy explained ๐Ÿ™‚

  • HayaSweden


  • banjo099

    Light is the most sophisticated feature of the plan, and it's never easy. How little amount of light can reach far distances, and too much can have a dull effect. Overheating of the sun comes from cheap building materials.

  • Gauri Shrivastava

    Thank you so much! Helped a lot!

  • Vitor Vieira

    pls take me as your intern

  • Nimah Alyami

    Your the best man

  • Dangermania

    do a design for a tropical climate

  • Dangermania

    do a design for a tropical climate

  • Dangermania

    do a design for a tropical climate

  • Natacha Correia

    thank you so much for sharing your knowledge ๐Ÿ˜€

  • FlowerChild

    thank youuu

  • music cliche

    How do you encorporate aesthetic in your design? Is it more important than function? How do you balance form and function? Do you sometimes choose between the two?

  • Maya Ravel

    thank you

  • Joey

    very cool vid!


    hope i could work as you do some day, good video

  • dazai osamu

    I am grateful to see this, thank you Sir. (ฯƒโ‰งโ–ฝโ‰ฆ)ฯƒ


    Thank you again for remind how to get sunlight to the projects.!! We love to work using sunlight in our projects!! we love natural light!!

  • Jobayed Mohammed nasim

    Thank You.

  • Jm Quimio

    Am i the only kid in here?

  • Muishรฉ 98

    Thank you for sharing ur knowledge with us sir..A big salute from SriLanka ๐Ÿ™Œ

  • DeviilReaper

    I like the design, and finding ways to get direct sunlight into the spaces, but here where we are very close to the equator – we want to always min. the solar radiation to cut costs on cooling as about 9 months of the year some degree of cooling is needed. Some ways we go around this is by allowing double to triple glazed windows to face north, and try to have a white surface reflect light into the space(s) – this reduces direct solar gains, and allows more light to penetrate the interior.

  • deL Guzman


  • Natasha Lindner

    North and South are flipped around between Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere, listen to the accent and you will work out where they are from.

  • Julius Voo

    what the actual . . . . Man the knowledge imparted is simple and deeply resounding. much thanks for sharing, and creation of these insightful videos. From a landscape-r perspective

  • Cadag Henneryrose

    This is a great video! Thank you!

  • Shaimaa Henna

    great ^_^

  • Hastin Nuraini


  • Charles Smart

    As an old, retired, mechanical engineer, may I say that this is the most interesting architectural design video on YouTube. I'll look for more on this project.

  • Christian Macasa

    Orientation of the sun… Now i know. As 2nd year student of Architecture your vlog helps me to find and design better.

  • Amit Rakshe

    I am from india i shud have watched your videos earlier, regret ing now

  • Lori Shuler

    How much do you make annually?

  • jomsart

    Thank you. Not an architect but im designing my own home.

  • WorldFamous Gamer

    hey sir i wrote some questions did you get them?

  • Alexander Graterol

    Cool great class


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