Turn around; Face South (in the northern hemisphere)


To elaborate on the iFarm visit a few weeks ago, I wanted to get down some thoughts regarding site / siting / solar orientation in architecture. To many architects, this is certainly nothing new. To indigenous peoples, and indeed – the farmers mentioned in Thomas Hubka’s presentation at the open house – reiterated what had been a fundamental approach to siting your house / barn / building: orient it south. Most other considerations are secondary, and can be dealt with and accommodated in the design. Solar orientation is a simple science that has been around for eons. In North America cliff dwellers built into the side of canyons – facing south, with just the right ratio of overhanging ledge to vertical / exposed wall so as to create shade in the summer but direct access in the winter. So simple.

It’s why a number of farm houses, barns and workshops here in New England may appear somehow skewed in relationship to the street. They do not fall in line with the road, at times – they face south, and likely have trees to the north and northwest to shelter against the prevailing winter winds. Facing the “long side”, or side elevation – south – offers the biggest advantages in terms of daylight and passive heat gain, which most of the year is desired. Those few hot summer days it’s not hard to close the shutters on the sunny side and lay low until evening. Reducing exposure to the west with a smaller facade (i.e. gable end) keeps the worst of that summer heat gain, in the later afternoon – from being an issue.

Typical site analysis – IAIA Schematic Design – (done at Mazria Inc.)

What’s fantastic about this simple strategy now, in contemporary times – is that there are so many ways to tune this approach and crank out more performance – for free. Overhangs and light-shelves, sophisticated glazing and its high performance coatings make solar gain a lot easier to modulate and control than throwing open a window, pulling the shutters tight (leaving the louvers open for air flow, of course). Devices and strategies designed and oriented properly make it so one need not do a thing to block the suns heat in the summer and let it in when it’s desired; this is the very description of passive. There is no reason every single building does not start with this elemental approach. Designing the correct ratio of glazing to solid walls on all sides, super-insulating walls and roofs, and using high efficiency equipment (nothing exotic needed – just current code, or stretch-code compliant “energy star” equipment is fine) offer an astonishing reduction in energy use. Perhaps too many professionals take it for granted – or too many do not understand this – whatever the case may be there is simply no excuse to not employ these simple methods.