Enhanced Passive Solar Design: Studies in Solar Design and Human Health
Spitnale, Brian Douglas
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Passive solar strategies have been present in architectural design for a long time. Basic concepts such as south facing openings to capture winter sunlight had been understood since ancient times and came about as a necessity to heat and cool a building with modern day mechanical systems. Over time, architects began to recognize the importance of sunlight and fresh air as primary concerns of design. Much of this understanding began to take place through practices originally implemented as a means for aiding in human recovery from disease. Sanatoriums began to emerge in the early 1900's, providing groundbreaking design strategies that incorporated natural sunlight and exposure to fresh air as means for recovery. At the time, these design strategies were not fully recognized for their ability to aid in a building's energy usage but were primarily focused on human health. These early projects still functioned exceptionally well for their time and many still function today. Unfortunately, while these projects were starting to break ground in solar design practices, the invention of forced air heating and cooling was starting to work its way into buildings. Petrochemical heating and cooling quickly became the standard for how buildings would operate. Over time, the primary focus of design began to stray away from traditional methods of passive design in favor of the simpler implementation of mechanical HVAC systems. Over the past decade, there has been a shift in architectural design with a much stronger focus on sustainability. As research is being done into climate change and the negative affects it has had on our planet, architects have come to understand how important the role of the building plays in the world ecosystem. Buildings account for roughly 40% of human energy consumption, with the major share of this energy use being focused on heating and cooling. Passive designs are so important because they can begin to cut into this energy usage, and in some case even reduce it entirely through net zero projects. The architect has near complete control over the passive design of a building because the passive solar strategies are inherently "built in" to the building through its site orientation, formal strategies, and shading. It is the responsibility of the architect to consider these factors. It is important, however, that passive strategies do not overlook human health and productivity. Human sensitivity to thermal and lighting conditions is equally as important as the building's energy performance. Humans are very sensitive to light conditions, an idea expressed early on in the sanatorium movement. Access to natural light aids in human health, benefiting a multitude of anatomical systems. It also aids in mental health, aiding in creativity, emotional well-being, and focus. The lighting conditions of a building affect our natural circadian rhythm on a daily basis. Combining ideas of passive solar design in terms of energy use and human health, this thesis hopes to create ideal conditions for the building and its inhabitants by optimizing building and human performance.
General Audience Abstract
Passive design strategies are those that are inherent to the design of the building. Window shades, building orientation, materialliity, are just some of the examples of factors that go into passive design. Passive design is where architects can have the greatest control, simply due to the fact the design of the building is performative in itself. These strategies use the sun to aid with natural heating, cooling, and lighting, which is a much more sustainable practice than traditional mechanical systems. Passive design has been used dating back to ancient times. Greek towns were typically planned with large courtyards oreinted to the south to capture sunlight. Ancient adobes were carved into the side of south facing cliffs to capture the warmth of the sun. This thesis expands upon these traditional strategies with the use of modern knowledge and technologies. This thesis takes concepts of passive solar design a step further by introducing concepts that can promote human health and productivity. Humans have evolved to live in cooperation with the sun. We have natural rhythms that allow our bodies and minds to be in tune with the rising and setting sun. In addition to natural cycles over the course of the day, we are uniquely in tune with qualities of light. We interpret light as intensity and temperature, both which combine to produce a "quality" to the light. These different qualities are better suited for different activity, whether that be relaxing, focused work, or gathering. With a passive design project that is focused so heavily on the sun, it was important to consider how this would affect the inhabitants of the building. By combining sustainable passive design strategies with concepts surround human health and productivity, this project outlines a method for design that can inspire public works to pay attention to detail when planning spaces. Through careful consideration of site specific climate data and its connection to not only building performance but human well-being, this thesis project provides a new form of thinking for solar design.
- Masters Theses