The importance of orientation in a building must be considered at the outset, when the architect is planning the location of the building on the site, the aim being to ensure the maximum availability of useful natural light and sunlight to the interior.
There may of course be severe restrictions where the building is set into a rigid street pattern, or where there are severe external obstructions; but even in these circumstances the best use of the daylighting available should be considered. The architect will have the greatest flexibility to get the building orientation right on a greenfield site, where he can plan the site layout to take advantage of the sun path and the availability of the daylight.
Taking an example from residential buildings in the northern hemisphere, and using the simple fact that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, it would be normal to ensure that those rooms which might benefit most from early morning light, such as a kitchen, morning room or even bedrooms, are placed on the east side, whilst those more likely to be used in the afternoon or evening such as living rooms face south or west.
There will of course be debate about the desirability of selecting a specific orientation for a particular use of room and it will be up to the architect to discuss this with his client, and there may also be conflict with the orientation of a room when associated with the ability to enjoy a particular view.
As with all architecture a compromise will need to be established which best fits the needs of the interior function. What is essential is that the orientation of a building and the interior layout takes most advantage of the daylight available and is a factor taken into consideration at the outset of the building design.
Each architectural programme whether an office, school or church, will have its own specific needs of orientation, and this is of special significance where the interior function is one requiring the inhabitants to sit in fixed positions, often the case in offices or classrooms.
Another aspect of orientation and one where the mere presence of daylighting is reassuring, is the subconscious desire of people when inside a building to keep in touch with the outside world, whether to know the time of day or the nature of the weather. An example of this might be taken from the modern shopping centre. The Victorians had got it right when they introduced overhead daylighting from domes or barrel vaults to their shopping arcades. But in the 1960s many of our early shopping centres cut out daylight altogether, leading to people finding it difficult to negotiate their way around or to find the exits.
In one large shopping centre built in Hong Kong in the 1970s where daylight had been eliminated, visitors felt so disorientated that extreme measures had to be taken; whilst at City Plaza, another shopping centre of similar size where daylight had been provided over much of the multistorey space, it was an immediate success.
There is little likelihood that any shopping centre built now would not be daylit, there is a public demand for natural light in large open areas used by the public during the day and whilst the individual shop may be lit with artificial light to enhance the goods on sale, the public areas will assist orientation by the provision of daylight. At night the whole atmosphere will change, contributing to the variety we associate with the high street shop with artificial light taking over after dark.
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