Solar Zoning Legislation

The idea of solar access is not new. It was practiced by the ancient Greeks and Romans during the classical periods as well as by other cultures at various times and in various places around the globe. In the United States, Native Americans valued solar access, as evidenced in the layered architecture of the pueblos of the American southwest. Formally speaking, however, and until the mid-nineteenth century, solar rights in the United States tended to be protected through the doctrine of Ancient Lights, which emanated from the Prescription Act of 1832, a British law that prevented a landowner from obstructing the sunlight of an adjoining landowner who had enjoyed uninterrupted sunlight through a window for twenty years. If a landowner had gained the right to Ancient Lights, the owner of the adjoining land could not obscure them by erecting a new building. If the neighbor did so, he or she could be sued under a clause of nuisance.

A more formal interpretation of solar zoning evolved from the concept of the solar envelope (Knowles, 1980; Smith, 1983) by which the form of a building is determined in relation to its ability to let sunshine into the street (Figure 2.1). This type of legislation is dictated by local socio-economic, cultural, and political forces and is addressed by local authorities, not only from one country to another but from one municipality to another or even from areas within a given municipality. Such legislation generally impacted building bulks, heights, and set-backs from property lines.

Solar zoning legislation in the United States is rooted in the 1916 Zoning Ordinance of New York City (New York City Department of City Planning, 2004), one of the first cities to document provisions for solar access. The case of New York City was unique because of the huge demand for land in Manhattan. In the early 1900s, with the advent of steel technology accompanied by the high cost of land in Manhattan, many developers maximized the use of the land they owned by building tall and massive buildings. Many such buildings were built in this period by large corporations as advertising symbols of power and corporate image. At this point, the need for height and bulk regulations for larger buildings became a pressing issue for residents and politicians alike. The decision to regulate became final in 1915 with

Building Envelope
Figure 2.1 The sun angles defining the building envelope within which the building structure is contained.

44 Daylighting, Architecture and Health: Building Design Strategies

Figure 2.2 The Equitable Life Assurance building in New York City built in 1915, Ernest R. Graham & Associates (courtesy of Scott Murphy).

the completion of the Equitable Life Assurance building in lower Manhattan (Figure 2.2). Prior to its construction, many opposed this 40-story 1.4 million square foot building that covered an entire city block. Their efforts failed to stop the construction of this massive building that cast a permanent shadow over much of the financial district.

The Equitable building caused considerable public outcry. People became more conscious of the importance of sunlight in their daily lives as connections were made between epidemics such as rickets and tuberculosis and the lack of sunlight in the working and living environment. The issue of air and light became a health issue and was expressed as the 'inalienable right to air and light.' These concerns led to the

Figure 2.3 Sky exposure from street level based on the concept of how much of the sky is available from the street (courtesy of Dreamstime).

1916 zoning ordinance that covered three major areas, each of which depended on the 'sky exposure plane' (Figure 2.3), a concept based on the angle from the center of the street to the top of the building (Figure 2.4). Because of formal requirements regarding the need for sun penetration and a view of the sky from the street, the trademark 'wedding cake' architecture of New York City came into being (Figures 2.5 and 2.6).

Figure 2.4 Set-back following a sun angle from the median along the street level.

The 1916 zoning ordinance was amended in 1961 and gave occupants access to light and air through the creation of publicly accessible exterior plazas (Kwartler and Masters, 1984). It also granted incentives to developers to provide these plazas in return for an added increment of floor area on their sites.

Solar zoning legislation varies from one country to another and is the outcome of cultural, economic, and social forces. In Japan, for instance, such legislation relates to public health, safety, and welfare and recognizes the need to protect the environment and to preserve limited natural resources (Miller, 1976). Access to the sun in Japan is hardly a modern issue. As early as the Tokugawa period (1600 to 1868), owners of trees paid kage-shiro, or 'shade-money,' to their neighbors if their trees shadowed the ridge of the neighbor's roof (Wigmore, 1971). A neighbor who planted a tree or built a tall structure would be required as a matter of social practice to pay a 'shade penalty' (kage-shik) as compensation for the obstruction of sunlight (Takagi, 1977-1978). Judicial recognition of a person's right to the sun did not, however, become a legal matter until the mid and late 1960s when the density of Japanese cities increased. Nissho-ken, the right to sunlight, is the term used to reflect the growing desire for the legal protection of solar rights.

Over the last four decades and particularly since the energy crisis of the 1970s, solar access in many countries has become the focus of political and legal discussion. It is

Wedding Cake Style Architecture
Figure 2.5 Wedding-cake style of building resulting from the 1916 zoning ordinance in New York City (courtesy of Scott Murphy).

an even more pertinent issue today as the world focuses on global warming, climate change, and the search for ways to lessen reliance on fossil fuels. These concerns, coupled with issues of health and well-being, make solar access an even more relevant and important area of public policy (Knowles, 1979).

Figure 2.6 Wedding-cake style of building resulting from the 1916 zoning ordinance in New York City (courtesy of Dreamstime).
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