Alex Coppock

The fundamentals of design: where the sun rises and sets

by 22nd Jun, 2018

The most successful changes to your space take into account the things you cannot change.

There are only a few things that cannot be changed, but they are all fundamental and your design needs to take the best advantage of them. It is our belief that putting the right things in the right places is generally not any more expensive than putting the wrong things in the wrong places, but the costs of getting them wrong are dramatic.

In this series of three articles, we’ll take a look at the fundamentals you cannot change and examine how to use them to their best advantage.

In this first article we look at making the most of the sun’s warmth and light.

“I love the sense of almost going into the outdoors out of the kitchen door into the gallery. I love the play of light out there. I love the quality of light that Communion has enabled in all parts of the new building. The quality of light here is magnificent and it’s been exaggerated in the new part.”
Communion Client

In our experience, if we can arrange the rooms on a site to take full advantage of the sun’s warmth and light, the spaces we create will be instantly successful. There are few things in life as glorious as sitting next to a window with the sun falling upon your skin. It is wonderful to wake in the morning, walk into the kitchen and watch the sun rise or be bathed in the early morning sun.

Equally, there is nothing quite so disappointing as having one of the principle rooms in any house devoid of light and warmth. We have often been to extensions or houses where no account of the sun’s position has been taken at all, and it is sad to think that once a building has been built, the cost of changing it is astronomical compared with getting it right in the first place.

Studies have shown that rooms with double or triple aspects regularly feature most highly in people’s favourite rooms. Other investigations looking at hospital beds have recorded that rate of recovery is much faster for beds that are associated with natural daylight and views.

For these reasons, when walking onto a site for the first time, our key consideration is where the sun rises and sets.

It is important to consider rooms that should be angled towards the morning light, such as kitchens and maybe bedrooms, and rooms that should have the advantage of afternoon and evening light, such as living rooms and dining rooms.

The position of the sun is also important when thinking about spaces that do not need to benefit from its rays. Utilitarian spaces such as cloakrooms or utility rooms do not need the advantage of direct sunlight. Some spaces, such as larders, actively need to be located away from the south facade of a building in order to maintain an even temperature.

This simple act of design is called orientation and it is vitally important in terms of sustainable design too. It is useful to have larger openings and windows on the south face of the building, but it can be very ineffective to have large areas of glazing on the north side of the building. Instead, these areas should be better insulated and have smaller openings.

It is often the case that there are constraints on a site, which may start to complicate issues. It may be that your house does not have the advantage of a south facing elevation or faces onto a street or rear garden. This can be an interesting design challenge. Considering how a design can be developed in order to bring light down into the spaces that do not have the simple advantage of being south facing can be used as a basis for creating really interesting pieces of architecture.