Soaking in the rays of the rising Sun that emerges from behind the horizon of the Bay of Bengal is a memory most cherish. Many Indians across the spectrum seek an experience of the first rays of the sun that reaches us in the new year. As we greet 2016, I reflect upon the importance of the Sun in an Indo-centric approach to sustainablility.
For thousands of years, ancient civilisations have revered the sun. Indians hold the Sun as the energy source of all life itself and many offer the daily Surya Namaskar as a morning ritual that invokes mindfulness, health and an all-pervasive connection to our environment. As an architect and designer of sustainability, I have adapted and evolved my own notion of the Surya Namaskar, to invoke the most potent celestial force among us, as I embark on every design thinking adventure!
I always begin with a Solar Study, to analyse the daily and annual movement of the sun across the horizon. This enables Indo-centric space design by capturing sustainable outcomes through massing, building orientation, sustainable design elements and defining optimal ways to harness solar power installations to reduce the carbon footprint of the building. Shadows are a powerful aesthetic element in my tool box.
The shadows of the timeless Brihadeeswara Temple are a case study of the engineering prowess that existed in ancient India. Ancient Indian cities dating back to the Indus Valley Civilisation had main streets running north-south and east-west and intersecting at right angles. There were clear cardinal points for each building site and every home systematically responded to the movement of the sun. This ensured the health of the occupants and enhanced their levels of Vitamin D, despite the higher latitudes.
With today’s technology we use the sun’s movement as a design parameter during the conceptual placement of every building on a site. The previous go-to tool for Architects was the Sun Path Diagram. These can tell you a lot about how the sun will impact your site and building throughout the year. Knowing the movement of the sun drives design decisions for harnessing natural heat and also, providing a shield when necessary.
The modern version of the Sun Path is a technology integrated Cylindrical Diagram, which is a software plug-in for design tools. The diagrams simulate the suns movement based on latitude and longitude.
Daylight is a reliable light source because sun movement is one of the most predictable among natural forces. It is important to recognise that daylight is very different from sunlight! Sunlight is the light that enters a space directly from the sun. This type of light is generally not ideal for an interior space as it can produce glare and excessive heat gain.
Daylight or skylight however is diffuse natural light from the sky and is the desirable type of light. Using daylight can be a key strategy for passive design elements.
Based on my own research in Spaciology and a growing body of evidence, we now know that staying connected to the sun ensures our wellbeing and provides a healthy living environment. By literally and figuratively letting the sun into our lives, we can address all aspects of holistic sustainability.
(The writer is an architect, urban designer, artist, dancer and chief designer at Shilpa Architects)