Digital Design Tools, designing with the SUN in mind

Being in Cyprus this summer, I was commissioned to renovate the house of my cousin in Emba, Paphos.


You can spot the plot on Google Earth (34°48’19.41″N, 32°25’59.57″E). I have to highlight that the weather gets extremely hot in Cyprus, especially in the summer with daytime temperatures reaching 40 °C. Being on the island during this period you quickly realize that the pace of life gets much slower than any other time of the year. Everybody wears sunglasses, air-conditioning units operate nonstop and between 11:00 ? 16:00 almost nobody (except tourists) walks on the streets. In Cyprus, as in any other place, one designs according to certain weather conditions. Sun is undoubtedly the prevailing environmental parameter and the designer needs to take it seriously into account if he/she wishes to design ?comfortable? spaces.

The above project has sparked some ideas which I would like to discuss here and hopefully start a productive ?dialogue? among people contributing to this blog. This session will discuss digital design tools

When the project started, I tried to perform some basic solar analysis, to understand orientation and shadows. A digital tool that I usually employ for this cause is Google SketchUp as it has a very simple and user friendly interface. To start the solar analysis, I first located the plot in Google Earth and then Georeferenced it in SketchUp where I built a very fast massing model of the existing house.


In this way I was able to get the exact Global Position, North Angle and Terrain in SketchUp. I had to perform some extra work as there is a TimeZone bug which was giving me UTC + 3 instead of UTC +2 for the specific plot resulting in incorrect sunset and sunrise times. This was solved thanks to a plug-in script which actually allowed the change of several other parameters related to location  including  the Time Zone.


During this process, I started considering the next phase; synthesis. I began investigating the possibility of linking the work-in-progress 3d model to the sun?s motion. I could possibly use the sun to generate a surface of the building or even sculpt the whole envelope of the house.  That?s not something new and other people have done similar work and progressed the idea much more. I already know that D. Papadopoulos   has written a script in Processing for louvers. I also know that M. Tsigkari   has dealt with Sun Paths in GC during the Adaptive Architecture and Computation Master?s and I have also seen a nice work that links environment and form again on processing by V. Tzenu . P. Fereos  has also designed a Voronoi shading device for a competition in Cyprus which varies in depth in order to provide adequate shading for the interior of the building.

By googgling the subject, I came across a link which explains how you can build a Sun Path in Generative Components (GC) by exporting specific time-location values  from Ecotect. This could actually result in a very interesting design tool if the user manages to figure out how to creatively link the sun path to the form. The result would obviously depend on what the user tries to achieve and what are his/her constraints.  We can therefore imagine an outcome that varies accordingly, depending on project requirements and designers creativity.


In my case, and due to time limitations I have only managed to import the values for the specific plot in Cyprus and subsequently have only used the sun path as a real time sun position reference in GC. My future intention is to focus on the east wall which in the new plans covers a zone of bathrooms, WC and a walk-in wardrobe. This utility zone functions as a heat barrier between the exterior and the sleeping-living areas of the house and its outer surface is constrained by the amount and type of light that needs to penetrate it. It is therefore a good opportunity to test the above concept by parametrically linking the Sun Path to the Surface.

1 [Desktop Resolution]

2 [Desktop Resolution]

The above example has demonstrated a digital workflow for a single quantifiable parameter; the sun?s position and the resulting shadows. Even though, solar analysis was performed at a very basic level, the information obtained (visual and solar data) was enough to initiate the synthetic process of design. The point here is that digital tools as such, produce a large amount of information, faster, accurately and in such format that can be seamlessly transformed into form.

Undoubtedly, architects are presented with a large number of such parameters, observable or underlying, in every project. Some of them are quantifiable some of them are not. Some are by definition more important than others, like for example the structural parameter. Some are further analysed and developed into definitive design decisions, whereas some are just neglected. The question is which of those parameters are miscalculated just because we do not possess the adequate tools or processes to asses them and transform them into creative design decisions?

6 thoughts on “Digital Design Tools, designing with the SUN in mind

  1. Great project Michail! Very interesting design, and underlying logic. And I think that it’s not necessary to interweave all possible parameters into the process, because it makes it harder to make decisions – and we give too much control to the algorithm 🙂 yes, I am still thinking in old school terms, where the designer has the last word.
    But here, where you use one parameter only – it beautifully shows how algorithm can gently drive the geometry – still leaving the control in your hands!
    Good stuff!

    1. I agree that is unnecessary to interweave all possible parameters! I assume that is kind of impossible as well (see J. Frazer, An Evolutionary Architecture).

      I guess what I wanted to highlight in the article, is that many of those parameters have already been ?digitized?. There is lots of information generated by all sort of software and disciplines which just lies unexploited out there. It looks like we need to work more towards utilising that type of information in a more creative way. If we were to attempt something like that, we would first need to gather the information, and then have it translated in a usable format. Next requirement would be the existence of a platform were designers can start building smart, easy-to-use tools which can handle-link that information to design (like the example of the GC Sun Path).

      The designer would still have the last word, as you have already underlined above. It is usually he/she that ?weights? the significance and how to implement (design with) the given information.

  2. Hello, we’re SEED an emerging architecture and design studio in Barcelona. we would like to share this video showing a structure and project designer for Canya Viva, SEED and KRFR involved in research to develop a computational model to legalize this system cosntructivo also in the development of tools to facilitate parametric design, Democratizing construction

    best regards!

    canal de video de SEED

  3. Hi everyone!
    I?m very happy to find such a fresh initiative. Congratulations!
    I find this subject to be of the utmost importance regarding sustainable development. I have been involved with some digital design and also construction. So my key interests are the hardcopies of these initiatives and the importance that they have in meeting mankind?s contemporary practical needs.
    So here are my humble considerations, feel free to decompose them has you please.
    I think for instance Parametric Shading is very important because It can curbs carbon emissions by reducing, highly in some cases, the energy consumption of a building, wile maintaining a certain level luminosity stability. These horizontal shadings will shade more towards sumer solstice and allow more light in during the winter solstice, which is a natural optimal condition.
    The base of this is a very simple equation (90-LAT + or ? 23,5?) that can be further developed by any one with basic arithmetic skills and can easily be constructed in (e.g.: plywood boards) to retrofit a building?. say ? in a developing country or not!
    But what I propose is an invitation to come down a notch in technical sophistication?s (for the time being) and ask, how constructed parameterized structures can become real, made at reasonable costs, and not only help in the climate tackle effort, but also bring respectable business to our companies.
    What can parametric design and generative architecture can do now for the common people architectural needs and the environment?
    Ps: To any one interested I can disclose my mail so we can exchange further information. I also Plan to share a simplified clear cut tutorial in parametric shading by the end of this month to the use of any architect, any where. (any ideas/help is welcome)
    I would advise the following references to go to the root of this issue.
    and finally state that parametric architecture can start with a math notebook and requires no specific software rather then a calculator, I would call it design with functions and sets of functions. for instance an x^2 wall. or a ? function roof. From the mathematical point of view in parametric architecture and generative design I only see good things coming.
    Let me know what you think!
    Best Regards,
    And congratulations again for the exiting proposal

  4. By no means I want to disregard the work of SEED for there spectacular constructions in Portugal which by the way is my country. I think there work, mixed with Michail´s also great Work is what I’m talking about. … I’m also suggesting that most people live, and will still be living in high concrete jungles. So that’s my pitch to the discussion! I’ll see what I can come up with to make my contributions but I would really like to know your opinion!

    Your are invited to visit my portfolio …and see if you find something interesting there meanwhile



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *