Picture a space, one that feels vibrant, comfortable, warm, and healthy. Now visualize someplace cheerless, depressing, and dull. What changed in your mind's eye? Most likely, lighting–specifically daylighting–played a major role in the transition. Yet, none of these terms explicitly relate to light or darkness. Few architectural or urban design decisions can affect the mood of a space as profoundly as daylighting, i.e. the illumination of a space via the sun and sky. Even if we could engineer the perfect artificial environment, would we want to? Humans crave the sun.

In addition to enlivening a space, daylight can connect us to nature, mark the passage of time, and help maintain our 24-hour biological rhythms. Exposure to daylight, even inside buildings, has also been correlated to: reduced length of hospital stays, longer sleep duration, reduced absenteeism, and improved classroom performance. On the other hand, poorly designed daylighting can lead to overheating, visual discomfort, wasted energy, and reduced productivity. Balancing the positive and adverse effects of this most influential of environmental phenomenon requires a designer's careful consideration of multiple contexts: urban and vegetated surroundings, climate, and, of course, the sun.

This course explores the theme of daylighting in the built environment. Because daylight design can be an unintuitive process, and because today's computerized tools offer designers a powerful tool for evaluating their ideas, this course includes a sub-focus on daylight simulation. Other topics include, design precedents, rules of thumb, shading strategies, and the human health impacts of light, as well as the technical fundamentals of light, sun position, solar heat gain, and glare. Although this course primarily focuses on architecture, urban designers/planners and landscape architects may find it valuable. Both studio-based and research-based (MDes/DDes) students are encouraged to participate.


Learning Objectives

In this course students will…

  • explore how the consideration of natural light shapes the built environment
  • become adept at designing with the sun (solar geometry)
  • perform computerized daylight simulation to aid the design process
  • learn to accurately visualize the play of daylight in their designs
  • understand and apply the metrics used to evaluate daylight performance today
  • practice (hands-on) using non-digital daylight design tools/techniques such as heliodons, sun-path diagrams, fish-eye lenses, and light meters
  • gain skills applicable to GSD theses as well as today's design and consulting practices
  • hone their design intuition with regard to natural light and shading design


At a minimum, students will learn to use (or expand their skill with) the DIVA daylighting plug-in for the Rhino 3D modeling program. However, students will find these concepts applicable to daylight simulation in general.


Class Format

The class format includes lectures, in-class exercises, a game, group discussions, student presentations, and a site visit. Assignments consist of qualitative and quantitative precedent analysis, a series of short simulation exercises, and ultimately a design or research project.