To adapt to the complexities and dynamics of the ever-changing natural environment, Architecture finds its inspiration in nature. Like a sunflower, living spaces tend to adopt creative methods, shapes, and ideas for better interaction with the natural elements. Sunlight, among others, is one of the most important natural elements that affect architectural space. It is a crucial space design element that implies knowledge of the sun's movements, space needs, materials characteristics, etc. Depending on its intensity, direction, type, and other factors, sunlight determines the quality of the space, its atmosphere, and certainly the possibilities of its use. For example, a space used for social gatherings is characterized by a brighter and livelier atmosphere than a space intended for relaxing or sleeping which usually implies less presence of bright lights. Sunlight is a vital design element and an asset used by designers to enhance the qualities, the atmosphere, and the energy exchanges of living spaces.
Natural light as once described by L.I.Kahn gives different meanings to spaces. A room loses its presence without natural light. According to the architect, light makes materials and gives them their only purpose of casting a shadow. The different shadows also manifest the interactions between light and materials.
But let's imagine a space where sunlight can be an obstacle and make that space a bit challenging to occupy. As space designers, our duty is, also, to look for the uncommon and the unique situations where new challenges exist.
The xeroderma pigmentosum is a rare disorder marked by an extreme sensitivity to ultraviolet lights, such as from the sun, and a high risk of developing other side effects and illnesses. The spaces where people with this syndrome live are usually protected from sunlight. In consequence, to make such spaces livable, solutions are resumed in dark areas or, in other cases, rooms with UV-protected glass windows. The films used to protect the windows have good characteristics that enable them to reflect most of the sun’s heat away and almost all the Ultra-Violet rays.
Most of these solutions come at the cost of depriving the users of outdoor activities and most importantly the natural sunlight that we need as humans. Furthermore, the lack of natural light might affect the quality of these spaces and the mental health of the users. Hence the need for new designs that are both sensible and aware of this cause has become essential to defy these challenges. The reason behind such conceptual designs is to explore the limits and the contrasting realities within the topic of sunlight in architecture through an uncommon space made for xeroderma pigmentosum patients. It also discusses the role of Architecture as a platform of inclusion and human integrity.
The proposal consists of developing a conceptual space where the users are allowed to practice an outdoor activity (growing plants), enjoy the natural light, and also socialize with small and different communities. It includes a modular space where users have different areas for storing the seeds and the tools and for taking care of the plants. To expose the plants to the sun, a system was established to make it possible to grow them on mobile platforms that move from the inside to the outside of the space and vice-versa. This will allow the plants to grow in their natural environment and satisfy their needs for sunlight. This system also helps to avoid any unnecessary contact between the users and the sunlight. Space has a circular form allowing it to adapt to the sun's movement. To enlighten the inner space only the reflected zenithal light is allowed in from an opening in the vaulted ceiling. For extra security, a UV protection film was added to the glass. Furthermore, the light is reflected on curved walls to increase the angle of the reflection. In addition to the main curved structure, sun blockers contribute to filtering the UV rays. The simulations have shown how significantly, the UV rays are decreasing with every intervention while the illumination increases. This process allows a controlled space illumination to respond to the different needs of light while creating a rhythm of light and no-light that depends on the use. The sunlight is direct for the plants when they are moved to the outside and it is zenithal and reflected on the inside. As we move further from the opening the light decreases slowly as if to offer more authority to the shadow. The zenithal soft light sets up a dramatic atmosphere and a warm scenery that inspires connection and peace. With the sun's movements through different times of the day, the inner lights constantly change form, rhythm, color and the general atmosphere making it an introspective exhibition.
In conclusion, this proposal is an attempt to explore the dialectical nature of setting up meaningful and shared experiences between living beings, natural elements, and artifacts. Sunlight, as much as it may be a vital asset for designers, can also teach us how to create solutions when it is an obstacle.
Wafik Naasri is a Junior Architect and independent Experimental Space designer. Having graduated from the National School of Architecture and Urban Planning in Tunis, he focuses on the Experimental and Technical aspects of spaces that explore matters of interest to society and individuals. He aspires to create different layered links between the 20th Century Architecture and the Futuristic Digital Spaces of the next Eras.