New Sunlight Simulator Promises to Aid Architects





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A new day is dawning for interdisciplinary UC Berkeley researchers whose innovative software promises to revolutionize the way architects wield sunlight.

Software tools developed by doctoral candidate Daniel Glaser seamlessly merge complex light simulation with architectural design in an effort to efficiently utilize natural lighting.

"Lighting systems consume billions of dollars a year while sunlight is poised as a free energy source," Glaser said. "If designers get better tools then they will be able to light rooms better."

The software developed by Glaser and his team is similar in appearance to computer-aided drafting systems used widely in engineering and architecture.

As windows are incorporated into a room layout by the user, resultant sunlight patterns are updated on an overhead view.

In the past, architects would construct physical models in order to analyze how sunlight fell upon a structure. Glaser sought to replace this system with a high-tech alternative capable of mapping seasonal variations in sunlight levels.

Dubbing it unreliable, many architects previously ignored sunlight because it was prone to substantial fluctuations throughout the year and at different times of day.

"(Glaser's) got these really nifty ways of showing daylight patterns over the year," said UC Berkeley education professor and project collaborator Rogers Hall, "Given that designers can see where lighting is going during the day, they can think differently about where to put lights."

The software was also designed as a communications tool, enabling architects and lighting experts to collaborate effectively on building design.

The potential for such interdisciplinary collaborations mirrors the make-up of the software's own development team, which incorporated architects, computer scientists, and educational experts.

"With the increased dependence on computers by architects, I think it's important for architects and computer scientists to work together to take full advantage of computers in the design process," said Fai Chong, an undergraduate architecture student, and a member of Glaser's team.

Although most closely associated with the work of electrical engineering and computer science professor John Canny, the project was, from the start, intended to focus heavily on the social implications of technology.

"These technologies don't really stand on their own," Glaser said, "They're put in buildings by people and they serve people. It's highly mediated socially."

The researcher put these sentiments into practice while developing the software tools, taking factors like psychological responses to sunlight into consideration.

The software is flexible enough to direct the placement of furniture in an existing room so as to maximize the utilization of available sunlight, possibly leading to increased worker productivity.

In addition to social implications, Glaser's team examined state building regulations governing the placement of artificial lighting to better understand the sources of perceived inadequacies.

Working closely with UC Berkeley architecture faculty, field tests were conducted to demonstrate the potential of the new software to change design conventions.

"I've done some pilot testing and showed it to designers," Glaser said. "The design and the process that they took was significantly different than when they didn't have this tool."

The idea for the project came from Glaser's own experiences in dimly lit buildings. Many people in Glaser's own laboratory are forced to augment inefficient lighting with items such as desk lamps.

"Before (some campus buildings) were built, if they had these tools, I guarantee the lighting system would have been built differently," Glaser said.

Students studying on campus are already in tune with the benefits of natural lighting foreseen by Glaser.

"Soda Hall is kind of depressing downstairs," said Cynthia Prentice, a UC Berkeley cognitive science student, who studies near one of the building's windows. "I like the window seats where there's natural light as opposed to the basement."

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