The price of sunlight

In large, overcrowded cities, the way to expand is upwards, which means constructing tall buildings.

However, skyscrapers affect the environment, with views blocked, traffic increasing, and the lights inside the structure illuminating the night. Another consideration is how these tall buildings block sunlight, causing shadows that impact public parks and spaces.

The United States is currently experiencing a boom in multi-storey structures. In New York, for example, the Nordstrom Tower is under construction and will reach a height of 1,770 feet, blocking the view of the iconic Empire State Building for many people nearby.

Most of the new buildings in New York are apartments. Upper-level penthouses enjoy largely unrestricted views and cost many millions of dollars, with the price tag descending down to the lower levels. However, it can be said that what the upper residents are also purchasing for their extra money is sunlight and freedom from shadows.

People lower down and at ground level are affected by the restricted light that the tall structures produce. As the building boom in New York continues, Central Park will likely soon find itself covered in more shadows.

To combat this, architects in San Francisco are reportedly using shadow consultants, who operate 3D modelling software to calculate where sunlight will fall at various times of the day. Recently, a six-storey building project was denied planning permission because the software predicted that shadows would fall on the only public park in the neighbourhood, resulting in a decrease of sunlight by an average of just 42 minutes on summer nights. This planning refusal by the city authorities was based on the notion that we all have a right to sunlight.

If you are an architect involved in rejuvenating communities, then the loss of some sunlight may seem a price worth paying for the benefit that the new buildings bring. However, to others the enjoyment of sunlight has priority.

Posted by Adam Lloyd
June 16, 2015

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