Although passive solar heating and solar energy in general are major subjects of “sustainable architectural design”, the orientation towards sun, which is an inseparable issue related with them does not seem to take part much in discussions about sustainability. I want to discuss about the reasons why orientation can be unpopular or somehow forgotten.
Generally, the orientation of living spaces to south-southeast (of course on the northern hemisphere) is a well known issue. It is also well known that the orientation of a any building block, on the east-west axis, which means longer side towards the south where the sun rays are less inclined and shorter sides to the east or west where the sun rays are more inclined. Another well known point is the afternoon sun from the west is very negative in terms of cooling buildings and spaces, especially in hot climates.
As far as we can know, the idea of orientation of buildings towards south is apparent in the teachings of Mies van der Rohe in the Bauhaus. Various examples from Bauhaus studios show examples of houses, where living rooms are directly exposed to sunlight from south and southeast and exposure to west is intentionally limited. We can note here in city planning before modernism is very formalistic to be concerned with sunlight and in traditional architecture there was no opportunity to choose the general orientation of buildings as urban morphology has taken shape in more complex procedures. Coincidentally there may be towns with south exposure, which somehow become famous with their good climate and nice view of moonlight.
While Bauhaus was practicing the first ideas of sustainable site planning, Le Corbusier has started from a very formalistic approach. His first high rise cross plan housing blocks were allowing airplanes to pass in between. Although Le Corbusier had a very interesting urban development project for Zlin in former Checkoslovakia, where all the building blocks were placed in north-south exposures, he later changed his mind to place his linear blocks in the opposite direction. Because he insisted on double loaded appartments for the sake of economy, he decided to divide the sunlight for the two facades. But he did not give up the few apartments at each floor with south orientation. He somehow created a confusion where all goes except north. Contrary to his great mastery of colors and forms as he always said, his functional planning was not always logical, even sometimes contradictory.
Another approach can also be mentioned as the north exposure philosophy, departing from the various problems caused by direct sunlight. The diffused light from the north would be ideal, as in a sculptor’s studio. This idea was also widely utilised in nothern countries, where huge glazed facades were faced to north, without any good insulation.
After education in Bauhaus was interrupted by the Nazi regime and the World War II, this idea of orientation towards south seems to be almost forgotten. Le Corbusier’s ideas seems to have higher international recognition, as especially seen in the works of Niemeyer. However the idea of arranging new settlements with linear blocks, following Hilberseimer seem to give some examples at the risk of being monotonous. Where all the blocks had the same orientation, there was an obvious problem of monotony implying totalitarianism. Probably it became easier to combine the two different orientations in one project became a brighter solution to get rid of totalitarianism, as in Parisian suburbs, as well as in the eastern block. About Yugoslavian experience it is said that the ability of constructing more blocks from a single position of a tower crane was also supporting the different orientation policy.
At this point i want to tell about my very personal observations from various plattenbau (as they are called in Germany to define the most disturbing urban problem) the north-south exposed linear blocks are well maintained, keeping their economical values in various places of the world, including Istanbul. On the other hand the east-west oriented blocks seem to create various problems, problems of heating in winter, as well as excessive heat gain in summer, generally difficulty of sun control.
In 1963 a very interesting book was published to get world wide recognition named “Design with Climate” by Victor Olgyay. This book, in a short time became the bible of 70’s architecture, we can say, focusing on environmental concerns. Olgyay’s book, in a very direct and open way, explained the disadvantages of west-east exposures and the advantages of south orientation with the very basic idea of sun control with an eave, describing the inclination of sun rays in summer and winter. Everything becomes very clear once again, this time in a more scientific way, to define the principles of the passive solar house.
70’s was also the years of energy crisis, where the inefficient glass architecture with a confused mind was surely an aspect of this. I am thinking that the architecture world confronted this crisis with a very interesting movement called post-modernism, which re-introduced the square windows together with Le Corbusier’s longitudinal window.
After Olgyay we know about correct orientation of buildings but can we say these principles are applied to architecture in some way? I think the answer is no and the reason seems to be the properties of the site. What can an architect do if the site forces the architect to west exposure? This will bring us to another level of urban design or physical planning, if a city can be planned to create more environmentaly sensitive, sustainable architecture? This is of course possible in planned new settlements.
When we compare new capital cities we can also observe different attitudes towards orientation. Ankara’s new plan by Hermann Jansen, a follower of the garden city movement in the 30s, was confronted with a long axis in the noth south direction, the road to Çankaya, later to be named the Atatürk Boulevard. Jansen’s “stadtebau” school from Germany, was quite unaware of orientation of buildings. Ankara’s new buildings suffered from exposure to west, with Jansen’s planning using parallel streets . The new plan for Brasilia was totally disregarding the problem of orientation, with is formalist bird wings plan by Niemeyer, who was probably following Le Corbusier’s confusions. The much criticized planning for Chandigarh by Le Corbusier brings a grid, which strangely give possibilities to southeast oriented architecture. Interestingly the model also shows the majority of the arrangement of blocks are in the southeast orientation, however seems to be unbuilt.
The most relevant plan about orientation seems to be the brilliant linear planning of Doxiadis for Islamabad. Doxiadis’s well articulated blocks with a careful hierarchy of social spaces, seems to give opportunities for a southeast exposed architecture in the majority of the lots, avoiding the famous problem of monotony in planned housing areas. Can we say Islamabad has the potential to be a model for a sustainable city? Hope this city with the brilliant plan can develop, somehow staying low rise as an example of a brilliant sustainable urban development…