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Ask the Expert: Maximising daylight in Northern European city planning

13. September 2023

A conversation with Paul Rogers, Architect and Daylight Specialist, Stockholm


Urban planning is always challenging, and especially in Northern latitudes (above 55 degrees). Here - because of the combination of climate and light conditions - it is extremely important to achieve the optimum interaction between daylight and architecture. We’ve been talking to Paul Rogers, daylighting expert at Swedish ACC Glass and Facade Consultant, who, together with his team, helps shape today's cityscapes by offering unique insights into daylighting and indoor climate. These are issues that have become increasingly important in Northern European urban planning due to the region’s specific climate and increasingly built up urban developments.


About Paul Rogers

Originally from Canada, Paul Rogers trained as an architect and has always been interested in the interaction between buildings and nature, especially the impact of factors such as wind, energy and light. These, he says, are the foundations of all built environments. Since moving to Sweden in 2000, Paul has worked full time as a daylighting specialist, and is currently responsible for daylighting and certification at ACC Glass and Facade Consultants.


How Northern latitudes challenge building design

Daylight research has a special meaning for Northern Europeans, and is a subject that is steadily gaining in importance as cities become more densely populated. ‘Urban planning is particularly difficult in the Northern latitudes, especially above 55 degrees, because the angle of the sun is so low,’ says Paul. ‘This creates glare and long and extended shadows which affect adjacent buildings. This makes it much harder to get it right when building at this latitude (and above) if you don't anticipate the effects of daylight at an early planning stage.’

Time to put outdated methods behind us

According to Paul, Northern Europeans use an outdated method of measuring daylight, where the focus is often too narrow, and only on compliance with building regulations. We must now look beyond this, he says, and forget simplistic questions about whether there is enough daylight, and instead start talking about how daylight interacts with architecture. Paul explains: ‘In general, we find that many people talk about daylight as a rule that must be followed and, as a result, they focus on how much daylight enters a building. But we have to start thinking about the quality of daylight - how it changes during the day, or throughout the year for that matter, and how it affects architecture and cityscapes,’ he says. ‘We must also take into account the view, access to direct sunlight and protection against glare. Current rules around daylight have evolved from a static daylight factor to something called ‘climate-based measurements’. These are interesting, because they are a calculation of daylight for each hour of the year and give us the opportunity to focus on how daylight affects the architecture around us.

Think daylight – right from the start

According to Paul, it’s important for architects to pay careful attention to the distance between buildings, and the impact of shadows formed by the angle of the sun, and so should aim to simplify building volume at an early stage. Paul explains: ‘This way of working aims to understand how building volume affects daylight and the incidence of sunlight, so you can test different scenarios to determine what works best. It is always better to include daylight analysis in the early planning phase, because it is more difficult to solve problems afterwards.’

Light is particularly important for our experience of a building: ‘There is a real joy in seeing how the light changes both during the day and across the changing seasons. I also think daylight is one of the qualities people consider when they judge a building. Of course you notice if a building is warm, or how good the acoustics are, but daylight is also something that affects us deeply.’

- Paul Rodgers, Daylight expert

Small changes can make a big difference

For Paul, it’s vital that architects look carefully at both window openings and the space around a window in order to build better, daylight-optimized buildings in the future: ‘Daylight plays a key role in good architecture, and it’s important to find solutions that promote good lighting conditions. When it comes to window selection, frame thickness often has a big effect and small changes can really make a difference. We tend to say "the thinner, the better," when talking about window frames - and that's really true.’


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Topics: Case studies, Daylight, Architecture

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