Effective building design needs exposure to the sun, as supplied by northern orientation—but plenty of obstacles stand in the way.
Sound usage of northern orientation in building design permits warm winter sun to flow into the building to access free passive heating, and the use of its principles means that summer sun is stopped from penetrating the building which translates to free passive cooling.
This translates to passive environmental control, plus more benefits. Accessing the natural environment to enhance building design, particularly sunlight control, has substantial positive physiological and psychological benefits for inhabitants.
Building design using north orientation is so vital that it is written into authority planning laws. Yet it is challenging to design for north orientation. This is because of problematic zonal densities resulting from present prevailing planning laws. Authorities don’t often back up their north orientation laws and permit more elevated density building developments without it.
Even sans north orientation, effective building design is never easily accomplished. Residential design is influenced by north orientation and planning laws. Residences are homes inhabited day and night by a vast variety of people—each home design presents its own challenges.
Design for north orientation is best suited to a new structure built on a sizable greenfield site with no other buildings in the vicinity. But this is a distant dream, as many designs can be found in built-up urban areas–which generally mean many obstacles to utilising the north orientation. These include neighbouring structures and trees standing in the way of north light, and even north access points to smaller sites.
One of the most challenging scenarios is designing for north orientation for a home on a typical older block of longer rectangular shape. These sites typify inner-city areas where the limited civil engineering technology of the past prompted land developers to jam as many sites into the shortest road as feasible.
These aged sites have a short side of the rectangle as the street frontage. If the short side faces east or west, a long side of the site will face northward. This side will often have a neighbour’s house or their trees blocking north light incoming to the fresh design next door to the south.
Multi-residential design, more than detached homes, is adversely influenced by impediments to the north orientation. The most major impediment is the developer’s wish to construct the most residential units permissible with zonal density laws. This maximisation of unit numbers means that northern orientation occurs only randomly and by chance. The dual concepts of design to north orientation and design to zoning density numbers, are mutually exclusive – they cannot go together.
A multi-residential development designed to north orientation concepts will be smaller in scope. Yet this narrowing of scope results in a development with a more natural density volume, and enhanced concept of enhanced liveability in urban residential design and planning. Current density and zone restrictions could be rid of and replaced with every home designed for north orientation. It would result in a more natural geographical spread of medium-density housing, and ultimately a more sustainable community.