Heliocentric Architecture

  • At 42° sunlight is filtered through two layers to create shifting patterns in the reading room.

    At 42° sunlight is filtered through two layers to create shifting patterns in the reading room.
  • At 4° the sunlight rakes across aligned stair planes.

    At 4° the sunlight rakes across aligned stair planes.
  • At 78° a line of light follows people around the space.

    At 78° a line of light follows people around the space.
  • Drawing: Erioseto Hendranata

    42° borrows several motifs from the work of Louis Kahn. The material palette of the library imitates the materials of Kahn’s Exeter Library: the walls are concrete, the floors and furniture are wood, and the featured spaces - at 42° the reading well - are paved in travertine marble. 42° also shares with much of Kahn’s work a focus on primitive geometric figures like the circle. Most notably the circle is a prominent figure in Kahn’s House of Parliament in Bangladesh as well as in the Exeter Library. Finally, while the methods employed differ, the aim of collecting, distributing, and displaying sunlight is a central theme in both 42° and in Kahn’s work.

    The drawn representation continues the relationship by imitating Kahn’s typical drawing style. The drawings are rendered with black poche, clean lineweights, and patterning which describes surface materials.

    Drawing: Erioseto Hendranata
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42° borrows several motifs from the work of Louis Kahn. The material palette of the library imitates the materials of Kahn’s Exeter Library: the walls are concrete, the floors and furniture are wood, and the featured spaces - at 42° the reading well - are paved in travertine marble. 42° also shares with much of Kahn’s work a focus on primitive geometric figures like the circle. Most notably the circle is a prominent figure in Kahn’s House of Parliament in Bangladesh as well as in the Exeter Library. Finally, while the methods employed differ, the aim of collecting, distributing, and displaying sunlight is a central theme in both 42° and in Kahn’s work.
<br /><br />
The drawn representation continues the relationship by imitating Kahn’s typical drawing style. The drawings are rendered with black poche, clean lineweights, and patterning which describes surface
materials.
  • Rendering: Erioseto Hendranata

    The drawn representation of 4° is rendered in the style of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Piranesi’s Carceri (Prisons) etchings use dramatic lighting to create depth and volume and to accentuate the labyrinthine nature of the architecture. Though the spiral stair in 4° is a simple path, not a maze, the space is a network of stairs and bridges which particularly in section bears a resemblance to Piranesi’s prisons.

    Rendering: Erioseto Hendranata
<br /><br />
The drawn representation of 4° is rendered in the style of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Piranesi’s Carceri (Prisons) etchings use dramatic lighting to create depth and volume and to accentuate the labyrinthine nature of the architecture. Though the spiral stair in 4° is a simple path, not a maze, the space is a network of stairs and bridges which particularly in section bears a resemblance to Piranesi’s prisons.
  • Photoshop: Tyler Swingle

    In keeping with the design heritage of Boullée, the drawn representation of 78° is also rendered in his style (above and on page 36). The drawings, especially the section, employ atmospheric lighting to convey the grandeur of the space. Both drawings depict the space under an overcast sky, representing the base lighting condition inhabited by the sunlight.

    Photoshop: Tyler Swingle
<br /><br />
In keeping with the design heritage of Boullée, the drawn representation of 78° is also rendered in his style (above and on page 36). The drawings, especially the section, employ atmospheric lighting to convey the grandeur of the space. Both drawings depict the space under an overcast sky, representing the base lighting condition inhabited by the sunlight.
  • 42° is designed as a rare books library. In order for a library to house rare, old, or otherwise delicate material, the room in which the books are kept and read must be carefully protected from a number of potential hazards. Most notably, direct solar radiation on printed material causes the ink to fade and the paper and bindings to deteriorate. Consequently rare books are typically housed in rooms without any windows. The rare books room at 42° is tuned to allow in carefully controlled direct sunlight which never falls on surfaces which might hold a book. People studying in the space enjoy the presence of natural light while the delicate material remains safe from UV radiation. The books are housed in a subterranean space underneath the ground level of the library. The ceiling and floor of the ground level, as well as the furniture, act as filters which control when and where sunlight can shine into the reading room. In the reading room a series of arcs of light traverse across the floor, creating a different pattern each day of the year.

  • Étienne-Louis Boullée’s Cenotaph for Sir Isaac Newton employs symbolic light and monumental scale to create an awe-inspiring experience. At night a brilliantly lit, giant armillary sphere illuminates the space (Fig. 50). The sphere’s artificial, perfect illumination speaks to the Enlightenment ideals of reason and science. 78° is a variant of Boullée’s cenotaph which employs a similar monumentality to tell a different story about light. Here sunlight becomes visible as an entity inhabiting the space. The movement of the sun forms the building into a monument which exhibits solar rhythms. The space takes the form of a hemisphere with a single linear skylight cut into the flat roof. The line of light cast by the skylight occupies a stair which encircles the space, allowing visitors to follow the light through its diurnal cycle.

  • Over the course of a day the changing position of the sun causes the patches of sunlight cast by windows to move through a space. Though the space may be designed with this in mind, to collect morning light or to shade from the hot afternoon sun, any such alignment is typically approximate and general. In 4°, the form of the building is precisely aligned to the movement of the sun so that over the course of a day the sun follows an inscribed path through the space. 4° is an interstitial atrium linking two high-rise buildings. A spiral stair rises through the center and connects the floors of each building with each other. The stair planes and the walls are aligned so that direct sunlight in the building follows a similar path each day, illuminating the same series of surfaces. On the stair planes the sunlight dramatically occupies the same surface as the people, elongating the shadows cast by occupants. The raking angle of the light also causes the patches of sunlight to move rapidly over the stairs, making the movement of the sun nearly perceptible to occupants.


There is a long tradition of architecture creating atmospheric, awe-inspiring experiences by shaping and making visible natural light. Another similarly long-established approach to daylighting optimizes lighting conditions through the use of computational tools which provide precise numerical and geometric models of solar rhythms. This thesis applies the quantitative control of computational methods to the creation of atmospherically daylit architecture, making possible spaces whose form, tuned to the rhythms of changing daylight, reveals latent celestial cycles.

Traditional printed media afford limited potential for experiencing atmosphere. Thus, the thesis explores the use of video media and virtual reality to present an immersive experience of the architecture.