To illustrate just how intense our Texas sun can be, look no further than a typical day at the Austin City Limits music festival held in late September. Festival-goers in tight clusters cool off in the deep shade of the elm tree, while on the surrounding lawn, sunlight seems to come from all directions as people dart around between stages. The sunlight is so strong that the shaded area of the tree becomes a stark contrast to the white hot surroundings.
Buildings in Texas must provide the relief from direct sun, yet our eyes and minds benefit from well-balanced daylight inside. And modern architecture often leads to even more glazing area to create a much desired connection with the outdoors. Much of our architectural practice focuses on balancing out these divergent needs. We’ve addressed this as much as possible with each project, though the approach varies widely depending on landscape features and sun orientation. We can achieve that well-balanced quality of light by filtering daylight with architectural elements, composing the glazing area strategically, balancing light with materials, or controlling brightness through coverings and shades.
FILTERING LIGHT WITH ARCHITECTURAL ELEMENTS
awnings, trellis, open eaves, shade structures, brise soleil
The Poolside Flat is sited beneath several large trees, so we wanted to grab some of that dappled light for the inside. An open eave composed of steel and douglas fir frames the tree canopy above.
At our house, a galvanized metal shade projects from the west facing facade and appears to float above the window. This awning helps protect from direct sun at late afternoon.
At an addition in Cherrywood, a 7-feet deep steel awning creates deep shade for the living room and outdoor grill area below.
In Bungalow Modern, a steel awning at the entry serves to protect the west-facing kitchen windows from the sun. Direct sun enters through a very skinny window on the left side of the living room’s steel box enclosure. It’s amazing how 6 inches of glazing will bring a dramatic angle of light to the interior during parts of the day.
In a residence at Agave, a corrugated metal structure gives some relief from the overhead sun:
At Starlite restaurant, an existing porch gets a peek of light by removing several boards of siding facing south:
Also at Starlite, a steel and bamboo garden ramada provides a well-defined entry while letting dappled light enter the dining room beyond:
CONTROLLING LIGHT THROUGH GLAZING COMPOSITION
size, shape and proportion of windows; solar orientation
Each window is carefully considered in this living room addition. A 24″ x 30″ window brings light high into the space, while french doors flood the ground plane with light.
To avoid a cavernous effect, we placed windows at even intervals along this three story space for an even level of light. A large corner window below the stair washes the polished concrete floor with daylight.
Light comes in low in Kitty’s nook below the stair:
In a one-story house with a deeper living room, we introduced light from above with this north-facing skylight that washes the bookcases.
On a north-facing facade, we can play with larger areas of glazing. Four pairs of doors lead out to the pool area, while additional light comes in from above through clerestory windows between the beams. Daylight follows the plane of the douglas fir ceiling all the way to the back wall of this room, for a pleasant even light.
BALANCING LIGHT WITH MATERIALS
color selections; wood, stone, and tile that are physically cooling
If the light entering the building is well balanced, then we like to use bright white paint colors. The white in this room, Benjamin Moore White Heron, has a teeny bit of cream and a hint of pink that allows the natural colors of daylight to play along the surfaces.
The terrazzo floor, white caesarstone countertop, and marble accents give the feeling of crushed ice… both physically and mentally cooling!
This white oak wall below is balanced with the cabinet color, Benjamin Moore Silvery Blue, and the Snow White walls and ceiling. The work surfaces are well illuminated, but the eyes get a break from harsh light with the darker materials.
SOFTENING LIGHT WITH WINDOW COVERINGS AND FILTERS
shades, vinyl applications or translucent glass
A vinyl window covering is used for this bathroom with its east-facing window:
And in this second level bathroom, a smaller field of vinyl provides privacy from the neighbors below while allowing a view of the treetops.
Flowy curtains will help soften the light in a room with lots of windows and accentuate the height of the room.
A window with handsome proportions does not need to be cluttered by a window treatment. Clean roll-down shades will fit within the window opening and allow a view out to the tree tops. This reed shade brings a natural element alongside the strong lines of the bath tile.
It is with these ideas in mind that we can develop a regional style of modernism tuned to our climate and create architecture that characterizes the place we know so well.
photos by Whit Preston and Rick & Cindy Black