Tag Archives: Daylighting

Designing Sustainable, Energy-Efficient Buildings

Developing a perfectly energy-efficient building is relatively easy to do—if you don’t give the building’s occupants any control over their environment. Since nobody wants that kind of building, Professor Christoph Reinhart has focused his career on finding ways to make buildings more energy-efficient while keeping user needs in mind.

“At this point in designing buildings, the biggest uncertainty comes from user behavior,” says Reinhart, who heads the Sustainable Design Lab in MIT’s Department of Architecture. “Once you understand heat flow, it’s a very exact science to see how much heat to add or take from a space.”

Trained in physics, Reinhart made the move to architecture because he wanted to apply the scientific concepts he’d learned to make buildings more comfortable and energy-efficient. Today, he is internationally known for his work in what architects call “daylighting”—the use of natural light to illuminate building interiors—and urban-level environmental building performance analysis. The design tools that emerged from his lab are used by architects and urban planners in more than 90 countries.

The Sustainable Design Lab’s work has also produced two spinoff companies: Mapdwell, which provides individualized cost-benefit analyses for installing solar panels; and Solemma, which provides environmental analysis tools such as DIVA-for-Rhino, a highly optimized daylighting and energy modeling software component. Reinhart is a co-founder and strategic development advisor at Mapdwell, and he is CEO of Solemma.

Through it all, physics has remained a central underpinning. “Everything our lab develops is based on physics first,” says Reinhart, who earned master’s degrees in physics from Albert Ludwigs Universität in Freiburg, Germany, and Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.

Informing design

A lifelong environmentalist, Reinhart says he was inspired to study architecture in part by the work of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, which built a completely self-sufficient solar house in Freiburg in the early 1990s.

While finishing his master’s thesis, Reinhart says, he also read an article that suggested that features such as color can be more important than performance to architects choosing a solar system—an idea that drove him to find ways to empower architects to consider aesthetics and the environmental performance of their designs at the same time. He began this effort by investigating daylighting at the Technical University of Karlsruhe, Germany.

Light is incredibly important from a design standpoint—architects talk of “painting with light”—but there are also significant technical challenges involved in lighting, such as how to manage heat and glare, Reinhart says.

“You need good sky models and you need good rendering tools to model the light. You also need computer science to make it faster—but that’s just the basics,” Reinhart says, noting that the next step is to consider how people perceive and use natural light. “This really nuanced way of thinking is what makes daylighting so fun and interesting.”

For example, designers typically render buildings with all the blinds open. If they learn that people will keep the blinds down 90 percent of the time with a given design, they are likely to rethink it, Reinhart says, because “nobody wants that.”

The daylighting analysis software developed by Reinhart’s team in 1998 provides just this kind of information. Known as DAYSIM, it is now used all over the world to model annual daylight availability in and around buildings.

Reinhart has also published textbooks on daylighting: “Daylighting Handbook I: Fundamentals and Designing with the Sun” was published in in 2014, and a second volume, “Daylighting Handbook II: Daylight Simulations and Dynamic Facades,” was released last October.

“Daylighting was really my first way into architecture,” Reinhart says, noting that he thinks it’s wonderful that the field combines “rock solid science” like sky modeling with more subjective questions related to the users’ experience, such as: “When is sunlight a liability?” and “When does it add visual interest?”

Teaching and advising

After earning his doctorate in architecture from Technical University in 2001, Reinhart taught briefly at McGill University in Canada before being named an associate professor of architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. In 2009, the student forum there named him faculty member of the year.

In 2012, he joined the faculty at MIT, where he typically supervises seven or eight graduate students, including about three working on their Ph.D.s. Often, he also has students working in his lab through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. Several students majoring in computer science have proved particularly helpful, he says.

“It’s amazing what MIT students can implement,” he says.

Reinhart is also an instructor, of course, notably teaching 4.401/4.464 (Environmental Technologies in Buildings), which focuses on how to assess the energy efficiency of buildings.

“There’s nothing more fun—especially at an institution like MIT—than to teach these concepts,” he says.

The MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) is now working to make that subject available online via MITx, and the class is expected to be part of a planned graduate certificate in energy, according to Antje Danielson, MITEI’s director of education.

City-scale modeling

Meanwhile, Reinhart has scaled his own research up to modeling energy use at the city level. In 2016, he and colleagues unveiled an energy model for Boston that estimates the gas and electricity demands of every building in the city—and his team has since assessed other urban areas.

This work has underscored for him how significant user behavior is to calculating energy use.

“For an individual building you can get a sense of the user behavior, but if you want to model a whole city, that problem explodes on you,” Reinhart says, noting that his team uses statistical methods such as Bayesian calibration to determine likely behaviors.

Essentially, they collect data on energy use and train the computer to recognize different scenarios, such as the energy used by different numbers of people and appliances.

“We throw 800 user behaviors at a sample of buildings, and since we know how much energy these buildings actually use, we only keep those behavioral patterns that give us the right energy use,” Reinhart says, explaining that repeating the process produces a curve that indicates the buildings’ most likely uses. “We don’t know exactly where people are, but at the urban level, we get it right.”

Determining how energy is being used at this broad scale provides critical information for addressing the needs of the energy system as a whole, Reinhart says. That’s why Reinhart is currently working with Exelon Corporation, a major national energy provider, to assess energy use in Chicago. “We can say, let’s foster these kinds of upgrades and pretty much guarantee that this is how the energy load throughout a neighborhood or for particular substations will change—which is just what utilities want to know,” he says.

The food-energy-water nexus

Recently, Reinhart has also begun investigating ways to make food production more energy-efficient and sustainable. His lab is developing a software component that can estimate food yields, associated use of energy and water, and the carbon emissions that result for different types of urban farms.

For example, hydroponic container farming—a system of growing food without soil inside something like a shipping container—is now being promoted by companies in some cities, including Boston. This system typically uses more electricity than conventional farming does, but that energy use can be more than offset by the reduced need for transportation, Reinhart says. Already, Reinhart’s team has shown that rooftop and container farming on available land in Lisbon, Portugal, could theoretically meet the city’s total vegetable demand.

This work exploring the nexus between food, energy, and water is just the next level of complexity for Reinhart in a career dedicated to moving the needle on sustainability. Fortunately, he’s not alone in his work; he has sent a host of young academics out into the world to work on similar concerns.

Reinhart’s former graduate students now work at universities including Cornell, Harvard, Syracuse, and the University of Toronto, and he continues to collaborate with them on projects.

It’s like having a growing family, says Reinhart, a father of two. “Students never leave. It’s like kids.”

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Designing lighting for biology

Michael J. Berens

Thursday, July 05, 2018


Decisions about how best to light an interior space tend to be based on the types of activities for which the space is being designed. While that may aid occupants as they go about their tasks, depending on the space, that lighting may be inappropriate to maintain the body’s internal clock.

That, in turn, can lead to a number of health problems. Some recent studies suggest that it is possible to better balance lighting to benefit occupants’ tasks and biological needs.

Continue reading Designing lighting for biology


Posted on 03/29/2018Jane Rohde


Evidence-based design was developed and supported by The Center for Health Design (The Center), which is currently celebrating its 25th year as a non-profit organization. The Center is based on promoting research, education, and advocacy for the design of successful healthcare environments and has developed various “toolboxes” and issue briefs as resources for using EBD principles for innovative solutions.


The Center has recently released a Behavioral & Mental Health (BMH) Toolbox, which has been developed because 45 percent of patients admitted to a hospital for a medical condition or who visit an emergency department also have a concurrent BMH condition. This toolbox is complementary to the addition of a chapter on substance abuse treatment centers included in the 2018 Guidelines for Design and Construction of Residential Health, Care, and Support Facilities.


  • A homelike, de-institutionalized environment supportive of patient autonomy and control over a personal environment
  • An environment that is well-maintained and well-organized
  • Noise control
  • Support of privacy
  • Access to daylight and views of nature
  • Physical access to the outdoors
  • Support of personal safety/security
  • Support for social interaction
  • Positive distraction

This listing of design strategies is applicable to all types of healing environments and can work for emergency rooms, outpatient settings, and hospitals. These approaches continue to be successfully utilized in senior living settings including memory care facilities, providing not only positive outcomes for residents but also staff, family members, and visitors. It is time for the crossover and integration of all environments that provide care, support, and services to consider the complexities of the care populations being served and person-centered approaches for all constituents and stakeholders. 

Intimacy is not typically a term utilized when describing healthcare settings. However, an individual’s health and well-being are extremely personal. If design was approached from an intimate level—looking at each personal human interaction from the entry sequence through meeting with care providers, being admitted, family visits, and subsequent follow-up—it would provide context for developing smaller-scaled spaces with good acoustics, lighting levels to support various personal or group tasks, wayfinding systems, and the needs for respite in a quiet outdoor space or a sun room.


During programming and planning, we talk about the function of what occurs in an area or room but often do not address actual examples of personal interactions that may occur within a certain space. For example, let’s take a waiting room with tables, chairs, maybe a TV and possibly vending machines. Consider a scenario in which a couple arrives and is directed to a waiting room and a doctor comes out with sad news: a diagnosis of cancer for a loved one, a death of a friend, or the loss of a child. That waiting room is now a place where sad information must be delivered. An adjacent private space, an opportunity to have a glass of water, and access to the outside for a breather should be considered based upon the human interaction.

The waiting room isn’t just a waiting room—it is a place where a full spectrum of emotions from sadness to joy is delivered. It is a place where family members come together. It can offer overnight accommodations or it can be a place where a meal is consumed. Identifying the personal interactions allow for the design to be so much more than a waiting room but a place of comfort scaled to accommodate the privacy needs of patients’ family members and friends.

If this framework were utilized as a health and wellness overlay in a BIM model, think of what could be identified as conflicts; this could affect the size and scale of lobbies and amenities offered, the sizing of patient rooms, and simplifying point-of-service operational flows to accommodate staff. We think of BIM models as identifying conflicts with building systems but what if it were expanded to identify places of human interaction? This is a tool that helps address person-centered design based upon the research that establishes the framework for decision making and relevant design strategies to fulfill the intimate needs required of a space.

The Terasaki Research Institute, completed by Atelier Hitoshi Abe in Los Angeles near UCLA’s campus, exemplifies the need to address human interaction and caring. The institute focuses on organ transplants and wanted an innovative and engaging space. The beautiful interior atrium provides access to daylight supporting human interaction—learning, working, and holding public events within the space. Acoustics and seating arrangements were addressed to accommodate the various uses while supporting human comfort.

The utilization of openings throughout the two stories of mezzanines provides wayfinding landmark placements and opportunities for daylighting and engagement, giving the spaces a sense of place while connecting to the outside and vice versa.

To coin a new phrase, the “environmental program for human interaction” could become another way to support person-centered healthcare projects with human-to-human interaction being the evaluation and overlay in planning and designing healthcare environments of the future. 

Jane Rohde is the founding Principal of JSR Associates, Inc. located in Catonsville, Md.  The firm celebrates 22 years of consulting services in 2018. She champions a global cultural shift toward de-institutionalizing senior living and healthcare facilities through person-centered principles, research and advocacy, and design of the built environment. Clientele includes non-profit and for-profit developers, government agencies, senior living and healthcare providers, and design firms.  Rohde was the recipient of the 2015 Environments for Aging Changemaker Award and speaks internationally on senior living, aging, healthcare, evidence-based design, and sustainability.  For more information or comments, please contact Jane Rohde at jane@jsrassociates.net or “Chat with Jane” at www.jsrassociates.net

Photography: Roland Halbe
Architect: Atelier Hitoshi Abe


Quality Products Needed To Meet Green Building Standards Today

Sustainable healthcare facilities will need energy-efficient building enclosures from the outset.

Continue reading Quality Products Needed To Meet Green Building Standards Today