BIM Simplifies Daylighting in Building Design

| September 15, 2017

by Clarke Morrison

Incorporating daylight in a building is a key strategy for passive design that impacts visual and thermal comfort. Architects and engineers use Building Information Modeling (BIM) software to produce design and documentation drawings. New daylighting analysis tools allow designers to leverage this technology to optimize natural lighting and create healthier and more productive environments.

A proposed plan view of the daylighting analysis, showing levels of light in foot candles (measurement for amount of light falling on a surface). Areas in blue receive no natural light, while yellow represents the highest levels of daylight at the workstations in the open office area. Areas in red depict glass-fronted offices, conference rooms, and huddle spaces.

Daylighting strategies offset electric light usage, which can account for 50 percent of a building’s total electrical consumption. Daylight enhances environmental comfort by providing access to increased natural light. Using analysis tools helps designers harness daylight while minimizing the negative impacts of excessive direct sunlight.

How are designers integrating daylighting strategies into their workflow?

Designers can help promote occupant health, wellness, and productivity by embracing natural light as an integral part of building design.

Many architecture firms utilize computer-rendering software to simulate fenestration and performance of shading systems. Shading studies and photorealistic renderings are common in-house exercises, as are design strategies that incorporate shading devices, light shelves, solar tubes, glazing types, and reflective surfaces.

How can designers improve?

Many firms already use BIM software, a 3D modeling tool, for design and documentation. Designers have begun to use this software to conduct daylighting analysis and learn how to optimize natural light. The tools are intuitive, accurate, and produce fast results.

While visual renderings are used to study the quality of lighting in a space, they do not measure light quantity. Daylighting analysis can help solve important building design dilemmas: how daylight relates to solar heat gain, how much light is available for specific tasks, and how to avoid glare.

What tools are they using?

Most firms use Revit to create a design and documentation model. Whether the modeling process begins in conceptual or schematic design, designers utilize Revit to create a set of detailed construction drawings. Insight 360 is a built-in tool that provides the design team with accurate energy and daylighting analysis.  Other software tools include DIVA for Rhino, DAYSIM, and AGi32.

Emerging tools that consolidate workflow and deliver accurate, easy-to-interpret simulations will be essential in popularizing the design community’s use of daylighting analysis.

Should architects use daylighting consultants or have in-house capabilities?

Though the latest BIM technology allows architects to conduct their own daylighting analysis, enlisting daylighting specialists early in the design process introduces a fresh perspective and challenges architects to optimize their daylighting design and find creative solutions. Knowledgeable consultants with hands-on experience can help avoid missed opportunitiesue

Proof of the benefits of daylighting technology?

Daylighting gives purpose to the exterior appearance of buildings by introducing functional and aesthetic features. Vertical fins, horizontal shelves, overhangs, screens, and various glazing options address daylighting and energy efficiency challenges and incorporate a layer of visual depth.

Boston-based Margulies Perruzzi Architects (MPA) used daylighting analysis to design the interior fit-out and building envelope renovations for a global medical device manufacturer’s new customer fulfillment center. The former warehouse’s analysis provided a baseline for comparison. Its narrow, punched exterior openings created a harsh contrast of light and dark that the design targeted to alleviate.

Evaluation of the proposed façade demonstrated how larger glazed areas could bring more natural light inside and include views of the skyline. The floorplate width was kept narrow to maximize daylight throughout all open office spaces and interior private offices and meeting spaces.

The combination of low-E glazing and internal mesh fabric shades shield glare during peak hours and allow daylight into the interior. An external horizontal sunshade on the south façade mitigates direct sunlight on high-angle summer days and brings low-angle winter sunlight deeper into the lobby. Vertical fins on the west facade provide another layer of direct glare reduction.

MPA’s design using daylighting technology repurposed the exterior skin and infrastructure of the antiquated warehouse building into an aesthetically pleasing, energy-efficient, natural light-filled office and distribution facility.

Clarke Morrison


Clarke Morrison is an architectural technology consultant with Microdesk, and a Revit Certified Professional and Autodesk Authorized Instructor.

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