In order to improve the sustainability of new and existing urban settlements it is desirable to maximise the utilisation of the solar energy incident on the building envelope, whether by passive or active means. To this end we have coupled a multi-objective optimisation algorithm with the backwards ray tracing program RADIANCE which itself uses a cumulative sky model for the computation of incident irradiation (W h/m2) in a single simulation. The parameters to optimise are geometric (the height of buildings up to their facade and the height and orientation of roofs), but with the constraint of maintaining an overall built volume, and the objective function is heating season solar irradiation offset by envelope heat losses. This methodology has been applied to a range of urban typologies and produces readily interpretable results. The focus of this work is on the design of new urban forms but the method could equally be applied to examine the relative efficiency of existing urban settlements, by comparison of existing forms with the calculated optima derived from relevant specifications of the building envelope.