Optimisation of Urban Form by the Evaluation of the Solar Potential

What will the cities of tomorrow look like? This is a crucial question because in the four and a half billion years of its existence, the Earth has never been so threatened, as it is today. Since 2008 half of the world's population has lived in towns – more than 70% in rich nations. Three quarters of CO2 emissions are produced in towns, 75% of the world's energy is consumed in towns. The battle for our climate, for the continuation of our species and all other life, will be largely waged in cities. Will it be possible to create the ideal ecological town? The objective of this study is to compare actual and theoretical urban forms in order to explore the diverse effects of daylighting and solar potential on densely built-up sites. Indeed, the search for ideal solar orientations has been a persistent problem from the 19th century until the beginning of the 20th. Even today, for all our scientific knowledge and empirical experience of solar energy, making the correct choice has still not crossed the boundary from an enigmatic, tricky art into the field of an exact science. As a first step, six existing urban sites in Switzerland and Brazil, as well as two projects in the United Kingdom, a few generic models and a utopian city, were modelled and analyzed. The goal was not merely the construction of new, exemplary districts but also the transformation of existing towns. The findings have been used to assess the potential of façades and roofs located in urban areas for active and passive solar heating, photovoltaic electricity generation and daylighting. The results obtained from these different case studies revealed large variations of the potential for solar energy collection on the buildings' façades and roofs. Ideally, these investigations are expected to help architects and town planners understand how to optimise solar collection on buildings design. In addition, a study was made of the Contemporary City of Three Million Inhabitants created by Le Corbusier. According to the latter, the Contemporary City could increase the urban capacity and at the same time improve the urban environment and the efficiency of the city. Therefore the present study extracted the solar potential of this utopian city in order to assess Le Corbusier's propositions. Since 1922, Le Corbusier's studies have influenced architects and town-planners in their choice of orientations and urban forms: it was therefore crucial to discover if this reliance on Le Corbusier was justified. Solar irradiation and illuminance values obtained through numerical simulations form the core part of the method. The method adopted for the entire set of computer simulations consisted in modelling — via a computer-aided drawing piece of software, namely AutoCAD — the digital model of each building or group of buildings prior to exporting them to an urban performance analysis software (PPF/RADIANCE software package). Spatial distributions of solar irradiation and daylight fluxes over the overall building façades and roofs were calculated using ray-tracing simulation techniques to determine the appropriate placement of different solar technologies (passive and active solar, photovoltaic and daylighting). Performance indicators were used to assess the solar utilisation potential of the urban sites (e.g. statistics of sky view factors and daylight factors) in order to determine the optimal solar strategies for a given urban context. In addition, various works and sun-related recommendations that have appeared mainly since the end of the nineteenth century, together with the various scientific models and software tools pertaining to this topic, are presented in this study.

Scartezzini, Jean-Louis
Lausanne, EPFL
Other identifiers:
urn: urn:nbn:ch:bel-epfl-thesis4657-5

 Record created 2010-02-11, last modified 2018-03-17

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