Taller Buildings Make Sunlight a Commodity

Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+0Email this to someone

As taller, higher-density apartment and condo buildings become more prevalent in certain parts of major cities, so does the amount of shadows cast over smaller buildings and residences. The casting of long shadows by high-rise buildings is proving to be problematic is a few ways in places like New York, San Francisco, and Toronto where developers can build structures that exceed the zoning requirements if a certain percentage of the units inside are reserved as “affordable” for low-income occupants. Apartment complexes such as 432 Park Ave., One57, and Nordstrom Tower are the current trend in residential building in the city, but are speculated to cast long shadows during certain parts of the day over parks and other residences.  It would seem that just like having an in-unit washer/dryer combo, patio, or walk-in closet, sunlight could soon be an amenity you will have to pay for due to the increasing number of tall buildings being erected.

NPR writes that many New Yorkers have begun to protest these super structures going up in their respective parts of town because they do not fit the neighborhood and eclipse parks and recreational areas nearby. Many middle and low-income earners who cannot afford to live in these giant buildings have taken issue with the fact that they can no longer fully enjoy the daytime hours when they are out or with their families. However, Extell Development (builders of One57) told NPR that any shadows cast do not cover any one place for more than 10 minutes and do not negatively affect any of the flora and fauna in Central Park. Landscape designer of the small park areas near One World Trade Center Michael Van Valkenburgh believes that there should be zoning regulations for sunlight as well as physical building dimensions because the public has a right to enjoy the sunlight without interference from private interests.

Another issue that is present with being in close proximity to very tall skyscrapers is moving cities toward solar power produced from rooftop solar panels. The closer a traditional-sized building is to a super high-rise, the longer they stand to remain in shadow during the day; an obvious problem for solar panels generating power would be the lack of sun from an eclipsing building in the way. However, some proponents of taller apartment buildings believe solar panels shouldn’t block construction for the sake of higher density and building more housing for rising populations. They argue that the economic power from the businesses on the bottom floors and available housing outweigh any energy that could have been gathered for the short duration in which the building’s shadow blocked the solar panel.

Though shadows do move throughout the day, the fact that one property may have more sunlight on average than others nearby these supertowers may affect home pricing. Just like proximity to amenities or a great view can drastically change the price of housing, so soon will the amount of sunlight your home gets during daytime hours. Homes that are shrouded in shadow for a good chunk of the day could see prices come down a bit from those who receive plenty of sunlight. Building ever taller seems to be the only viable option for adding more housing in major cities, but can something be done to give the people below a little more illumination?

British development firm NBBJ claims to have a viable solution to lighting up shaded areas that a skyscraper casts by designing the builds to be curved and have a twin. The idea is to use the building’s concave design to reflect sunlight at the building’s “twin” to shine light on the ground below where the primary building would otherwise eclipse. Some worry that this “mirrored reflection” method of lighting up shaded areas may cause harm to people much like the Walkie Talkie Building in London, which has been known to concentrate reflected light to a degree that can melt car parts and bicycles. The NBBJ developers have insisted that the concave design of their building design actually dissipates enough of the reflected light to be safe for people to walk through without being burned and is able to follow the main building’s shadow throughout the day to provide at least a 60 percent increase in illumination.

Building larger buildings to accommodate rising populations in cities seems to be inevitable, but creativity and consideration for the surrounding areas can be utilized in future construction efforts to give large cities the housing they desperately need without impeding on the right of others to enjoy the daylight down at ground level. New and interesting designs can be used such as the twin tower design from NBBJ that used their design to enhance living conditions in the city rather than restrict them so that everyone can enjoy a walk in the sunlight.