The [design machine group] at the University of Washington is a cross-disciplinary group from the College of Built Environments and the Department of Architecture. It’s directive is to explore and develop ideas “that will shape the future of design and information technology.”
Their research projects range from fabrication tools to new ways of rendering large-scale models. Amongst the most exciting is the SPOT tool. First of all, this tool is free, so anyone, anywhere in the world can use it. And because it was developed for architects, its features have the needs of architects in mind.
What is it for and how does it do it? The first part of the question is that it’s a tool “aimed at helping architects quickly preview the amount of direct sunlight that will reach specific area on a project over time.” As for the latter part of the question, the JAVA applet tool tracks sunlight and its impact on buildings by simulating the sun’s position and other changes over time. Therefore, issues that include solar heating, glare, and shading, can all be calculated using this tool. In fact the developers challenge users to ask “Spot” to find optimal iterations for either using or avoiding direct sunlight in a particular site over a period of time. And, as they observe, since such information will have a direct influence on the early development of a project, there is a convenient feature that allows architects and designers to visualize the information over time in a navigable, 3D world. The tool also takes into account changes in sunlight based on the time of year.
Now, before the protestations of “but there are already tools like that available,” let’s step back for a minute. For one, this is a free tool. That means that those who cannot afford expensive programs can download this. There are easy to follow instructions for its installation, as well as help from the developers. As many architects know, too, communicating with clients and consultants can be difficult. Because this tool is free, they can download it too and use it for themselves. That makes communicating ideas much easier.