Sustainable School Design: How Hamilton + Aitken Architects Maximize Natural Light Using Vectorworks

Sustainable School Design: How Hamilton + Aitken Architects Maximize Natural Light Using Vectorworks

“When we started out, our goal was to change the world, to do something that would really make a difference to the lives of people,” said Chad Hamilton, AIA LEED AP BD+C, Principal Architect of Hamilton + Aitken Architects (H+AA). “And education is one of the things that really determines how people live the rest of their lives. “So, for us it’s just a wonderful feeling, to improve kids’ educational spaces.”

Whether working on schools, civic buildings, higher education, or other projects, the award-winning, San Francisco-based firm focuses on how each of these buildings will be used to enhance and enrich the lives of others.

Sustainable design also plays a major role in the projects H+AA undertakes. One of their most recent projects was the renovation for the Burlingame Intermediate School, south of San Francisco. The new additions support this school district’s concept for delivering education and resolves the physical challenges of a sprawling campus. 

Chad Hamilton has made design for education his focus for over twenty-five years. He is fascinated by the way different people learn, which motivates him as he leads diverse clients and user groups through the complexities of designing facilities for 21st-century learning. He also believes that the intersection of education and sustainability is critical to determine our path forward as a society, and that design is the key to unlock the future.

For the Burlingame Intermediate School, stakeholders spoke of creating a “heart” for the school, campus, and community, which was achieved by creating a new quad. The building is a bridge to the other parts of the campus, physically linking upper and lower campuses, and surrounding pathways are furnished with nooks and seating for socializing.

The design maximizes natural daylighting, while minimizing glare and solar heat gain. Windows and clerestories bring in abundant north light, while deep overhangs and fixed sunshades screen classrooms from direct light.

Outdoor learning area. Image courtesy of Hamilton + Aitken Architects.

“For us, a lot of the design process begins with thinking about light,” said Hamilton. “Light is an incredible motivator for learning spaces. It’s been demonstrated that students learn better and faster in spaces with natural daylighting. So, we like to bring as much natural daylighting in as we can.”

This building has a sawtooth roof with clear story windows that bring light in, and the classrooms toward the north side have large north facing windows. They also have a secondary light source away from the windows, a series of skylights.

“The space can be used with no lights on at all on a nice day,” Hamilton continued. “And then there’s a glass prow, and that prow aligns with the ridge line. So, the roof shape of this building seems unusual, but it’s all about bringing the light into the spaces.”

Upper hillside entrance. Image courtesy of Hamilton + Aitken Architects.

“When we look at our core architectural software we’re looking for something that’s easy to use, and that’s extremely accurate,” said Hamilton. “With Vectorworks, we can study the daylighting impact on our classrooms, and we can orient windows and shading so that classrooms get plenty of light without glare.”

One of their favorite tools within Vectorworks Architect is the Heliodon tool, included in Vectorworks’ integrated Renderworks features, which simulates the position of the sun for light and shadow studies. By using this tool, the H+AA team can visualize and quantify how the sun affects their building, how much glass is appropriate for a given orientation, how to mitigate heat gain depending on climate, and so forth. You can also create a solar animation to study the light and shadow over a course of time.

Use of the Heliodon tool. Image courtesy of Vectorworks, Inc.

“The Heliodon tool is very cool,” said Hamilton. “You can look at the solar impact at different seasons, you can look at it in the middle of the summer, you can look at it in the middle of winter. It also lets us look at shadows. What we need to do with shadows is use roof overhangs or sun shades to modulate how the light comes into the building, so we can minimize heat gain, thus maximize natural lighting.”

The Heliodon tool is georeferenced and accurately generates shadows for your project based on its location. If you don’t see your locale in the extensive pull-down list, just add your country and town, and its latitude and longitude.

Plus, with the integrated Renderworks module, you can either view solar animations interactively on the fly or export standalone movies, either from a fixed vantage point or from a top view. Roof overhangs and window placements can then be tested, refined, and validated to minimize summer heat gain and maximize passive heating potential in the winter.

“To create a ‘good looking’ building, things need to line up in a certain way to feel resolved,” said Hamilton. “With three-dimensional design and BIM software like Vectorworks, we can really see problems that we haven’t solved yet, quickly find alternative solutions, and come up with a really good solution that pleases everybody.”

Floor plan. Image courtesy of Hamilton + Aitken Architects.

In the video below, Chad Hamilton from Hamilton + Aitken Architects discusses sustainable design in educational spaces.

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Cite: Sponsored Post. "Sustainable School Design: How Hamilton + Aitken Architects Maximize Natural Light Using Vectorworks" 15 Jul 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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