Monday, September 30, 2013

Sunlight Use in Greek and Roman Era

Nicholas Mosher
Grad Blog #2
             Architecture has included the usage of sunlight since the beginning on man.  Light needed to 
penetrate cave mouths for cavemen to live in.  The first civilized use of natural sunlight was the ancient Greek era, the Greeks reacted accordingly to the sun as a use to heat and illuminate spaces.  One main architectural feature of buildings such as the Parthenon was by placing the hallways on the outside of the structures. This created a pleasant, covered pathway that blocked the sunlight yet still had open ventilation.  The city of Priene was known to have their courtyards facing south to capture maximum sunlight. Socrates showed his knowledge of the sun in his writings and drawings. In a house that was built, he referenced the sun's summer angle as well as the winter angle (Holloway, 2011). This is shown by the following image of Socrates' sun-tempered house.
Image taken from (Holloway, 2011)
             This was genius architecture that was perfectly rationed to allow the low winter sunlight to penetrate all the way to the back of the room to give more warmth.  The roof also stuck out long enough to block as much summer light as possible. That technique along with having open ventilation creates a cooler environment inside.  This simplistic design worked very well, however it did not capture and hold all of the heat gained by the sun.  The opening of the south wall did not allow for the house to contain the heat so as soon as the sun stopped shinning, the heat went away.  This was a flaw when dealing with maintaining the heat in the winter and at night. Later on the Romans figured out that by placing glass on the south walls or windows, it still allowed the sunlight in while trapping in the heat (Holloway, 2011). 

             During the Roman era, their culture and their use of the atrium and peristylium were a very common style of design.  This was known as the Roman Patio House Style.  This style was based on the availability of light, and was an open floor plan (Phillips, 2013).  Typical roman house consisted of the atrium and peristylium which were used for circulation and the light source.  The atrium is a large open space, usually used as a small shallow swimming pool, to allow for the sunlight to shine throughout the house.  It was often used as a greeting center for guests and typically included a fountain. The atrium was in the center of the house and was most elaborately decorated, and was the main room of the house.  This was due to the amount of light and air circulation.  The peristylium was a garden built off of the atrium.   They were a garden surrounded by pillars and were used to display wealth and education.   In the standard Roman house hold it was built to face inward with no windows this was because the house drew all its sunlight from the atrium and peristylium (Roman Empire, 2007).  These two rooms were the most important elements in Roman architecture because they supplied the available light and circulation.  The house was built around these rooms, mainly to the north with south facing windows, because of their importance with the light.

Image taken from (Holloway, 2011)
              Octagonal rooms like in the Domus Aurea (Latin for Golden House) had five rooms connected to the northern most sides of the octagon room.  The southern side was perforated to allow solar gain as well as having a giant skylight in the ceiling to get even more light shining further into the rooms (Holloway, 2011).  This technique of adding in a skylight was also used in the more famous Pantheon in Rome. 

Holloway D.R. (2011) Sun Tempured Architecture: A Simple Design Methodology For Passive Solar Houses. [Web log post] Retrieved from
Roman Empire (July 10, 2007). The Roman House. Retrieved from

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