Orientation Matters

View from northwest of 2007 East 17th Street

View from the northwest of house under design for 2007 East 17th Street, to be built by Newcastle Homes.

Lately I’ve been working with Newcastle Homes on a couple of urban infill residential projects. Newcastle is successful at pairing lots in near East Austin with clients who want vibrancy, neighborhood character, and proximity to the central city. As a rule these old lots are narrower than in other parts of the city, and while East Austin has been “hot” for several years, land prices are still more affordable than elsewhere. Thanks to careful design and planning, the houses they build are modern, energy efficient, appealing, and affordable.

The problem with East Austin lots, though, is that almost all of them are oriented with their long axis running north-south (this is also the case in many other parts of Austin). Ideally, for our climate, homes should have more exterior wall facing north (where there is infrequent direct sunlight, except early in the morning or late afternoons in midsummer), or south (where the high summer sun is easy to control with a roof overhang). Too much eastern and western exposure and the house will quickly heat up in summer, costing more to cool, or being uncomfortable, or both (see my recent Design with Climate post, as well as this analysis courtesy of Dason Whitsett)

My solution for this lot was to organize the house in a C-shaped plan, with the two parallel main wings of the house oriented with their long axes running east and west, connected by a generous gallery that incorporates the stair. As a result, the compact square footage feels much bigger, thanks to the morning light-facing courtyard. The added outdoor space is a viable living space throughout much of the year, and fits well with Austin’s outdoor-oriented lifestyle. And because most of the house faces north or south, in spite of the lot’s being the “wrong way”, and with almost no glass facing east or west, it will perform much better.


About François Lévy

Registered Texas architect, former university lecturer and researcher, CAD/BIM consultant and trainer. I hold an M.Arch as well as an MS in architectural engineering from the University of Texas at Austin; I've taught architecture courses there. I have been practicing since 1993, and established my own firm in 1997. I design buildings that capture the imagination, express regional beauty and a sense of place, and touch lightly on the earth. My projects reflect their cultural and geographical context, are accessible and comprehensible to the user, relevant to their surroundings, and contribute to a sense of place rather than obeying a preconceived architectural agenda. All my work—whether in teaching, research, or architecture—investigates the intersection of design, technology, and sustainability. I am particularly passionate about working collaboratively to create projects that eloquently express how we use and conserve energy and water, and inhabit the land. My architectural projects have attracted regional and national press, including Dwell Magazine and HGTV. My residential architectural work includes projects up to 10,000 SF, with project budgets up to $2M. Nonresidential work has included collaboration with other firms on commercial office buildings, school projects, and public infrastructure. In addition to leading Vectorworks seminars to architects for over a decade, I have presented and lectured widely on CAD and BIM. My current areas of research interest are sustainable architecture, BIM, cooling through passive ventilation, and space architecture, on which I have presented at international conferences. Specialties: Sustainable architecture, BIM (building information modeling), CAD, space architecture
This entry was posted in architecture, design, green building, sustainability, sustainable development. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Orientation Matters

  1. Pingback: Orienting Your House: Architect François Lévy | EYE ON DESIGN by Dan Gregory

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