The International VELUX Award is a competition for students of architecture that runs every second year. We challenge students from all over the world to work with daylight as an ever relevant source of light, life and joy. The award is one of the most important global student competitions of its kind.

Submission is now closed. The jury will review the projects in July and the regional winners will be announced in August.

The Circadian House: Hawkes House - Designing for Ageing

The Hawkes House is a one-off design conceived for individual clients. The question arises as to how this may serve as a general model for housing for bringing *Circadian principles to bear on Design for Ageing?

Here, we offer the general principles that can be applied to the design of dwellings of all types, houses and apartments. We give specific attention to the following distinct aspects of design; Orientation, The Plan, The Cross Section, Room Types, Design Detail and Materials and Future Adaptability.

  • Orientation. The most fundamental aspects of Circadian design derive from the orientation of a dwelling. The criteria of Variation, Stimulation, Outdoor/indoor relation, Cool/warm are all, to some degree, contingent on the relation of a building and its main rooms to a southerly orientation (in the Northern hemisphere). At the latitude of the United Kingdom, between 50° and 60° N, the sun’s path produces the wide daily and seasonal variations that are a key and desirable element of Circadian design.

  • The Plan. It is in devising the plan of a dwelling that response to orientation is determined. An invaluable tool in this is reference to a sunpath diagram for the location. This allows the relationship between the sun and individual rooms within to be understood. This aspect of design may be` easily and extensively explored using CAD tools.

  • Cross Section. The cross section of a building is as important as the plan in understanding the penetration of sunlight and, hence, the enjoyment of the elements of Circadian design. The simple comparison of summer and winter conditions shown for the Hawkes House below, is easily made and more extensive analysis is readily possible with CAD tools.

  • Room Types. The example of the Hawkes House illustrates how the rooms of even a small dwelling may be designed to provide specific environments related to their use. This is achieved in part by giving attention to the key concerns for orientation, the plan and cross section, but the key lies in the analysis made of the differing needs of daytime and nighttime inhabitation and the range of activities that occupants are likely to carry out in their daily lives. This is illustrated in the quite complex design of the Hawkes House living room, but is equally realized in the essentially simple nature of the bedrooms.

  • Design Detail and Materials. Some of the most important contributions to achieving the qualities of Circadian design come from attention that is paid to the detail and materials of a building. The creation of small, aedicular places, such as the Hawkes House bay window, may contribute a great deal to the experience of a room, extending its use and, in this case, achieving a richer relationship between inside and outside. The vaulted ceilings over part of the living room and the kitchen contribute to the thermal, luminous and acoustic environments in these rooms. The small opening between the living room and the kitchen is not only practical, as a serving hatch, but also establishes a visual link between the two rooms that has considerable social and psychological value. The materials and finishes of the interiors of rooms play a vital part in supporting their inhabitation. In small dwellings it is usually god to have a simple background – here in the general use of white-painted plaster for most of the walls and ceilings. This may then be ‘fine-tuned’ by using small areas of strong colour for walls and carpets, introducing natural materials for floors or ceilings. This then forms a background into which the occupants may place their own possessions, furniture, pictures and so on.

  • Future Adaptability. The single storey house, with its open arrangement of spaces and few internal divisions, makes it inherently easy to inhabit as the owners grow older. Specific physical adaptations that could easily be made, if needed, would include raised access to the external doors for future wheelchair use. This would be particularly valuable in maintaining access to the garden, since this plays such a central part in the daily life of the house. As we age we come to inhabit a reduced ‘environmental envelope’. This is that we tend to be less tolerant of extremes of heat, light and sound. We feel both cold and heat, we require higher light levels for activities such as reading, but are more sensitive to glare and our hearing becomes less good. As described above, the Circadian environment of the house meets many of these needs. This could, however, be fine tuned by refining the heating controls and adding further light fittings.

*The ‘Key Principles’ of Circadian Design are to Live in Balance with Nature, to design for Adaptability and to achieve Sensibility. The VELUX report, Circadian House: Principles and Guidelines for Healthy Homes, derived from a series of five workshops, held in Copenhagen between November 2012 and August 2013, at which authorities from biological and social science, building science and architecture and planning discussed how the human need to experience the diurnal and seasonal circadian cycles might be translated into architectural design principles. The Principles and Guidelines of the VELUX study are conceived to be applicable to dwellings of all types from single-family houses to apartment buildings and to be relevant to both new and existing dwellings. The present document has its origins in the RIBA Research Symposium 2014, Design for Ageing.

By Dean Hawkes