As one might expect from the founder of the Daylighting Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Marilyne Andersen (now the founder and head of the Interdisciplinary Laboratory of Performance-Integrated Design at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology [EPFL] in Lausanne, Switzerland), comes from a background not in design, but science. After earning a master's degree in physics and a Ph.D. in building physics from EPFL in her native Lausanne, her interests gravitated toward architecture. When she came to MIT in 2004, Andersen sought to find an area of focus that would encompass both the analytical and experiential aspects of creating structures for human habitation. “I was looking for a bridge between architecture and engineering,” she explains, “and daylight seemed to be the most central link between the two. It relates to heating and cooling—the major energy issues—but it's also very strongly connected to the aesthetics and ambience of a space. It even relates to health.”
Having found the intersection of her interests, Andersen established the Daylighting Lab, a research group that sits somewhere between engineering, science, and architecture. The lab combines theory with hands-on experience, and has drawn students from disciplines as varied as her own. In 2009, about a third were in the M.Arch. program, another third were pursuing professional postgraduate degrees in science and engineering with a focus on building technology, and the final third were undergraduates. She strongly believes in the importance of having an open exchange between professor and pupil. “One of the things that I really enjoy and think is essential, is to interact with the students,” she says. “This means having a small class, ideally 15 or 20 students, who feel free to interrupt the teacher.”
An extension of the lab is the daylighting class, the only such one at the institute. Andersen developed the class to introduce students to daylighting strategies, using an existing building as a case study. Andersen always tried to make sure that there was a mix of students on each team to create a diverse range of knowledge, as well as give the professional students in architecture and engineering a prep-course in how to communicate with others—a valuable skill for their futures.
Rather than mandate specific approaches, Andersen encouraged the class to develop its own ideas, and equipped all of the students with the strategies and processes available to architects, lighting designers, and daylighting consultants. The students learned fundamental and advanced strategies with the goal of developing a vocabulary and intuition with daylight to the point that they would be able to predict how a given design would affect a space and be able to express those views. Calculation methods and simulation tools were taught. The students also worked with software, including Ecotect in combination with Radiance and Daysim (lighting calculation and rendering programs), which predict when a certain illuminance threshold is available at a given point on the globe. They also worked with Lightsolve, a program that Andersen designed with her research students and Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute. Lightsolve uses yearly meteorological data and then calculates and displays goal-based performance metrics for illuminance, glare, and solar gains. It then produces renderings.
For the Fall 2009 class, Andersen asked her students to develop daylighting solutions for the Consulate of Switzerland's office, also known as Swissnex Boston, located at 420 Broadway in Cambridge, Mass. They focused on the second floor, which is a recent extension to the original building designed by Convergeo, a firm based in Concord, Mass., and Lausanne, Switzerland, and founded by Muriel Waldvogel and Jeffrey Huang. Constructed in 2008, the extension rises out of the existing brick building's gravel roof, its walls made up of concave and convex curves. Basically, it is a glass box with glazing on three of the four façades. The fourth façade, which faces south-southwest, features a solid wall punctured by a few windows.
Andersen divided the students into five groups, assigning each team two individual spaces with differing orientations. Four of the five groups received fully glazed office spaces. The fifth group was assigned a large meeting space, which features the mostly opaque façade. The selection of two different orientations for each team was essential to the project: It created the challenge of coming up with an architectural language that would handle contrasting daylight conditions.