Good use of north building orientation in the southern hemisphere is design gold.

Effective building design just can’t exist without it.  But the thorns are stopping us from getting to the gold.

Good use of north orientation in building design allows warm winter sun to enter the building for free passive heating, and use of its principles means hot summer sun is blocked from entering the building which a means of free passive cooling.

This is passive environmental control at its best, and there are additional benefits.  Using the natural environment to enhance building design, especially sunlight control, has significant positive physiological and psychological benefits for occupants.

Building design utilizing north orientation is so important that it is usually written into authority planning laws.  However successfully designing for north orientation is a thorny issue.  Put simply, it is hard to do.  It is actually near impossible when put up against the allowable zonal densities which result from current predominant planning laws.  Consequentially, authorities often don’t enforce their north orientation laws and allow higher density building developments without it, in exchange.

Even without thinking of north orientation, good building design is a very difficult and challenging endeavor at the best of times.  Residential design is regarded as one of the most complex type, and it is residential design, especially multi-residential, which is most affected by both north orientation and planning laws.  Residences are a very unique building type, potentially occupied all day and night by people of all ages, occupations, cultural backgrounds, and states of health.  And they are not just houses, they are homes.

Design for north orientation is easiest when a design is for a new building is on a large greenfield site with no other buildings nearby.  But this is a luxury scenario.  Many designs are in built-up urban areas which usually means a lot of impediments to utilizing north orientation exist.  These impediments include neighbouring buildings and trees blocking north light, and even north access points to smaller, restrictive sites are impediments.

One of the most challenging situations is designing for north orientation for a house on an older standard block of long rectangular shape.  These sites are typical of inner-city areas where the limited civil engineering technology of yesteryear forced land developers to pack as many sites into the shortest road length as possible.

These older sites have a short side of the rectangle as the street frontage.  If this short side faces east or west, a long side of the site will face north.  This side will invariably have a neighbours house or their trees blocking north light to the new design next door to the south.

Multi-residential design, perhaps more so than detached houses, is adversely affected by impediments to north orientation.  The biggest impediment is developers desire to build the maximum number of residential units allowable with zonal density laws.  This sort of maximization of unit numbers, means north orientation happens only randomly and by luck.  The two concepts of design to north orientation and design to zoning density numbers, are mutually exclusive – they can’t co-exist.

A multi-residential development designed to north orientation principles will see a much smaller development happen.  A reasonable hypothetical comparison may have a site, for example, take a development of 12 residences designed to current regulations based on zonal density.  On the same site, a development designed for north orientation might take a development of 5 residences.

This reduction actually results in a more natural density volume, and while not being what a developer is used to, can be a new workable concept of increased livability in urban residential design and planning.  Current density and zone restrictions could be eliminated, and replaced with simply having every residence designed for north orientation.  It would result in a more consistent and naturally dispersed geographical spread of good-quality medium-density housing, lessening the future occurrence of high-density concentrations.

This could be a blanket planning concept and it is based on natural design principles.  Supporting this change would be the fact that it would automatically and immediately produce individual residential units of a greatly superior design quality.  Developers could see this as a welcome thing as it would allow a higher ratio of return on expense.

Finding gold often means first dealing with thorns.  Not looking for that gold means perpetual acceptance of the thorns.  If nothing is done to give every new residence north orientation, we will have to live with the thorns for a very long time.