Shaping light and thermal energy

” In climates where daylight was plentiful and bright, architects responded by reducing the size of opening and using a medium to diffuse light. Such medium included grilles or glazing. (…) There were therefore great changes in lighting levels within a building and further in detail within a single space. “


Mashrabiya. Islamic architecture

In Morocco, more precisely in the desert climate, temperatures fluctuate from extremely high during the day to very cold at night. How to control light and thermal energy through architecture is therefor highly important. What interests me is in what ways could we use digital softwares and parametric modelling to create a porous facade which directs precisely the daylight and stores its thermal energy in order to release it at night.

Shaping light

Light filtering has been used for centuries, mainly with mashrabiya windows which direct daylight through its patterns. Modern architecture has been inspired by this light filtering patterns and has developed it in different ways. In Qatar, the Doha tower uses the Islamic star pattern in order to control the sunlight and to avoid overheating of the building. As we can see in the below pictures, the pattern gets denser on the facade where the sun will shine the most (in this case southern facade).

Doha tower, Qatar

Thermal energy

Not only must light be managed but thermal energy is also a key point in order to keep a constant temperature during day and night. As far as we know, different materials store thermal energy in different ways. For example metal has a very low storage capacity, as when warmed up it will immediately release the heat energy. On the other hand, stone has a high capacity in storing energy. We probably all had the experience of sitting on a stone in the evening and still filling the warmth of the sunlight it absorbed during the day. 

But how could I use thermal energy storage in an even more efficient way than the stone does? Phase changing materials could be a solution. 

“Phase change materials (PCM) are substances that absorb and release thermal energy during the process of melting and freezing. When a PCM freezes, it releases a large amount of energy in the form of latent heat at a relatively constant temperature. Conversely, when such material melts, it absorbs a large amount of heat from the environment. PCMs recharge as ambient temperatures fluctuate, making them ideal for a variety of everyday applications that require temperature control.”


Phase changing material process

The brick

In order to combine shaping light and thermal energy, I introduce six bricks comprising a cavity which directs daylight. In these six examples I use the daylight in early afternoon and the daylight in the evening to observe how different shaped cavities manipulate the rays of light. The more the light ray will reflect in the cavity, the more thermal energy will the brick be able to store during the day.


Brick proposal. Section

As the cavities become more complex in these three last bricks, I introduce the phase changing material. Ideally I would be able to find the most efficient cavities responding to different hours of the day (different light rays). These cavities would have pockets to put the PCM which would store a lot of heat in daytime and release at night. 


Brick proposal with pcm. Section

Fabrication process

Working with computer programs such as Rhinoceros and Grasshopper, I hope to be able to parametrically model my six different brick. Responding in the most efficient way to light manipulation and heat absorption. Once these six “ideal” bricks would be created, I would use a CNC machine in order to fabricate the molds.

This is where customization transforms into standardization. 


CNC machine. Mold fabrication

Why would I want the process to become standardized? 

In order to include craftsmen work into the process. Once the molds will be made and duplicated, the local craftsmanship will be able to make the bricks and give them a “human” touch.


Local craftsman using the potential brick mold


Nyole Florence Chepchumba, History of Daylighting: A comparative analysis across the periods, 2016

Design Lab Workshop,

Mashrabiya, Wikipedia,

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