Carnegie Mellon University
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Designing the invisible - Adaptive Design For Experiencing Qualitative Daylight Analysis Using Virtual Reality

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posted on 2023-06-26, 20:45 authored by Xin Zhou

Daylighting is an effective design approach that incorporates natural light into buildings, offering a range of benefits. These include increased productivity, promotion of health, and reduction of energy consumption. The daylighting design needs to simultaneously explore both the quantity and quality of natural light. However, the conventional daylighting design prioritizes quantitative daylight metrics over qualitative aspects. Despite the combination of simulations and renderings in the design process, they are typically processed sequentially using separate programs. This linear workflow lacks the ability to provide designers with comprehensive visual and data feedback during design iterations as the quantity and quality of light display asynchronously. This research investigates the potential of virtual reality to visualize both the quantity and quality of daylight, aiming to improve the design of high-performance buildings. This thesis proposes a new framework to help designers effectively study daylight quantity, quality, and energy performance in a synchronized manner. The proposed tool uses the game engine-Unreal Engine as an interactive interface and data visualization platform that allows for the synchronization of digital models from CAD modeling software, such as Rhino, provides real-time photorealistic rendering, and facilitates the creation of immersive virtual reality experiences. Runtime simulations can be activated in virtual reality, powered by energy and daylight simulation engines that operate independently of the Rhino and Grasshopper environment in the background. Honeybee SDK is used for matrix-based daylight metrics such as daylight availability, while AcceleRad (Jones, 2014) is used for view-based metrics indicating visual comfort. OpenStudio and EnergyPlus provide energy performance data, such as annual Energy Use Intensity (EUI) and monthly heating and cooling load values. With renderings and simulations in one program, this tool supports functionalities that include: 

  1. Climate: sun-path study; 
  2. Point-in-time daylight simulations: point-in-time illuminance and point-in-time HDR rendering; 
  3. Climate-based daylight simulations: DA, cDA, UDI, sDA, ASE; 
  4. Energy simulations: annual EUI, monthly cooling and heating loads; 
  5. Design evaluations: parametric energy and daylight analysis according to the rendering and simulations; 
  6. UI systems for data visualization and analysis in virtual reality; 

The Farnsworth House, a single-family house designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, has been selected as a pilot study for the tool. By applying parametric shading options to the house while keeping the zoning and structures fixed, it is expected that the readings and simulation results can be updated in virtual reality. Design iterations can thus be made until the target daylight and energy metrics are achieved. Throughout the process, designers can explore spatial, material, and light quality in the early design stage through a simplified and easy-to-iterate workflow. In addition, a comprehensive assessment of quantitative and qualitative aspects of daylighting design and subsequent energy performance can help designers understand the combined effects of daylight on occupants’ perceptions of space. This understanding can facilitate the implementation of more effective and feasible design interventions, ultimately leading to a sustainable, comfortable, and satisfying built environment 




Degree Type

  • Master's Thesis


  • Architecture

Degree Name

  • Master of Science in Sustainable Design (MSSD)


Dana Cupkova, Azadeh Sawyer, Sinan Goral, Kushagra Varma