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Vdara Hotel Solar Analysis

December 18, 2012

Damage and light pollution caused by the intense reflections from highly reflective surfaces of new buildings continues to fascinate me as a design problem. This post follows two previous posts ( see WIP: Modeling the Vdara and A Visit to the Vdara Death Ray) in which I’ve explored the development of a simple massing model for analysis of the solar reflection problems experienced at the Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas, where news accounts describe temperatures reaching 130 degrees Fahrenheit and show photos of melted plastic bags and cups.

In this new animation below I show solar vectors generated with the Heliotrope Solar Calculator plugin, constructed on a Rhino5 site plan and animated using Grasshopper. This custom ray tracing targets speed rather than detailed numerical accuracy as it examines the path of solar rays that intersect a small volume of space defined over the Vdara pool area.

I will next be adding shading devices to the Vdara’s south face and pool area to see how far they would have to extend to eliminate the greater portion of the solar heating problems. I will also be taking  a look at similar problems experienced at Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, constructed in 2001, as well as the reflections from the newly constructed Museum Tower in Dallas, Texas which are damaging the nearby Renzo Piano designed Nasher Sculpture Center.

Interestingly, we see an increasing progression of harm and expense created by these three examples. The earliest, the Disney Concert Hall, was corrected by abrading the surfaces of the portions of the building skin contributing to the problem. In the second example, the Vdara shown here, the problem is too large to be easily remedied. Fortunately the problem is limited to harm on the complex’s own pool area, which is closed during the worst periods. The latest example, the Nasher, is the most interesting because it is a new construction causing harm to an existing neighbor which is not only a non-profit cultural institution, but is also partly responsible for creating the positive economic environment that allowed the condominium tower to be built in the first place. The tower is even named to emphasize its relationship to the museum.

It’s clear that we are witnessing a new form of light pollution caused by the intense reflections created from the surfaces of energy efficient glass windows. The problems are documented in both large examples such as those being studied here, as well as small examples where new residential windows are damaging neighbors’ houses. What are the legal rights of those harmed and who is liable when damage occurs? More importantly, can we apply solar analysis using tools like Heliotrope to prevent these design problems before they occur? I believe the answer to this last question is, “Yes!” I’d like to ask Mr Gehry  how he would have changed his design for the Disney Concert Hall had he been able to consider these issues during the design process rather than resorting to sandblasting the building afterward.

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