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Solving a design problem: light and form at play

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Catching the sun as it plays across the building’s surface, the undulating facade system for the University of Houston’s Health and Biomedical Sciences Building is an innovative design solution that responds to challenges in topography and program.

The risk of flooding on the low-lying site disallowed a basement, shifting all mechanical space to the top of the building. Likewise, the building program’s secure research spaces – typically located below grade – are also at the top level. Since both the mechanicals and research program require windowless spaces, the upper half of the building facade has few openings.

Recognizing the potentially overwhelming proportion of a solid facade, the design team used reflection and light to enliven the surface. Given that the complex contains the College of Optometry, optical effects utilizing light seemed particularly appropriate.

The design response uses simple rectangular concrete panels that are triangularly faceted, creating five-inch deep peaks and valleys in the facade’s surface. Houston’s high sun angles mean the faceted panels will cast striking and shifting shadows across the facade as the sun crosses the sky. The interplay of shadow and light will activate and enliven the windowless expanses of the building, creating visual display that welcomes visitors to the campus.

- Luke Voiland
Architect Luke Voiland is the project designer for the University of Houston Health and Biomedical Sciences Center.


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