Mihai Andritoiu

As urban areas increase in density to provide more housing options to increasing populations, many issues are arising, including access to sunlight. Cities are taking different approaches to policies that would guarantee access to nature, as outlined in this article from Fast Company. Those policies are complimenting innovative design and materials that will redefine urban skylines.

At 4 p.m. on a bright spring day, if you’re positioned along the High Line, you’ll feel the sun’s rays beating down on you. This makes sense — the High Line is an elevated outdoor park exposed to the elements — but sunshine isn’t a guarantee here. The High Line cuts through the heart of New York City’s booming westside development, bookended by high-profile buildings like Renzo Piano’s Whitney Museum of Art and the gleaming towers of Hudson Yards with lots of new construction in between to block the sun from the popular pedestrian walk.

Bound by water on all sides, New York City has always been forced to grow vertically; but this stretch of land along Manhattan’s West Side Highway is becoming a fortress of glass and concrete as developers eye its waterside proximity. At this particular location along the High Line — between 13th and 14th Streets — the park is mostly boxed in by glassy towers. The park’s gardening zone, the Washington Grasslands and Woodland Edge, is filled with light-loving prairie grasses and perennials like little bluestem and coneflower that increasingly don’t see the sun.

“We’re pretty sure that all the plants there would have died if we had done the as-of-right massing,” says Weston Walker, design principal and partner at the architecture firm Studio Gang.

He’s telling me this on a cloudy spring afternoon while standing at the eighth floor windows of the firm’s newly opened office building, 40 Tenth Avenue. In front of us, the High Line snakes past The Standard Hotel and cuts between two tall glass buildings. Like its neighbors, Gang’s 10-story structure is built from steel, glass, and concrete, but as Walker hinted, there’s something noticeably different about it.

Viewed straight-on from the Hudson River, 40 Tenth looks like a simple rectangle. Shift to the right or left, though, and the building cuts inward, creating a dramatic faceted facade. The new development is part of Gang’s exploration into “solar carving,” a marketable term the firm uses to describe its process of shaping buildings based on the sun’s location and its desired effect. Architects have done some form of this for thousands of years, but Gang has advanced the practice by using software to create detailed solar path diagrams that allow the studio to shift, tuck, and slant a building’s massing into an optimized shape.

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