Wild Energy


The free, wild energies that play over a site are the driving force behind climate and weather and are major design components. Solar, wind and water energy, and the chemical energy in the soil, are so prevalent that we may tend to take them for granted unless they present a problem. The truth is that they can always be used as a resource and should be considered in our analysis of site and user needs.

Solar energy (direct, diffuse and reflected) is variable on a site dependent upon latitude, vegetation cover, slope aspect and orientation, and regional air quality. For example, the closer the slope is to being perpendicular to the incoming rays of the sun the greater the intensity of radiation. It is a driving force for all plant growth and can be modified to some extent by design. In design we create solar traps, shading devices, orientation to gain solar heating, and so on. Areas may be sited near a water body to take advantage of light being reflected from it. Solar energy is there just waiting to be captured for use.

Architectural Graphic Standards (Ramsey and Sleeper, John Wiley & Sons) provides information on solar angle, path and radiant energy at various latitudes. Developed by architect Victor Olgyay, AIA, the information is illustrated and explained in a format that is usable by designers.


Wind energy is highly variable from area to area. In some places there is enough wind to drive turbines for generation of power. In other areas, wind causes soil erosion and drying making windbreaks an important element in design. In yet other areas, planting can be made to concentrate wind movement for cooling. Weather stations in many areas keep track of wind direction and force throughout the year and publish "wind roses" that are particularly helpful to designers. Site conditions such as hills and valleys can have a major influence of wind patterns so the more local the data the more useful it is. Wind on the site can be modified to a large degree through siting and placement of buildings and plantings.

Water entering the site is a source of energy. A site may have streams or rivers as a permanent source of energy. More often we need to look at rainfall and its storage as the energy supply. The most important factor in use of water energy is to capture the water in quantity as high on the site as possible. From that point it can be used again and again as it is released through the site. Direct water power is enhanced by steep site gradients but water converted to plant biomass becomes a form of stored energy as well.

Chemical energy is collected in the soil. While it is a latent form of energy it is important for growth of plants. Plants build their structure by conversion of solar energy to biomass using water and soil nutrients. The energy producing capability of soil can be enhanced by composting and other soil building techniques.