Inaugural Conference of the Harvard GSD Office for Urbanization: “heliomorphism”


Convened by Charles Waldheim with Sergio Lopez-Pineiro and Daniel Ibañez

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The topic of solar orientation and urban form is both perennial and, once again, timely. The discourses and practices of ‘ecological urbanism’ have turned our focus to the terrestrial topics of hydrological connectivity and ecological function. Heliomorphism proposes to revise and extend the ecological urbanism agenda by returning to solar performance. Recent projects by a number of leading architects and urbanists have suggested new forms of urban order through solar orientation. In many of these projects, designers correlate the shape of the city to a complex and contradictory economy of solar performance.

The topics of solar orientation and social order, public health, and political economy were fundamental questions for many protagonists and projects of modern planning. In the wake of the collapse of modern planning, singular models of social urban order based on latitude and solar equity have given way to neoliberal models of market driven urbanization. The inaugural conference of the Harvard GSD Office for Urbanization returns to this archaic aspect of urban order, and convenes an international group of GSD faculty and doctoral candidates, as well as a select group of GSD alumni to examine its present potentials through three discursive frames: plug-ins, commons, and zero-sum.


Ralph Knowles’s concept of the ‘solar envelope’ proposed a design tool that anticipates contemporary interests in parametricism and relational modeling. The envelope offered a projective form through which urban morphology was indexed to solar performance. The technological developments of the last decade have enabled an unanticipated degree of precision and feedback, potentially infusing new possibilities into an idea that has a half-century of history. Plug-ins revisits the changes, conceptual and projective, that contemporary models of computational geometry have brought to this design model.


Independent of location or latitude, access to the sun is considered an ancient and inviolable right in many cultures. Several current politico economic conceptions, however, protect it for health considerations while others regulate it for energy reasons. Regardless of these two distinctions, commons reconsiders both types of solar access to be issues of social equity and it examines, accordingly, the tensions that exist between built form through capital accumulation and access to sunlight through environmental consensus.


The energy crisis and economic shocks of the 1970s led to experimental and counter-culture practices of architecture and urbanism. These practices enabled the emergence of domestic applications and DIY methods of implementation in a new political economy of solar energy. The current environmental crisis embraces zero-carbon responses and has pushed the scale of operation to neoliberal corporate and governmental urbanizations. Zero-sum reviews the shifts from the domestic to the urban, from the individual to the conglomerate (political or economical), from the alternative to the new normal.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Stubbins Room

doctoral colloquium

14:15   introductions

Charles Waldheim and Daniel Ibañez

14:45   plug-ins

Mariano Gómez Luque, Shadows in New York: The Spatial Formulas of Financial Manhattanism

Arta Yazdanseta, Density vs. the Ethics of the Solar Envelope: A Case Study

Response by John Davis

15:30   break

15:45   commons

Miguel López Melendez, Ludwig Hilberseimer’s Organic Principle as a Reconciliation of Urban Form with Itself

Nicole Beattie, Design Responsibility in Human Health: An Analysis of Sunlight Use in Social Housing in Chile

Ateya Khorakiwala, The 1978 Sun Congress: Exploring the Technopolitics of Solar Architecture in the Third World

Response by Adam Tanaka

16:45   break

17:00   zero-sum

Daniel Daou, Energetic Determinisms: From Heliobiology to Thermosemiosis

Aleksandra Jaeschke, Non-zero-sum Net-zero codes

Response by Justin Stern

17:45   conclusions

Ed Eigen and Helen Kongsgaard

Harvard GSD, Piper Auditorium


18:30   introductions 

Mohsen Mostafavi and Charles Waldheim


Jeanne Gang, Studio Gang

Thom Mayne, Morphosis


Friday, September 16, 2016

Piper Auditorium

09:15   introductions

Charles Waldheim and Sergio Lopez-Pineiro

09:45   project

Mariana Ibañez, Lights On 

10:15   plug-ins

Andrew Witt, The Heuristic Ecology of Heliomorphism

Holly Samuelson, Using Parametric Simulation to Design for Future Contexts

Andres Sevtsuk, Balancing Urban Form: the Means, the Ends and the Tools

Silvia Benedito, On (de)light

Hosted by Florian Idenburg

11:30   project

Eric Howeler, Adaptive Architectures

12:00   lunch

13:00   commons

Eve Blau, Heliomorphism and the Production of Socialist Space

Salmaan Craig, The Thermal Resonance of Buildings

Leire Asensio and David Mah, Fabrications

Sergio Lopez-Pineiro, Heliomorphic Urban Space

Hosted by Carles Muro

14:15   project

Scott Cohen, Density and Reflection

14:45   break                    

15:00   zero-sum

Felipe Correa, Sun from the North: Enrico Tedeschi and a Cosmic Architecture

Elizabeth Whittaker, Solar Driven: Interventions in Form(al) and Surface Typologies 

Francesca Benedetto, Amazing Sun

Camilo Restrepo Ochoa, Parasol

Hosted by Ashley Schafer

16:15   keynote

Iñaki Ábalos, False Friends


Illustration: Ralph Knowles, “Solar Envelope,” 1981.

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