A trick of the light: Using shade to optimise sunlight in residential design

Biologically speaking, light equals life. As the main energy source for all living beings, to say light is crucial would be an understatement.

Therefore, it makes sense that throughout history, light has always played a central role in architectural design. From The Pentagon in Rome to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple, there are countless examples of breathtaking architecture that has been designed to celebrate the power of light.

Australian architecture is no exception. As a country that enjoys some of the most annual sunlight hours in the world, there is no shortage of light to work with. That being said, one of the unique challenges Australian architects must face is how to tame increasingly harsh UV rays –  a symptom of an ever-warming climate – without compromising the aesthetic beauty of a light-filled home. Thankfully, the options are many and varied, with the range of light optimising solutions growing more advanced by the day.

Curtains and blinds

This one seems obvious. Too much glare? Close the blinds! But can curtains and blinds actually be a sophisticated and functional way to optimise light in a home? 

One recent example is Ascot Residence, a multi-storey home in sunny Brisbane. The design utilises a combination of curtains, blinds and shutters to address the challenges of Brisbane’s hot and humid climate while prioritising privacy and aesthetics.

On the ground floor, sheer linen curtains were used, placed on recessed tracks that allow them to be moved around the perimeter of the room. The recessed tracks integrate seamlessly as a shadowline in the ceiling, maintaining a clean and minimalist look while giving the client the flexibility they need in a room that is surrounded with windows and sliding. In this case, wave sheers were the ideal solution as they provide privacy while still allowing natural light into the room. The sheer curtains were also combined with Verosol’s Wire Guided external blinds to maximise performance and temperature regulation.

On the balcony, Verosol’s Wire Guided external blinds were used once again to keep the heat out while creating a practical and more versatile outdoor area for entertaining. External blinds were used throughout the design to address the designers’ main concern, which was Brisbane’s hot climate. According to the designers, external blinds can stop UV rays before they hit the glass of your windows and can generate heat. This makes them an ideal solution for clients looking to reduce their energy bills.


Window coverings are certainly one way to beat the heat, but that begs the question: what about the window itself? For residential designs which place high importance on outward views, is there anything we can do to minimise heat while maximising outlook?

According to Viridian Glass, there are such solutions. One example is Viridian’s LightBridge next double-glazed units, which consist of two panes of glass separated by a non-conductive spacer bar and filled with argon gas. Benefits include temperature and sound insulation that cannot be matched by standard glass, and in particular the ability to design structures with windows up to two-and-a-half times bigger than traditional windows, without sacrificing performance. These windows also maintain the appearance of clear glass with the performance of a grey glass, which is ideal for clients who prefer a more transparent look.

Awnings and louvres

It wouldn’t be an Aussie design if there was no emphasis on outdoor living. More than ever, residential designs are embracing the concept of indoor-outdoor living: paying tribute to our beautiful natural environment while extending the living space of the home.  Key to this is the use of awnings and louvres in outdoor spaces – ensuring protection from harsh UV rays and inclement weather while still embracing sunlight and airflow.

In terms of awnings and louvres, perhaps the first name that comes to mind is Vergola. An Australian classic, a Vergola is an opening and closing louvre roof system that uses Colorbond steel paired with a unique double-skinned design that provides superior thermal insulation and sound reduction compared to single-skinned materials such as aluminium. This roof system includes state-of-the-art rain sensors, plus Bluetooth technology that allows the user to control the opening and closing of the louvres from their mobile device.

One recent example of the roof’s use is in a residential build in the northern Sydney suburb of Clareville. According to Vergola, the brief was for a functional covered outdoor space that wouldn’t block natural light from entering the home’s interior. The client also required a well-ventilated space that would be suited to outdoor entertaining all year round. To achieve this, an open-close Vergola was installed in the space. The roof maximises sunlight, creating a lighter, warmer environment in the cooler months, while keeping the space free of direct sunlight during the peak of summer. The result is a functional, flexible outdoor space where the client has complete control over the level of sunlight. 

For those looking for a more ‘moveable’ roofing option, another good solution is markilux’s Folding Arm Awnings, which are retractable and extendable awnings built on two folding arms that extend out to cantilever the roof over a patio or balcony. According to markilux, while moveable, the Folding Arm Awnings are also highly durable and provide resistance from extreme weather – shielding outdoor spaces from rain while providing a UV protection factor of up to SPF 50+. Designed and made in Germany, the awnings also represent the unique combination of European style and German engineering.

Finally, it is worth mentioning rack arm louvres, a sun control solution that has been growing in popularity of late due to its aesthetic appeal paired with a high level of privacy and sun protection. One such example is Horiso’s Rack Arm System, which is a customisable louvre shading system that is suitable for internal or external use, and can be made to almost any shape (even a circle). The system uses fixed yet operable support arms which hold aluminium/timber interlocking or overlapping slats that tilt from 0 to 90 degrees via manual, motorised or automated control.

The Rack Arm System is quite flexible in its installation, and can be used on windows and facades, pergola roofs and walls, skylights and glass roofs. One of the key benefits, according to Horiso, is that the tilting slats provide the optimal amount of daylight, minimising the need for artificial lighting and the excessive use of air conditioning. This is because they maintain effective airflow and help reduce overall solar heat gain.

One recent example of the system’s use is in a new residential duplex development in Sydney, where the client sought a seamless louvre shading system that would integrate with the building’s facade while providing solar shading, glare control and privacy. As per the request of the owners, the first home was fitted with motorised louvres, controlled by remote. The second home took things a step further by choosing a home automation system controlled by a C-Bus home control system. The result was an aesthetically pleasing and functional sun control solution for the entire structure, which matched the facade seamlessly when closed.



Horiso: https://www.architectureanddesign.com.au/suppliers/horiso

Markilux Australia: https://www.architectureanddesign.com.au/suppliers/markilux-australia

Verosol: https://www.architectureanddesign.com.au/suppliers/verosol-australia

Vergola: https://www.architectureanddesign.com.au/suppliers/vergola-nsw

Viridian Glass: https://www.architectureanddesign.com.au/suppliers/viridian

Image: Viridian

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