HMFH Architects

Sun Studies: Optimizing Natural Light at Chapman Middle School

Naturally lit classrooms have been shown to significantly improve student concentration and test scores—but without careful consideration, too much glare can cause teachers to reach for the blinds and flip on overhead lights, undoing the architect’s good intentions and increasing energy use. 

Since the earliest planning discussions with HMFH, the Weymouth community has voiced a desire for abundant natural light and views inside the new Chapman Middle School. The unique, exploratory model of education calls for an arrangement of three grade-level wings branching out from the central Town Square—meaning classrooms are oriented in nearly every possible direction. Providing natural light to the project areas at the center of each classroom cluster added an additional design challenge. Working with high-performance engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti, the project team charted the building’s sun exposure throughout a school day and throughout the year to understand the impact and experience inside Chapman’s academic spaces. 

From there, the design team developed a unique, practical solution: perforated metal sun shades positioned along classroom windows on the building’s exterior. These metal shades control sun exposure and minimize the need to pull down window shades inside the classrooms while adding an elegant architectural element to the character of the school. Three variations of the shades are designed to address the spectrum of classroom orientations. 

Determining the ideal perforation size and pattern density was no easy feat. The shades had to optimize sun exposure without creating overly distinct patterns on the surfaces inside the classrooms or sacrificing views outside. To solve the problem, our design team dove into a deep, hands-on exploration, calling to mind Chapman’s own curricular approach.

The team conducted a series of physical tests by laser-cutting pattern variations into chip board and holding the boards up to the sun at various orientations and locations throughout our office and outside (prior to instituting our work-from-home policy) to observe the resulting patterns. The analysis ruled out the larger perforations that could result in distracting reflections on students’ desks and helped the project team fine-tune the design.

As the project continues, so will this iterative process of testing. The sun shade design will bring optimal natural light into the classroom neighborhoods and their project areas. Paired with daylight sensors inside, the sun shades will reduce reliance on artificial light, help create a healthy environment for Chapman’s students, and reduce operating costs for the town.