Optimizing a Historical Building Typology


This project grew out of an investigation into lighthouses as a historical building typology and the reasons for their failure. As portion of the focus of our final project in Building Pathology, what was discovered was that more often than not historic lighthouses today fail due to a lack of maintenance. At their heyday, lighthouses were manned 24 hours a day and maintained 24 hours a day: making sure pooled water on sashes was wiped up, ensuring broken windows were repaired, and ensuring weather-tightness of the structure in general. When the modern era replaced this antiquated system of navigation, this maintenance was indefinitely deferred, which ultimately leads to their failure in some way or the other.

I posed the question about redefining the lighthouse typology by embracing modern methods and techniques to optimize form to account for this unfortunate yet inherent idiosyncratic design feature.

Briefly, the premise was to remove the previously necessary maintenance input into the typology and rely purely on form to provide the navigational guidance toward prominent shipping lanes by redirecting the sun’s rays at critical moments during the day and year. So, instead of a lighthouse what is created is a reflective obelisk. By analyzing the predominant shipping lanes in the area and weather data for the year the form could be optimized by: rotation, twist, height, concavity/convexity, and translation of the top relative to the bottom of the tower.



I was able to then assign which surfaces were to be reflective or not. The process was repeated in three different locations world-wide: Cape May, NJ USA; Hel Peninsula, Poland; and Isola del Giglio, Italy.

The full report can be viewed here in detail, which goes on to describe the full methodology including genetic algorithm methods used as well as the results in finer detail. It should also be mentioned that this project is not an end-all-be-all ‘solution,’ rather an example of how it is possible to dovetail new technologies and methods with age-old questions. If anything, it is a project that at the end poses yet more questions.



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