Trail in Namibia Trail in Namibia

Architecture and Navigation

Wherever you are in the world, there are some simple principles applied by architects and a few of these are relevant to natural navigators.

It doesn’t matter if a building is ancient or modern, a home or a business, the person responsible for designing it will have given some thought to heat, light and wind. If not, then they won’t have been in the business for long.

In many parts of the northern world, the struggle has been to build structures that stay warm enough, hence a preference for south-facing aspects.

I was once asked by a student at the end of a school talk if I knew which way I was looking. I replied,

“Funnily enough, I’m not absolutely sure. However, I did notice that this is a long thin building and I’m facing the direction we walked in, so I reckon… south.”

There was a pause, then a teacher at the back said, “Yes.” Phewf!

In other parts of the world, not least in the tropics, the struggle is to keep buildings cool; especially anything built without electricity or air conditioning.

The images below show this idea in practice, they are photos I took of plaques in a museum I visited in Tampa, Florida, recently. It’s a pretty hot part of the world generally and they explain the alignment of the tobacco factories, a once thriving trade in the area. This alignment is replicated in lots of buildings, leading to whole grids in towns being dependably aligned with the cardinal directions.

Top photo credit.