Heliodon: The Story Behind the Design

Feb 2, 2018

Minimal and simple in form, each piece is meant to capture the essence of a moment.  

Light, especially sunlight, can affect us on multiple levels.  Without us realizing it, the quality of light can shape an experience.  For me, on my wedding day, the ambient light from an overcast sky created a soft, romantic atmosphere - a quality that shaped and colored my memories of the day, saturated with feelings of love and happiness.  In fact, one of the first Heliodon rings I designed was for myself, seen in the photograph below, to commemorate my wedding day.     

Heliodon ring in rose gold

The idea behind the HELIODON collection came from the desire to find a way to keep special memories close.  Minimal and simple in form, each piece is meant to capture the essence of a moment.  Like a haiku, it captures a mood embodied in three elements: a location, a date, and a time of day.  At the heart of these elements is the angle of the sun.

PLAITLY Heliodon Pendant in Gold

As an architect, I am always inspired by the relationship between objects and the natural environment.  Since every building is designed to respond to the sun, the sun angles at any location are really important and influential to designing buildings. The angles can determine how much natural light enters a building throughout a given day, which in turn can affect the materials used, the heating and cooling systems, and so on.  Before the development of computer programs to analyze building systems, architects used a device called a “heliodon” to study the sun angles at a particular location.  A heliodon was a machine with “a pivoted platform and a spotlight on a vertical track used to simulate sun and shadow orientation for any latitude and day of year for a proposed building.”[1]   Architects would make a small model of their building and place it in the center of the heliodon to study how the sun angles interacted with the building’s form.  Below is a photo of a heliodon machine (courtesy of Google).      

But the sun’s influence on building design is not limited to technical and practical applications.  Architects have long been inspired by the poetic qualities of natural light - glowing rays of sunlight pouring through a window, or the dappled effect of sunlight through an artistically perforated screen.  Architect Steven Holl views light as a building material, something that can shape and define a space in a dynamic way.  In a recent interview, Holl memorably stated,

“I had someone ask me, ‘What is your favorite material?’ And I said light. My favorite material is light. To me, it’s a principle of connecting a building to the seasons, to the times of day and to psychological well-being. We know that natural light has an aspect that really does affect us physically and mentally.”[2]

All of this, the technical and the poetic, comes together in every pendant, ring, and pair of earrings that we design for you.  With an algorithm we developed to visualize the sun angle, we use the location, date, and time you choose to create each unique shape.  In each Heliodon piece, the time of day and the time of year have the most impact on the sun angle.  During early morning and late afternoon (a little before sunset), the sun angles will be shallow and subtle.  During the middle of the day, around noon, the sun angles will be high and dramatic.  Also, the sun is generally higher in the summer compared to the winter based on the path and axial relationship of the Earth as it rotates and travels around the sun.  

Here is a video showing how a high summer sun around noon translates into a Heliodon pendant design:

And here is a video showing a low winter sun around noon (this is the video on our home page!):

When you purchase any piece from the Heliodon Collection, a percentage of your purchase will be donated to the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), a non-profit organization that uses the power of the sun to develop and deliver innovative solar solutions in answer to the urgent needs of the world’s energy poor—giving them the opportunity to vastly improve their quality of life and pursue their dreams.  To learn more about our partnership with the Solar Electric Light Fund, read our blog post here.

View the Heliodon Collection or contact me if you have any questions - I would love to hear from you!