Ralph L. Knowles
Professor Emeritus
School of Architecture
University of Southern California




Solar Policy and Design:The potential exists to conceive of architecture in other than static terms.

The Solar Envelope: Twenty years of design research in the USC Solar Studio show that, if generally applied as an instrument of zoning, the solar envelope will not only allow potential growth but will open new aesthetic possibilities for architecture and urban design.

Rhythm and Ritual: A Motive for Design: This paper, using examples from history, from actual experience, and from the latest work of the USC Solar Studio, argues that a spatial conception linking nature's rhythms to life's rituals can give new life and freshness to design.

On Being the Right Size: The right size, and notably the right size of a building, is relative. It is dependent upon the costs of construction and of maintenance. It is also proportional to the more illusory standards of livability and of choice. This paper, reporting on a 10-year urban housing study for Los Angeles, concludes that for energy conservation and life quality, buildings can be neither too great nor too small.

The Rituals of Place: Ritual is taken in this paper to be an imaginative recreation of the natural rhythms we experience. For example, the sun comes into our garden or through our window. We can move either toward or away from it for relief. At first our actions only rehearse a direct search for physical comfort. But eventually, simple movements may be expanded in detail to express the individual character of a place.

The Interstitium: Recent studies show that while originally conceived as a fixed limit on construction, the solar envelope's boundaries can cycle between seasonal extremes without denying year-round solar access. Between the low winter envelope and the higher summer envelope lies an interstitial space that can adjust to accommodate seasonally adaptive architecture.

Solar Aesthetic: Given the awakening interest in a new architectural aesthetic, driven by the worldwide need to conserve energy, a design research project initiated in 1962 takes on fresh meaning today.

Solar Aesthetic II: If we are to confront aesthetic questions of solar form, we must begin with nature.

Solar Aethetic III: In support of a natural architectural lanugage, private sheltering rituals offer an implicit architectural order, while publicly guaranteed solar access supports an explicit order of physical symbols.




1959. Master of Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.

1954. Bachelor of Architecture, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC.


2011. USC Architectural Guild. Founder's Award 2011.

2010/2011. Architectural Research Centers Consortium (ARCC). The Haecker Award 2010.

2010. AIA Los Angeles Chapter: Presidential Honoree 2010, Excellence In Education Award.

2005. The American Solar Energy Society (ASES), Fellow of the Society.

2003. American Solar Energy Society (ASES), Passive Solar Pioneer Award.

2000. USC Distinguished Emeritus Award.

1996. USC Torch and Tassel Chapter of Mortar Board Award: Faculty of the Month for March.

1995. American Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) Distinguished Professor Award.

1993. Fulbright Teaching Fellowship, Slovak Technical University, Bratislava, SLOVAKIA, Spring.

1988. Sixth Distinguished Faculty Lecture, USC.

1983. Phi Kappa Phi Book Award (Sun Rhythm Form).

1983. Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society.

1980. National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Design Arts Grants Recognition.

1975-1978. University Professorship for Design Research, USC; three successive yearly appointments.

1974. American Institute of Architects (AIA), Medal for Research.

1970. Award for Teaching Excellence, University of Southern California (USC).

1962. Grand National Award, Fourth Annual Ruberoid Competition.

Teaching Experience

1999. University of Hawaii, appointed adjunct professor to aid in development of ARCH D program.

1994. Retired from full-time teaching at USC;  continuing on part-time basis.

1973-75. Interim Dean, School of Architecture and Fine Arts.

1963-present. University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles, CA.

1959-63. Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.

Professional Activities (NC Bd. Arch. #992)

Professional juries and committees.

Contributions to museum exhibitions.

1968-present. Solar policy and design consultant: AIA, AIA/RC, DOE, NAS, NEA, Oak Ridge, SERI, TVA; States of Alaska, California, and Nebraska; County of Los Angeles; Cities of Chattanooga, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.

1959-present. Consultant to private architectural and planning firms.

1954-59. Architectural offices.

Research Grants and Contracts

1994. Lusk Center Research Institute.

1984-85. National Endowment for the Arts, Senior-Level Sabbatical Fellowship.

1979-81. Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI): DOE (two separate contracts).

1979. Albert C. Martin and Associates, Los Angeles.

1968. Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

1967-80. National Endowment for the Arts (five separate grants).

1962-63. Graham Foundation Fellowship.

1961-62. Container Corporation of America.

1960. Grant-in-Aid, Auburn University.


2006. Ritual House: Drawing on nature’s rhythms for architecture and urban design. Island Press.

1981. Sun Rhythm Form. MIT Press. (Paperback ed. 1985)

1981. Energia E Forma. Padua, Italy: Franco Muzzio c. editore. Paperback. (Italian translation of Energy and Form.)

1979. Solar Envelope Concepts: Moderate Density Building Applications. Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI). (with Richard D. Berry).

1976. Sun. USC.

1974. Energy and Form: An Ecological Approach to Urban Growth. MIT Press. (Paperback ed. 1977)

1969. Owens Valley Study: A Natural Ecological Framework for Settlement. USC.

1968. Form and Stability. USC.

1967. Sun; Wind; Water. USC.

Articles, Reports, Invited Papers

Circa 50. Among the most recent ones are the following:

2011. "Solar Aesthetic." In Sang Lee, ed., Aesthetics of Sustainable Architecture. Roterdam 2011: 010 Publishers.

2010. "The Energy of Light." An exhibition at Pratt Institute: The Rubella and Norman Schafler Gallery,  Oct. 7, 2010 - Jan. 21, 2011.

2006. “Solar Access by Design.” In SOLAR TODAY, Nov/Dec.

2003. “The Solar Envelope.” In D. Watson, A. Plattus, and R. Shibley, eds., Time-Saver Standards for Urban Design. New York: McGraw-Hill: 4.6-1 to 4.6-18.

2000. "The Solar Envelope: Its meaning for urban growth and form."Proceeding of the Millennium Conference on Passive and Low Energy Architecture (PLEA)", Cambridge University, Cambridge, England, 2-5 July.

2000. "The Interstitium: A zoning strategy for seasonally adaptive architecture." (Co-authored with Karen M. Kensek) Proceedings of the Environmental Design Research Association(EDRA) Conference on Building Bridges: Connecting People, Research and Design, San Francisco, CA, May 10-14.

1999. "Advanced Technical Education in the New Millennium: The Academy of Architectural Sciences, a New Post Graduate Virtual University" (Coauthored with Jeffery Cook,, Murray Milne, and John Reynolds.) Proceedings of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) International Science and Technology Conference, University of Montreal, June 24 - 27. 

Lectures at Conferences, Symposia, and Professional Meetings

Circa 50 lectures. Among the major ones are the following:

2006. Lecture coinciding with book signing for Ritual House and with exhibition titled The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture and Design, National Building Museum, Washington, D.C.

1990. First Meeting for International Research Collaboration, Slovak Technical University, Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. Research Collaborator. Invited lecture and group discussion of research into solar policy and design, and ecological planning.

1984. International Design Conference in Aspen (IDCA): "Neighbors: Canada, Mexico, and the U.S.": Aspen, CO. NEA Fellow.

1984. Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA): 150th Birthday Conference, "The State of the Art." York, England. Speaker and panelist.   

1981. Keynote speaker, AIA National Convention, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Keynote Address.

Lectures at Universities

Circa 100 lectures at 50 universities.

Citations in the Media

Circa 150: Books, journals and professional publications, newspapers, newsmagazines, TV and radio reports.