Before building, look to the sun

How to maximize enjoyment of outdoor space

One bright morning, my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Gibbs, led us all out into the play yard. There, chalk in hand, she marked the edge of a shadow being cast by a nearby roof. "The sun," she carefully intoned in kiddyspeak, "looks like it's standing still, but it's actually moving all the time." After absorbing this statement without much effect, we filed back into the classroom again to play, forgetting all about the little mark until Mrs. Gibbs marched us back out a few hours later. This time we were all astonished to see that the shadow was now far away from the chalk mark. How about that -- the sun really did move! No doubt kindergarten teachers across the country go through a similar exercise year in and year out, but alas, for many designers, the lesson doesn't seem to sink in too well. To cite a notorious example, the architects of one of San Francisco's tallest buildings, 555 California St., saw fit to place a grand outdoor plaza on the north side of their 52-story tower, yiel...