Beat the heat with Architecture

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Over on Curbed, Robert Khedarian describes how houses were cooled before air conditioning, a theme we have covered on TreeHugger many times. He leads off with a photo of Greene and Greene's Gamble House in Pasadena, noting that it has a big sleeping porch. But he misses the big lessons from that house: the massively deep roof overhangs that shade the house in summer. Note also that the windows are surprisingly small for such a large house, to minimize heat gain.

It worked in Pasedena and not so well in Buffalo, where Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Darwin Martin House; Mrs. Martin found it cold and dark. But deep overhangs on south-facing facades, calculated to let the sun in during winter and shade it in summer when the sun is high, were a basic design principle.

Another feature in the Gamble House and almost every house designed before air conditioning, in the north or south, is that bedrooms, wherever possible, are in corners so that they have cross-ventilation. This is something that could and should still be done in houses but rarely is.

Get a shotgun

Then there is the shotgun house; Curbed doesn't mention that the one they show is actually Elvis Presley's birthplace. According to Michael Janzen of Tiny House Design, they got their nickname "from the idea that if you stood at the front door and fired a shotgun the buck would fly out the back door without hitting the house." The small, affordable houses had rooms behind rooms with no hall, in the french enfilade style. The benefit is that without a hall, every room has cross-ventilation. Not much privacy though.

Cool Cupolas

Another old trick is to add a cupola, like on Edenton, North Carolina's famous 1758 Cupola House. Since heat rises, you get a stack effect where air is sucked in through the ground floor windows and continuously flows upward. It also provides natural light to the interior.

A toolbox of tricks: Northern version

Further north, there were all kinds of tricks that could be combined; in this one photo you see purgolas and overhangs, large casements to catch the breeze, and deciduous trees that shade in summer but drop their leaves in winter. Standard practice among architects with any sense.

This arcticle was originally published on curbed.com