I’m here at the Schweikher House,
designed by Paul Schweihker in 1937,
for him and his wife to live.
It’s located in Schaumburg Illinois,
and it was also the place of his office,
when he moved to be the director of the architecture school at Yale University.
I’m standing in what was the main bedroom of the house,
a space with a wooden floor,
windows on one side of the room, and closets on the other.
In addition to its unique spatial composition,
it deploys a host of very clever techniques
to maintain comfort in this room all year round,
with minimal need for mechanical methods of heating, cooling, or moving air.
You see these windows, they face south,
the direction of the sun that shines here at noon,
and in the rest of the northern hemisphere.
The overhang over there
serves as a shading device that is perfectly sized,
so that the summer sun never ever enters the space,
it keeps it shaded and cool in here.
And then above the closets on the north side of the room
are a set of transom windows.
Then during the summer months, the warm air rises through the space,
and is ushered out through those windows.
This maintains airflow and draws cooler air into the space,
helping keep the occupants comfortable.
But during the winter where we are now,
the depth of the room is carefully calibrated,
so that the sun reaches all the way back
因此 在中午 阳光又一直延伸回来
into the full extent of the room at noon.
It just so happens that
the angle formed between that back corner and the tip of the overhang,
is exactly 24 and a half degrees,
the height of the sun at noon in Chicago on the winter solstice.
As night falls,
the floor because of a property called thermal mass, cools slowly,
so once it’s warm it stays warm,
and releases its heat throughout the evening.
Thermal mass is like a temperature battery
storing energy for periods of time,
slowly released as the temperature around it changes.
This is what’s called a direct gain passive solar system,
where openings and overhangs
they’re positioned so that it lets in winter sun, while blocking the summer sun.
Elevated operable openings on the other side of the building,
allow warm air to rise and draw in air from the outside.
One of the other clever engineering tricks in this house
has to do with this grate down here.
And so the cold air from over here, sinks down through this grate
and helps to push the warm air through this side,
over into the other side and up into the room.
The sun is the earth’s energy source
providing us with heat and light
in amounts that can vary wildly on a daily basis,
but whose effects can be predicted, harnessed, and controlled through architecture.
A building’s relationship to the sun
is a controlling factor for its design at almost every level,
dictating where buildings go, their orientation, their openings,
决定了建筑的位置 朝向 开口
and even where certain activities can most optimally occur.
“Only primitives and barbarians
lack knowledge of houses turned to face the Winter sun.”
While it might be a little harsh,
it does underscore the fact
that a building’s relationship to the sun
has been a crucial or even a primary factor in building design
even since the ancient Greeks.
Most ancient monuments even
bear some important relationships to the sun,
relating to and marking certain positions
that it takes in the sky at certain times of the year.
The Romans also sought to harness this knowledge
by using glass window coverings to capture and trap solar heat
to warm homes, baths,
and greenhouses for growing plants and food,
or with technologies like the Heliocaminus,
a sort of Roman solar furnace,
it was a separate space within the building
where solar heat could be trapped and then distributed.
This is an example of an isolated gain system
which uses convection to help heat and cool.
Winter sun hits an absorber
which then heats the air,
hot air rises and shifts to the living space,
dropping as it’s cooled,
and forced back into the sun space
where it is then heated again.
In the summer sun hot air is directed outside
creating a vacuum within the home,
increasing air circulation and a fresh breeze.
These strategies are all passive solar strategies
which use the sun’s energy for the heating and cooling of living spaces
through exposure to the sun.
The passive part means that it’s not photovoltaic
or other technological solar power,
rather through the orientation of the building,
the positioning of openings and overhangs and then material properties,
the building’s design is dictated in such a way
that it stays warmer in the winter, and then cooler in the summer.
The third kind of passive solar system is an indirect gain system,
which has a unique arrangement
that uses glass and massive materials like stone or brick
that are layered on the sun-facing wall.
The mass takes a long time to heat up,
and then releases that heat slowly.
So during the day it heats in the warm winter sun,
then warms the space on the other side during the evening hours.
While some of these types of passive solar strategies
have been around for centuries,
the concept or the term solar home was not yet around
when this house was designed in 1937.
Instead this was a time when there was a lot of active experimentation
around how the sun and buildings interacted,
primitive forms of air conditioning were being experimented with.
But at the same time, smart solutions for harnessing the sun
were seen as prudent financial investments coming off of the great depression.
The architect of this house, Paul Schweikher,
he conducted a series of solar experiments only a few years earlier
with the architect named George Keck,
who also set out to harness the sun and architecture.
But again, this came before the idea of the solar home
which is pretty well understood today,
is before that concept was even conceived.
But I wanted to learn more,
so I traveled to visit an exhibition
in nearby Elmhurst Illinois,
to check out how solar homes actually develop.
Welcome to The Houses of Tomorrow Exhibition.
The first glass house in America by George Fred Keck
was designed for the 1933 World’s Fair.
It was designed specifically to showcase
the inventions and possibilities of the solar research
that he was conducting at the time.
The house sat among other exhibits
that looked optimistically toward the future,
with aerodynamic cars and trains
and other technological and design triumphs.
The House of Tomorrow was a complete experiment,
they didn’t know which things would take off, literally.
There was a hangar for an airplane,
and they didn’t know which ones would not work at all.
Although we don’t have airplane hangers
in our own personal homes,
we do have a lot of other innovations
that were shown there for the very first time,
including air conditioning
which was very essential for this all glass building in the summer.
In addition to that early air conditioning system,
it featured the first GE dishwasher
and a video doorbell among some of the other technologies,
and also features a large ten-sided glass space
that performed in a very extreme way.
The story goes that it was winter time,
and they took off their coats and were just working there in their shirt sleeves
because it was so hot in that building already.
The architect Keck continued in his research
and utilized diagrams that look very familiar to us today,
in order to shape the designs at buildings to take full advantage of the sun.
They also were able to measure
how much energy they were saving in the winter.
If you bought this home, you might be able to save
30% of your energy cost.
And it turns out that here is where the term solar home develop,
it was written about a Keck home in the Chicago Tribune
and then adopted as a marketing term to brand these houses
that utilize the sun to help keep their homes warm in the winter.
It turns out that the term solar house was actually invented
by William Keck and the developer of this house here,
it was designed to sell houses.
He invited people to come to this house
in the middle of winter when it was sunny
to tell people look our heat’s not on
and you feel it come through the windows.
It was picked up as a term by glass companies to sell more glass.
I also found information that was directly related to the Paul Schweikher House.
This diagram was made about a year before the Schweikher House was designed,
and it describes the exact condition that’s at play in the solar bedroom.
A lot of the homes that Keck would go on to design for clients
and then even this house that we’re in today,
would be called mid-century modern these days.
But these houses are in fact
a few decades before that style of house would even develop.
Instead these are the precursors to what would be solidified into a coherent style
later on through their proliferation.
And I find it pretty fascinating how these developed,
because at the time these homes were designed,
there were all sorts of experiments that were going on.
On one side, you have the recognizable spatial and experiential experiments
that include how rooms are arranged
or how one circulates through
and maintain visual connections through all these kinds of houses.
And then we’re all pretty familiar with how these look
and we might be able to recognize a mid-century modern home today.
But there’s also this more technical set of experiments
that are a little bit more hidden or a little more difficult to recognize,
but they were just as important to the formation of this kind of architecture.
Today we have solar homes which are touted for their technical mastery,
but often this is discussed in isolation
from some of the other spatial or aesthetic aspects of architecture.
It goes to show that there are a lot of factors that go into designing a home,
the sun being just one of them.
Maybe your home wasn’t conceived around these ideals,
but there are things that you can do to take advantage of these principles.
The Elmhurst Art Museum has a resource of solar solutions
that I will link to in the video description,
it also has all kinds of information including tips and techniques,
associations and groups that you might want to join,
trackers and calculators of potential savings and more.
It’s a great central reference for anyone interested in getting into the subject
of how the sun shapes our buildings.
What are some of your favorite buildings that
incorporate some passive solar techniques?
Tell us about it in the comment section below.
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