June 28, 2009 Chicago Buildings, Sustainability, Technology Comments (0) 1250

I took this picture as Felicity and I were bicycling through Elmwood Park and Dunning the other day. I was struck by the frequency of awnings on various 1950s bungalows, ranch houses and apartments and then I realized the historically obvious: these were pre-air-conditioning buildings. Awnings helped cool them in the summer – a wonderfully low-tech, low-carbon solution. This was especially poignant on a 90-plus- degree (nearly 40 C) day (always the best for a long bike ride). We are fortunate to have a large brick house shaded by massive trees. We have two AC window units in the bedrooms and Felicity put a fan in the cool basement. Bingo – the first floor was comfortable all week without AC. Technology goes ALL the way back in history, don’tcha know.

The flip side of the equation of course, is that once we get to relatively common air-conditioning in the late 1960s, we start designing buildings more stupidly – this is the unique historical period known for single-glazing, after all. The natural thermal advantages of things like brick walls, overhanging eaves, awnings and trees sort of went by the board. In the 21st century we re-discovered these things, so now – as always – old is new again.


ALSO we saw this way cool church up by Hiawatha Park. Back to China next post.

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