The Shape of Things to Come: Simple and Boxy

The White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs/Public Domain

I have noted often that Passivhaus designs tend to the simple and boxy; every jog and bump is a possible thermal leak. Some complain that this makes their designs boring; I had to laugh this morning when I saw a tweet from Nick Grant, a Passivhaus consultant in the UK:

Nick Grant/Screen capture

But it isn't true that simple designs are devoid of architectural delight, even if some passivhaus designs are. At the Green Building Advisor, Ann Edminster pens a rant about about simplicity of design. She looks at what she calls "traditional homes" and notes the qualities that they share. They are made:


  • To fit the need (and no more)

  • To be as comfortable as possible given available materials, ingenuity, and skill

  • From materials at hand

  • Using efficient geometries

  • With low surface-to-volume ratios

Wikipedia commons: McMansion under Construction/CC BY 2.0

Ann complains about the typical production home or McMansion, which are often a mess of gables and jogs and design clichés. She suggests an alternative:

Appeal more readily emanates from careful proportioning and quality materials, paired with simple, efficient building geometry.

White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs 1917/Public Domain

American builders certainly used to know how to do this. Good windows cost a lot of money (they still do) so they were used in moderation. Houses were simple and square. They were cheaper to build and easier to heat in winter. I wish more designers would listen to Ann when she writes:

In our quest for high performance we should not lose sight of the fact that “simple” doesn’t mean “ugly” or “boring,” and it’s an enormously powerful design strategy with multiple performance dividends.

Read the whole post at Green Building Advisor. It's a keeper.

Tags: Green Building | Less Is More

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