Building the Green Modern Home: Looking at Windows

I used to be a strict modernist; my role at TreeHugger was to demonstrate that green design could be wonderful and cool and I filled the site with all kinds of modern houses with some claim, often weak, for being green. Those houses became less common on the site in recent times, as I worried more about house size, the appropriateness of single family dwellings on big suburban lots, and trying to reconcile my love of clean, modern design with my concern about the use of fossil fuels or building materials that cannot be maintained in a world made by hand.

With some trepidation I recently posted a lovely house in Slovenia with a qualifying statement "While we have not shown a lot of big suburban houses on TreeHugger for a while, the HB house by Matija Bevk and Vasa J. Perović of bevk perović arhitekti has some interesting attributes that are worth noting."

The expected comments came in. "Windows let in too much light causing a "green house effect" inside, even when mitigated with vegetation for shade...glazing insulation values are still far below standard walls....I see no solar overhang."

A few years ago I would have written such comments off as whining from the cob-and-turf granola-eating anti-architect they-don't-build-them-like-they-used-to crowd. Now I am beginning to think they are right.

Because, in fact, they don't build them like they used to. As I learned from Romas Bubelis at the Landmarks Not Landfill conference, nothing on a traditional window is there for looks, it is all there to serve a purpose. The cornice on top acts as an overhang to keep water away from the window; the casing to the side of the window covers the joint between the siding and the side jamb. The high double hung window, when open at the top and bottom, creates a convection current within the room that brings fresh air in deeper. The sloping sill drains water away from the siding below. The operable shutters provide security while permitting ventilation and protection during storms.



Building without Fossil Fuels

The windows of the Jessup House were put together without the benefit of caulks and foams and any products made from fossil fuels; all they had to work with were wood and nails, yet it had to be designed so that it wouldn't leak and so that they could be maintained. When these photographs and drawings were done in 1930 the windows were already hundreds of years old.



Traditional Windows Can Be Restored

There is no reason that it can't go on for hundreds of more years; in Toronto's 401 Richmond complex, (see Margie Zeidler: Building Green Incubators) she restored hundreds, which "involved the removal of the old glass, heat stripping to remove the putty and several layers of paint, and then replacement of broken and rotted parts (where possible the old glass was retained). Then they're primed with paint, reglazed, puttied on the outside, weather-stripped and rehung with new sash cords."

Imagine dealing with windows like those in Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, where even the glass stops are steel and welded in place, where the only thing keeping out the water is a petrochemical gasket and caulk.

You Can Build Modern Buildings the Old Way

None of this means that I am now going to start promoting new hobbit houses. One can build a modern design without forgetting the lessons of the past.

When Michelle Kaufmann designed the Glidehouse, she provided sliding screens that acted much like the shutters on the Jessup house- providing security and sun shading.

deep overhangs protect the large south-facing windows, calculated to allow the low winter sun in for passive heating, but shielding it from the high summer sun.

On the other side of the house that gets less sun, the windows are small and high, to maximize cross-ventilation and minimize heat loss.

It is a thoroughly modern building, but Michelle did not forget how to make it work with natural materials and natural techniques. See more at ::MK Designs

For my own cabin, I went even more traditional and used double hung windows to maximize ventilation, although the proportions and the installation are anything but traditional. You don't have to throw out clean lines, minimalist design and modernist sensibilities to have green glazing.

More on the Glidehouse in TreeHugger

Glidehouse : Clean & Green Prefab
Prefab: Green or Greewashing?r

What Makes A building Green?

What Makes a Building Green ? Kieran Timberlake Architects
What Makes a Building Green ?
What Makes a Building Green ? The Hanover Principles
What Makes a Building Green ? One Planet Living
More on my Cabin in the Woods from Planet Green
On Building a Cabin in the Woods
On Building a Cabin in the Woods: Go Recycled
Building Cabin Woods : Using old Windows to Maximize Light, Air
On Building A Cabin In the Woods : Of Mice and Men
On Building a Cabin in the Woods : Less is More
Everything New is Old Again in Huffington Post

Tags: Green Building