Architects: Go Back to the ABCs and Design Buildings Like Letters Again

An aerial shot of buildings that are shaped like letters when seen from above.

CHUNYIP WONG / Getty Images

Julia Gersovitz of Montreal's FGMAA Architects made the point: Buildings used to look like alphabets, to minimize the distance to an exterior wall and maximize natural light and ventilation. We have all seen many Cs, Os and a few Es (I forgot to draw probably the most common, the Ls)

Buildings that looked like letters were so common that in in 1773 Johann David Steingruber actually produced an alphabet that looked like buildings.

An illustration of a building that is shaped in the letter H.

Stuart Rankin / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Today, the engineers would say that the heat loss or gain through so much exterior wall would use far more energy than would be saved using daylight and natural cross-ventilation. They would say that the most efficient building would maximize the floor plate and minimize the perimeter, the size of windows and the amount of air change. That is what they did in the 70's and how we got a lot of toxic buildings.

But we also have very good insulations now, and can perhaps afford a little more perimeter for a lot more natural light and air. There is probably a compromise to be found between Steingruber and modern architecture, between filling our buildings with high-tech "green gizmo" solutions and simply building with healthy materials, lots of light and lots of fresh air.

Perhaps like Weber Thompson's lovely "O", theTerry Thomas Building, that I keep showing. Letters make nice buildings.