Saturday, 4 July 2009

Cool and modern...

Once upon a time I lived in a big, old house in south London. Though I loved the place, there were certain minor inconveniences. The huge, sash windows made the building difficult to heat in winter. At night, if you were lying in bed while someone else ascended or descended the staircase, you were rocked about in bed, gently or otherwise. This was not always an unpleasant experience, but it was a constant reminder that every house begins slowly descending back to nature from the day that it is built.
However, this old house had one great advantage. On the hottest of hot summer days – and there were plenty – the stairwell that ran through the building acted like a cooling tower. It was oriented so that little sun shone there after ten in the morning, its one window facing east. It was also blessed with a mosaic ground floor. On really hot afternoons, it was a joy to recline against the newel post in a cane chair, making believe you were hanging out in the Alhambra.

I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls….

One disadvantage of modernism in summertime is its copious use of glass. Le Corbusier built the Villa Savoye with a sunroof to compensate for this. But if you don’t wish to follow the sunbathing craze, newly fledged in the 1930s and now discredited, what do you do? Now that summers are getting hotter, I envisage a new type of modernism. Keep the pale walls – great for bouncing back the rays of the sun – and the flat roofs, and the (specially-coated) windows and glass walls. But instead of expensive and environmentally unfriendly air conditioning, adopt – and adapt – the Arabic principle of the cooling tower.

This could possibly be a ‘revet’ added to the north face of every domestic dwelling. In the case of apartments, the revets could be spaced between apartment in the block. In either case, vents connected to the revet could be opened or closed, and would open onto each room in the dwelling. And the revets need not be ugly. It is not long since chimney places formed the ‘hub’ of domestic houses, well, the revet could be the new hub. Well-designed and harmoniously paced, these new, hubbed houses would become as much a part of the modernist landscape as wind turbines and solar panels. So, that be the principle. Architects and engineers, over to you.

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