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Public Housing and the ‘Thermal Ghetto’

In the book I borrowed David Gissen's excellent concept of the ‘thermal ghetto’ to briefly discuss an issue in public housing that Fred Keck addressed beginning in 1950.  Gissen coined this term to discuss how low-income urban dwellers usually lack access to air-conditioning and disproportionately suffer heat-related deaths.*

I extended the ‘thermal ghetto’ concept to explain why Keck needed to fight for a single-loaded corridor plan when he designed the Prairie Avenue Courts, a superblock-type public housing project.  Keck wanted all of the the units to face south; in effect he treated the project like a giant solar house.  But if designed like a 'typical' housing block with a double-loaded corridor, half the residents would be banished to a ‘thermal ghetto’ on the north (where the units would be cold and dark, with high heating bills).  Keck developed a few solutions, the best of which is shown below, although shading devices on the south façade are not indicated.

George Fred Keck Prairie Avenue Courts from Progressive Architecture, April 1951

George Fred Keck
Prairie Avenue Courts
from Progressive Architecture, April 1951

Keck's plan was clearly influenced by Le Corbusier's Pavillion Suisse; (see Le Corbusier and the Sun).

In the book I note that the 'outside corridors' were unfortunately enclosed in chain-link, and I quote Stanley Tigerman's colorful critique of that problem.  The project was demolished in 2002.

*David Gissen, “Thermopolis: Conceptualizing Environmental Technologies in the Urban Sphere,” Journal of Architectural Education, 2006.