Tuberculosis and Solar Architecture (part 1)

In Public Housing and the ‘Thermal Ghetto’, I discussed Fred Keck's use of a single-loaded corridor to create all-south-facing units for the Prairie Avenue Courts, a 1950 public housing project in Chicago.

When Keck designed the plan, he might have been influenced by the Lake County Tuberculosis Sanatorium by William Ganster and William Pereira (Waukegan, Illinois, 1939), a spectacular American example of what I call heliotherapeutic architecture.  The similarities in plan are striking:

 

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

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

William Ganster and William Pereira Lake County Tuberculosis Sanatorium from Built in USA: 1932-1944 (1944)

William Ganster and William Pereira
Lake County Tuberculosis Sanatorium
from Built in USA: 1932-1944 (1944)

Originally, I had written a chapter on the subject of heliotherapeutic architecture, but it needed to be cut from the book during editing for length.  This included an examination of the sanatorium movement in Europe, including examples such as Les Frênes, the Zonnestraal Tuberculosis Sanatorium, and Aalto’s Paimo Sanatorium.  These are fascinating structures and I'll blog about them in the future.  (Sunlight, fresh air, and rest were the most effective treatment for tuberculosis before the advent of antibiotics, and it is generally well-understood that the aesthetic development of modern architecture was predicated on medical concerns of sanitation and heliotherapy.)  The larger point is that heliotherapeutic architecture, using sunlight for health, was essentially distinct from the solar house movement, which used sunlight specifically for space heating and energy savings.

The Lake County Tuberculosis Sanatorium is not only one of the finest examples of its type, in America and beyond, as it transformed and refined influences from Duiker and Aalto, but it also was the only example I've found where the distinction between heliotherapeutic architecture and solar-heated architecture may have become blurred.  The Lake County building was later highlighted in an article about solar houses and touted for its energy savings.  Reader’s Digest reported that the sanatorium, while curing its patients, was “built on solar principles” and saved about 30% on heating costs (“The Proven Merit of a Solar Home,” Reader’s Digest, January 1944).  Still, there is no evidence that space heating had been an objective of the designers; it was probably an incidental benefit. 

Conversely, as discussed in the book, some appraisals of solar houses (particularly those by clients) spoke of lifestyle and health benefits in addition to energy savings.

Lake County Tuberculosis Sanatorium photo by Hedrich-Blessing from Built in USA: 1932-1944 (1944)

Lake County Tuberculosis Sanatorium
photo by Hedrich-Blessing
from Built in USA: 1932-1944 (1944)