The Saskatchewan Conservation House: Aesthetic Questions

As I've mentioned before (here), I'm interested in the aesthetics of solar architecture as it developed in the 1970s.  In The Solar House I note that 1970s solar houses can be associated with "the aesthetics of the counterculture," or alternatively with the anesthetic approach of a science experiment.  I think there's a case to be made that the 'eccentric' architecture of that period may have created a negative stigma for the solar house movement. 

The Saskatchewan Conservation House, by Robert Besant & others (1977) from

The Saskatchewan Conservation House, by Robert Besant & others (1977)

But what do younger people think?  If they didn't live through that period, do they have that same sense of a hippie- or science-experiment-architecture which is easily stereotyped and ridiculed?

To probe these questions, I asked some students to examine the Saskatchewan Conservation House and record their reactions.  (Admittedly, this is not exactly a classic example of the type---it's more properly a superinsulated house, with much less glass than a typical solar house---but it does embody many of the aesthetic issues in question.)

Here are some selected responses from my undergraduate students:

• • • "I think that the Saskatchewan Conservation House couples form with function, and although it is not aesthetically ideal, the shape of the house is pleasing since it is clear in its functionality.  Just as Banham applauded the integration of mechanical systems into the design of a building, passive systems can also be made into distinguishing architectural features."

• • • "Personally I think that the Saskatchewan Conservation House is kind of ugly but it is understandable how it looks.  Overall the house is very uninteresting aesthetically."

• • • "The Saskatchewan Conservation House is functionally beautiful but aesthetically ugly.  It's just made to perform well in the energy aspect, not aesthetic or cultural aspect."

• • • "The house is expressing what it is: a well-insulated house that is using a solar heating system."

• • • "Personally, I find the Saskatchewan Conservation House to be attractive in a weird kind of way.   I like how the function of the building defines the shape."

• • • "The Saskatchewan Conservation House is considered to be an icon for [its advances in] fully insulated and sealed housing.  In that respect the house is beautiful because there was innovative thinking involved."

• • • "I find it to be quite ugly.  It's not just the Saskatchewan Conservation House but the entire 70's style of overhanging unused space I find completely unappealing."

• • • "I don't find it especially attractive.  However, the fact that it is designed behind some sort of general purpose or function does give it its own sense of beauty."

• • • "The Saskatchewan Conservation House is not traditionally beautiful.  The awkward shaped roof and the sloped surface aren't ideally good looking."

• • • "I do think the looks of the house could have been improved with different colored siding and window trim."

• • • "Subjectively, I think the Saskatchewan Conservation House isn't the prettiest house I've seen.  It looks somewhat misshapen, and the use of that ugly brown siding doesn't help.  There isn't much expression in the house beyond a pragmatic desire to capture the sun's heat and store it against the cold Canadian winters."

• • • "It doesn't have any elegant features."

• • • "I think the Saskatchewan Conservation House definitely looks a bit odd but I don't think it is ugly by any means.  You can tell its look is reflecting the design objective, which was to build an energy efficient home that incorporated passive methods."

See also: Resources on the Saskatchewan Conservation House