A note on the solar architecture of the 1970s

My book The Solar House begins:

"The label ‘solar house’ typically conjures an image, I think, from the 1970s: an eccentrically-shaped structure with an oversized sloped glass wall and diagonal cedar siding.  Perhaps an earth berm.  A Volkswagen van nearby..."

The book then focuses on the period before 1973.  It includes a only broad overview of the solar architecture of the 1970s, with discussion of a few key examples.  I was not able to include every worthy house from that period, simply because so many appeared.

Yet I do think the solar architecture of the 1970s is a compelling subject, of course, and I'm especially interested in the aesthetic questions.  Because solar house design was strongly affiliated with the counterculture, it can be easy to dismiss with a laugh.

A stereotypical example (?)

A stereotypical example (?)

Or maybe it's beginning to look serious and attractive again now, as our tastes age.  And young people don't seem to find images like this to be ugly.  In any case, there are genuine, difficult issues to unpack when looking at the eccentric solar architecture of the 1970s and my book offers only a few small steps in that direction.  (Not only was there a lot of solar architecture after, say, 1973, there was a lot of discourse about aesthetics.)  I hope somebody else will continue to help us document and understand what happened and when that exists there should be a lot of new interpretations of 70s solar architecture.

I recently came upon a quotation from Susan C. Piedmont-Palladino which caused me to reflect again on some of these larger questions:

"...the trend towards integrated and more sophisticated technology may also allow environmentally responsible architecture of the future to avoid becoming ghettoized like the 'solar architecture' of the past.  The icons of the energy-conscious architecture of the 70sthe single-slope roof with attached solar collectors, the Trombe wall, etc.became stigmas in the 80s as the reality of scarcity was obscured by the illusion of plenty."*

I generally agree with the premise, that the stereotypical 70s solar house created a 'stigma' which damaged the social movement.  Is the solar house, as a type, still stigmatized?  Probably.  I've spoken of an "Age of Aquarius hangover" on occasion.

Still, it would be a shame, I think, if anyone interpreted the historical lesson to mean that progressive social movements should avoid experimental architecture.   Of all the possible motives for architecture to explore new forms, surely free renewable energy is compelling enough...

What do you think?

*"Building Alternatives," Perspecta 29 (1998).