The Thermostat Age

In April 2016 I will present a paper at the American Society of Environmental History (ASEH) conference in Seattle.  It is titled: "The Thermostat Age: Questions of Historiography."  I'm excited for this chance to explore some new ideas.  And I'm also honored to be among some great panelists.  Here is the abstract for my paper:

The Thermostat Age: Questions of Historiography
Anthony Denzer

Since the publication of Reyner Banham’s The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment in 1969 (and probably earlier) the discipline of architectural history has recognized the need to establish a new category of energy-intensive buildings dependent on mechanical heating and cooling, and electric lighting. Yet in almost fifty years of accumulated work, a clear definition has not been developed. The category has not even been properly named.

Now, a contender has emerged—The Thermostat Age. In his 2010 book The Original Green: Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability, Steven Mouzon defined The Thermostat Age as a period which began “when mechanical equipment replaced natural methods of conditioning buildings, allowing our needs to be met at the touch of a button, and freeing our buildings from the responsibility to condition themselves.” In the broader discourse, Mouzon’s phrase seems to be catching on, though it is clearly not used with precision.

So the discipline of architectural history should consider: is The Thermostat Age a valid and useful concept? Does it describe a period, type, or style? If it is indeed a valid and useful concept, what are its key dates, and its canonical buildings? For instance, does it begin in the 1930s with the commercial availability of air conditioning, or does it stretch back to the Victorian era and the advent of ducted ventilation? What are the character-defining features of its normative examples? This paper will begin to discuss the historiographic challenges and questions presented by the notion of The Thermostat Age. It will also explore some methodological and disciplinary questions—what kinds of technical information are needed and how can historians locate, describe and record (or perhaps even create) such data?