Posts Tagged ‘solar heat’


Architecture: Making Function Follow Form?

February 24, 2015
passive solar house

Passive Solar House A

I am a big fan of passive house design.  I buy books about it, read blogs about it, go to trade shows about it,  watch other architects design about it, go to open houses about it, and mostly dream about it.  Somehow my architectural visions always ends up looking more like house B than house A .  Reality, on the other hand, usually ends up looking the other way around.  Why, I ask myself,  is this?  As I am fond of mentioning, did not Louis Sullivan, after all, poetically state.

“Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun,  form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies, in a twinkling.  It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.”

In theory, and in reality too, there can be no doubt that form does, indeed, follow function.  For architects, a problem only presents itself when we don’t like the way said form ends up looking.  In this case there is really only one real choice.  Modify the form.  That can be done legally by changing the function, usually by making it more complex.  We see that the South facing sun room in house B also serves as an entry with architecturally agreeable results.  Pure function, as demonstrated in the green house attached to house A, can be a bit hard to take.  What is an architect to do?  I say, change the way it looks, legal or not.

passive solar house

Passive Solar House B



Unmobile Home: Humor but No Joke

September 15, 2014

unmobile home

My Dream Home?

Would it be believable if I said this is my dream home?  Ok, maybe not.  It does though display several key elements which are the stuff of my particular architectural fantasy.  It is no secret that I have pondered  possible ways of adapting a standard “off the dealer lot,” mobile home into architecture.  Further, if the difference between art and architecture is reality, also previously concluded, then this is art.  Considered in such a light, this may contain humor but it is not a joke.  What’s more, because it is on stilts, another big area of interest opens up.  Aside from the characteristics of the piers, in this case concrete, there is all that space under the house, complete with promise and problems in similar measure.  For now, let’s leave the promise to imagination, yours and mine, and take up the problems.

Doing What Air Does.

Before I get into a discussion of how a house on stilts might easily be kept warm and toasty in Northern winters, let me risk repeating, “I have a psychological aversion to creeping things crawling around under the house.”  I like the idea of inserting some air.  The space insulates and creates an experience by conjuring all manner of pleasant spacial opportunities.  Opportunities, I think, worth pursuing, even in a cold climate.  The obvious problem of course is all that cold air lurking under the warm house all winter long and looking to do what air does in this environment which is rise.  Great in the hot summer, not so much in the winter.  The subject is bandied and hashed over to a larger extent than could possibly be considered here.  For an exhaustive discussion I happily sent the reader here.  The general idea being that in order to keep out the cold it is necessary to super seal up every path of air infiltration and super insulate the floor, in that order of priority.  To avoid freezing encapsulating the plumbing in a warm chase is also necessary.

Is There Anything New?

So what, one might ask is new here?  The answer, of course, is nothing, until another of my favorite “responsible building” technologies is introduced into the mix.  Consider what might be accomplished if the space under the house were used to store and distribute hot air, preferably but not necessarily, from a solar source, and further if the space were flexible, offering a source of cool air in summer a lot like what is done in my favorite Japanese OM Solar homes.  In the end the solution is complex but maybe not so complicated.  There are many after market products that might fit into such a system.  Transpired solar collector panels, for example, are now available for residential use.  Likewise heat storage might be provided by a prefabricated concrete slab or piers.  Devising the air handling and distribution system might require and expert, preferably one who has tried something like this before.  The house after all is quite little and the technology very big.





Where there’s light there’s heat!

April 12, 2014

Updated 2/23/22

Just in case you didn’t know, a heliostat is “an instrument consisting of a mirror mounted on an axis moved by clockwork by which a sunbeam is steadily reflected in one direction.” In the video the light is directed in a way that spreads it onto an area of a building that would otherwise be in shadow due to either location or adjacent buildings.

Light is reflected off of the curved surface of the mirror in a way that all the reflections intersects at a single point.  This is  where the solar collector is mounted in order to harvest the maximum amount of energy.

Light is reflected off of the curved surface of the mirror in a way that all the reflections intersects at a single point. This is where the solar collector is mounted in order to harvest the maximum amount of energy.

This is a somewhat unusual application of a heliostat as these are more often used to concentrate rather than spread light out.  Which they do based on the optics of the impacted surfaces. Any child with a magnifying glass can tell you about how this is done. My brother started a brush fire like this once.

solar cartoon

I guess this could be called a modified heilostat as the light is first magnified, which is probably a misnomer as it is really being concentrated by the optics of the glass through which it passes. When the light gets concentrated so does the heat.

It all comes down to a basic rule about light, taught to architects in school, which states that, for specular reflection, the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection.  This concept has always provided me with a source of entertaining mental gymnastics, not so  much for the ability to move light into unexpected places, as for the accompanying source of heat.  I kept thinking it would be a way to heat the house.  At the time, I was a student, and my son just a child.  We sometimes meandered through the neighborhood speculating on how a big magnifying glass might be installed in some roof  so that the heat from the concentrated light might be directed toward an interior pool.  My son loved the idea of a pool in the living room and I thought that it was really just hot water heat.  When we describe the idea to my husband, he said were apt to set the house on fire.