19 April 2007

Missouri Solar House -- north

Armstrong's design for a passive solar house for the Missouri climate and culture became the foundation for his continuing development of residential designs. Armstrong's decision to orient the house with its main entry facing toward the north allowed for a relatively modest, understated formal expression toward the public view. By locating the primary yard and view toward the south, Armstrong was able to feature full height glazing along the entire south wall of the house.

The motivations for providing such extensive glazing were multifarious. In part there was a desire for visual openness and connecting the interior space to the exterior landscape. Glass helped to reduce the perception of solid walls as physical and psychological boundaries holding the benefits of nature at a distance.

The use of double pane glass in passive solar design was based upon the so-called "greenhouse effect" where light falling upon glass would heat the interior space with the glazing trapping the heat inside. The thermal benefit of south-facing glazing was certainly of value in the midwest where winters can be bitterly cold. The idea of warmth and comfort in the midst of winter was particularly appealing and was a focus of Libbey-Owen-Ford's advertising of this product. The benefits were primarily physical and psychological, though the reduced cost of heating a home in wintertime was also touted. However, at the time the demand for new housing outstripped the relative availability of heating fuels. Consumers chose from the traditional, but dirty coal or oil burning furnace or the newer, cleaner natural gas. Electric heating wasn't far behind with the advent of the "all electric home."

While the thermal benefits of a passive solar home were tangible and measurable in financial terms, the relatively low cost of heating fuel made this issue moot in the eyes of the general public. The arguments for extensive glazing were more convincing when based on its perceived aesthetic, health, and cultural benefits.

In promoting the concept of the passive solar home, Libbey-Owens-Ford was particularly careful to separate arguments for any particular architectural style although glass walls were clearly advocated by the modernists.

In the immediate post-WWII years, there was competition between the various forces promoting the best approach to providing mass housing for the great number of people starting families at the time.

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