Underlying Modern Architecture and Climate is a distinct tension, as the history of climate control in America is that of the failure of individualism.
By Kate Wagner
At the age of 26, eight years after I had left the comfort and safety of my parents’ mid-90s brick-and-vinyl ranch, I moved into my first apartment with central air conditioning. For many of us in the United States, central air is a given—a background whisper to contemporary life, acknowledged only when it stops working and when the monthly bills come around. For me, it was a luxury, a sign that I had made it to a long-delayed adulthood. Gone were the days of renting dingy apartments in broken-up old houses, fighting against the elements with wet towels, box fans, ice packs, and loud, precariously secured window units whose filters always needed to be vacuumed out. It was as if I existed in my own bubble of suspended economic development, enviously waiting for that promised land of modernity, of careless, 72-degree comfort.
Despite my environmentalist and leftist bona fides, I unquestionably submitted to central air, that ultra-conservative symbol of American stability, prosperity, and the pursuit of comfort. Clearly, air conditioning conditions. Indeed, it’s how it managed to dominate and supersede (with planetary consequences) a wide variety of interesting and sustainable architectural alternatives devised during a then-maturing modernism in the 1930s through the end of the 1950s. This is the subject of Daniel Barber’s Modern Architecture and Climate: Design before Air Conditioning (Princeton University Press).
Air conditioning, historically speaking, has consistently been presented as one of the galvanizing moments in the development of architectural modernism. It was what made possible the quietude of Howe and Lescaze’s 1932 Philadelphia Saving Fund Society Building, hailed by historian Emily Thompson as a landmark of acoustical engineering and the merging of architectural and sonic modernity, and the reified, endless glass expanses of Eero Saarinen’s 1955 General Motors Headquarters and Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson’s 1958 Seagram Building that became the pace setters for an emerging corporate modernity that persists to this day. The always sardonic Reyner Banham, tired of this pat narrative, offered the following comment in 1969’s The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment: “As the progress of Le Corbusier’s thinking shows, it would have been necessary to invent air-conditioning around 1930 had it not existed already.”
Read on >>>> Source: ArchPaper In Modern Architecture and Climate, climate control takes command