1.1 | Abstract

House Beautiful and the American Postwar Effort
to Minimize Bills and Maximize Comfort

Over the course of the 20th century, urban populations continually migrated further from the urban core, invading nature and farmland, and thereby increasing the diameter inhabited; affected by and affecting the urban core. The story of the birth of suburbia is one familiar to architects and planners. Regardless of the forces that created it, suburbia in some regard needs to be considered a component of the larger urban condition as one of the commonly accepted definitions of a city is a density of population. Furthermore, with the exceptions of America's largest hubs, many of the nation's cities are largely comprised of buildings housing between one and four families. During World War II, America experienced a fuel shortage, and while the challenge didn't mature into a long term reality, the threat was evident at the beginning of the 1940s. This threat coupled with the prospect of providing housing for a returning GI population called architects and scientists (specifically climatologists) into action. With modernism as an aesthetic movement already underway accompanied by the counterpoint of regionalism, architects sought to refine the modern house (whether 'high-modern' or developer-spawned tract housing) into a machine which processed climate into comfort. These efforts did not solely seek to create the the ultimate low-energy use zone of comfort, although that was certainly a huge motivation and desired outcome. These efforts also sought to combine regionalism with a newly American examination of housing to create a new and established American style of architecture, land use, which in turn most assuredly would drive the urban form.

A series of articles on climate control published by House Beautiful from 1949-1952 reflect a trend which was emerging over the course of the 1940s, beginning with restrictions on fuel during World War II in 1943. Articles appearing in a number of popular magazines beginning in 1944 were bringing the matter to the attention of Americans and calling for solutions. These solutions arrived in a number of forms, particularly that of solar power. Comparatively, those proposals espoused in House Beautiful were infinitely more tame, however, infinitely more achievable on a massive scale, which was the magazine's goal. While these reports were truly focused on the relationship between an individual house and its climate, contributers were also keenly aware of the relationship between a single house (the common residential unit of the city and suburb) and the scale of the city. This awareness is evident in James Marston Fitch's October 1949 argument;

'You change the climate every time you cut down a tree, plow a field, or pave a road. You change the climate every time you build two houses site by side. Everything you do to the landscape alters the climate of that particular bit of earth. It may be a small change but its definite. And when you add many such changes together, as when you build a whole city, you actually make a brand-new, man-made climate.'1

The regionalism evident in this series of articles represents more than efforts to match and wrangle climate. They are a conscious effort to distinguish unique regional, yet American identities.

This climate diagram from Victor Olgyay's 1963 book Design with Climate artfully illustrates the general idea underlying the House Beautiful/AIA Climate Control Project; that man is at the center of his or her climate, and that the climate should function to serve and enhance the comfort and performance of the body.