Midcentury Modern Faces Climate Reality

April 11, 2023

AirtightnessDecarbonizationEco DesignFrom the Field

We get the most interesting projects! This one was “The House You Asked For” from Better Homes and Gardens, 1953. And while it had that midcentury style, the problem was, the House You Asked For was now rotting because you thought draining the water, snow, and ice to the interior was OK; also you can’t be comfortable with single pane glass and no insulation and thermal bridges everywhere…and the hot water line has to run outside because the slab-on-grade situation. But the courtyard IS cool. Our solution: use insulation to slope the roof to the exterior, build a raised portion to carry ducts, use it as an expressive light scoop, seal the garage from the house, put in good windows…and we have great energy reduction with comfort and durability. We also built a concrete block safe room as a tornado shelter (since there is no basement).

This fix is emblematic of all the fixes needed on misguided mid century work, the fantasy that LA is anywhere, anywhere is LA, and if the glass and uninsulated walls don’t work, just put in a big gas guzzler to try to deal. Challenge accepted—we have a better way to deal!

Here are photos from demolition and framing that show the value of integrated design. We knew we needed to get ducts and water lines across the courtyard room; our design solution, to create a raised roof zone (the “doghouse”), gave the opportunity to bring in light from above, and instead of just boxing out the ducts, we created the curves that land on the existing beam, to reflect the light down and introduce some lyricism. The wood ceiling will really warm up the interior, keeping the tie to one of the really nice design elements of the original house.