Monday, December 1, 2008

The Seasonal House

On my mantel: The vase is filled with flowers I found blooming on the side of the road. The print is by Ryan Berkley.

We talk a lot these days about seasonal and local eating, about the need for our diet to reflect nature's rhythm and respect regional constraints. No more 1,000 mile Caesar salads, or blueberries in December. We must return to a more reasoned relationship with our food. Now what about that relationship when it comes to buildings?

I've been thinking lately about the seasonal life of a home. There was a time when our household routines reflected nature's demands. Curtains, for example, were heavier in the winter, lighter in the summer. I just started the John Adams series from HBO and the first episode shows Adams's home in Boston in the blistering cold winter months. A velvet curtain ensconces the front door to keep out drafts; beds are circled by fabric to keep in heat. Living in a stone house built in the 1840's, I have learned that modernization cannot control drafts; the velvet curtain around the front door sounds good to me.

More seasonal arrangements: Rosemary from my garden in a vase created by The Mighty Bearcats. This is one of their Skin Series Bud Vases, made from heat sensitive plastic.

I wonder when and why we became so divorced from a seasonal approach to homemaking ? I can speculate on a number of things; the demise of domestic help and the rise of the two career family topping the list. We simply don't have people dedicated to home maintenance the way we used to. I raised this question to an architect friend of mine who waived it off, saying we've become so advanced in our technology that we don't need to worry about this stuff anymore—windows are insulated, why bother changing curtains?

I suspect that our reliance on technology and the clean and sterile materials of modernity (steel, glass, concrete) have given us a false sense of independence from our structural systems. Just hit 68 degrees on the thermostat and let the HVAC do the rest. And yet...a common complaint from green builders is that the most efficient and sophisticated of designs fail not because of the structure itself, but because the occupant does not operate the building properly.