As I write this, 20 universities have taken over the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to demonstrate the potential of solar power in housing. Those of us who remember the '70s can smile at the exuberance of students rediscovering these technologies. This time around, they vow, they'll make the houses pretty! And many of entries in the Department of Energy's biennial Solar Decathlon are indeed handsome. Three of them have already won the most prestigious of the category prizes—they've garnered top awards for architecture. Click here to see the winners.
I admire the spirit of these young would-be architects, fighting the good fight for aesthetics and function in housing. But I have to admit I'm rather fond of those oft-disparaged '70s houses—the post-and-beam extravaganzas, the A-frames, and so on. Their wood siding weathered over time to blend in with the trees on site. The earth-toned tile floors brought the outside in. Strategically placed window openings framed views while somehow guarding privacy at the same time. There were skylights (admittedly, some leaked); atriums; indoor gardens; and fireplaces with elevated hearths, so you could glimpse the flames from anywhere in the open plan. These houses were funky and friendly, and they still make me smile when I stumble upon one or, better yet, a whole enclave of them. Many of the architects and owners of the houses were early adopters of new energy technologies, and they certainly cared about careful siting, preserving trees, exalting materials.
Like the Decathlon students, the architects who designed those '70s houses also had exuberant spirits; they reveled in form, function, and funkiness. And they liberated future architects from the notion of the house as machine sitting atop the landscape. Instead, architects were freed to design houses as organisms that mesh with their surroundings—living, breathing, and changing together.
If you were out there designing these houses in the '70s, I encourage you to e-mail me
It's time we honor a misunderstood, delightful time in residential architectural history. So, show us your '70s house!
Comments? Call: 202.736.3312; write: S. Claire Conroy, residential architect, One Thomas Circle, N.W., Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20005; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.