• The cover of The Solar House by Anthony Denzer.
    The cover of The Solar House by Anthony Denzer.

Anthony Denzer has a knack for writing knowledgably and accessibly about worthy but under-appreciated subjects. I enjoyed his 2008 book Gregory Ain: The Modern Home as Social Commentary, particularly the way it goes beneath the surface and connects Ain to the social and cultural zeitgeist.  

Denzer performs a similar feat here with his new title The Solar House: Pioneering Sustainable Design (Rizzoli, $55). As he explains in the book’s foreword, he decided to focus mostly on the overlooked history of solar houses in the United States before the 1970’s (though he does devote a chapter to later developments). And he defines “solar house” as “a building that uses solar energy for space heating in a deliberate critical and creative manner.”

In patient prose and through well-chosen photos and drawings, Denzer guides us through the stop-start trajectory of solar design. From George Fred Keck’s Sloan House (1940) to MIT’s decades-spanning Solar House series, the book traces key happenings and setbacks. It highlights the disconnect between architecture and engineering that many feel has slowed solar’s progress. And it provides hard numbers on energy savings and costs.

The Solar House is a serious, objective, and often-fascinating read. Denzer balances portrayals of the solar house movement’s colorful personalities with explanations of its complex technologies. As he did with the Ain book, he skillfully relates his topic to the political and economic attitudes of the time.