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karmakshanti
There are a couple of things I'd like to add to Skip's comment that will make clear why even "green" architecture in America will be more or less as he describes it. First, there is the matter of "thick walls". There is a very important distinction to be made between walls as thermal mass and as insulation. For most places in America, thermal mass makes sense only as flooring or in walls across from South facing windows for passive solar gain. The general use of thermal mass in walls works best only in the hotter and dryer climates here which have no representation at all in the UK. Those medieval castles were cold and drafty as much because of thick stone walls as in spite of them. Mass slows both thermal gain and loss, once the mass is cold it requires far more time and energy to re- warm.

Mass also means load. Lightweight synthetic insulation means far less load and far more options for house form and function. And there are greener alternatives to styrofoam such as poured Perlite. There is no serious reason here to shift from multi-room spaces to single room ones even in green building. And fenestration is not an either/or matter here, it is as much a matter of where you put the windows as how many you have. In our latitudes there is far more winter solar energy to tap than in yours. Most of us here also don't have that nice ocean near us to damp down summer heat, and once an under windowed building, in, say, St. Louis, gets hot, it stays hot, shooting up the energy cost to cool it. Properly sited fenestration for summer ventilation and nighttime heat transfer will still predominate.

In America we also have places where wood heat is cost effective and many people have been using it--Albuquerque, NM comes to mind, but the pollutant biproducts are always a problem. London chimneys left London covered in soot and coal dust.

As to cozier communities, we have a saying here in America, "Good fences make good neighbors." And here, at least, it is largely true. This social phenomenon will severely limit how cozy we can ever be on this side of the Atlantic.
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asongforxx
Thanks Lucy. Very interesting article, but I would have to argue that your predictions for the future are less likely than they would seem. Perhaps the Normans were more cost efficient, but I'd hate the thought of voluntarily progressing backwards as a society and becoming used to decreased levels of comfort. Your wood framing, thick walls, lack of air conditioning and wood burning fireplaces make me disappointed about the future. I hope that none of us will be too ready to jump on the bandwagon and move out of our warm, comfortable houses just to feel trendy and eco-conscious.

Think of it this way: in the middle of the last century, everyone felt sure that functionalism was the wave of the future. Ornamentation was irrelevant, and buildings were designed according to their purpose, not aesthetics. In the 80s, all of that changed. Instead of envisioning cities filled with heavy concrete buildings, architects drafted elaborate suburban mansions. Designers furnished these excessive homes with enormous furniture, garish colors and fake flowers. Function and purpose were all but forgotten. Since that era, we've all become very quick to believe that we've progressed so far and would never be so wasteful again.

Minimalistic, environmental design is popular right now. But like anything else, it's a fad. If the economy were to undergo a boom, I think McMansions (or an updated equivalent) would once more skyrocket in popularity.

Again, an interesting article. I always love to hear people's thoughts about the future and I respect yours. Just remember that nobody, including myself, can predict the future. Who knows what solutions might be invented in the next decade? I hope that we would all consider moving to medieval huts as the absolute last resort.
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peedee83

Great article, Lucy. Without wishing to condemn, it's interesting to hear American perspectives, and compare the with the UK. You mention legislation in regard to housing design, but the American perspective is that the market shall rule. Demand for whatever is in fashion will be satisfied, with little regard for the consequences for the planet. While karmakshanti has some thoughtful points about differing climates, the underlying premise, as I read the comments, is that how it's now is good enough - no need to change anything to reduce the use of resources. "We'll keep our specialised rooms, as well as big open spaces, have lots of windows, and private rather than public spaces".

I don't for one minute think that smaller houses necessarily translates to less comfort. It's all a matter of values. And in Australia we have a foot in both camps. It's a hot, dry place, getting hotter and drier. Some people are waking up to the fact that air-conditioned McMansions (Australian houses on average are now the biggest in the world) in vast suburban sprawls are inappropriate, and opting for more eco-sensitive alternatives. But until there is legislation, property developers will keep on building and promoting their cheap-land, outer-suburban "paradises", to the long-term detriment of us all.

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