In a land of cold, the architecture is tested by heat


Philip Kennicott

Simon Ducroquet

Frank Hulley-Jones

Aaron Steckelberg

Washington Post, the

Now, the U.K. is heading into the dark, cold months once again, with the war in Ukraine and global inflation driving up fuel prices to the point that many fear having to make a basic choice between food and heat. Climate change is not an abstraction but felt immediately and painfully in homes — which are under ever greater scrutiny as the nation seeks solutions to the challenges of weather extremes.


Social adaptation to climate — including how one dressed, where one sat and the degree of comfort one expected — were factored into the house’s basic design. But these lessons were often lost or forgotten in later iterations of British architecture.


Electricity generated by coal-fired plants made these innovations [tower block apartment buildings] possible, running the elevators and bringing light and power into the depths of modern flats that often had windows only one side. Buildings functioned more like machines than the “vessels” of the past. When you plugged them in, they were meant to be comfortable throughout the structure.


Solutions to the problem of overheating are fewer and more complicated in tower blocks. Air conditioning would require a prohibitively expensive retrofit, and only contribute to the greenhouse gases that are causing the heat waves. Better windows help, but seemingly small changes to windows — including their size and how they open — can have big impacts on residents. 


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