Historic & Vernacular Architecture: Back to the Basics

Green: Recovering the language of good building

The green preservation movement seeks to take us back to good design. Cast in the new 'green' light, many traditional building practices are experiencing a revival -- a return to good design.

Passive Mode Design

Built when technology was limited, long before modern heating and cooling systems, historic and vernacular structures demanded practical design solutions to improve the comfort of occupants.

From region to region, builders developed a specific style of vernacular architecture, thoughtfully responding to local site and climate conditions. Common sense prevailed in the design process, and many of these existing structures relied on passive mode design, maximizing passive energy sources such as the sun and wind to improve the comfort of occupants. Thus, these historic structures remain inherently 'green.'

Site Orientation:

Natural Daylighting & Ventilation

Historic buildings often became a product of their sites. Orientation became the principle factor of design—how could the building be laid out in order to make the most efficient use of natural daylighting and ventilation, and also assist with heating and cooling.

The green movement in architecture celebrates precisely these strategies, and although these concepts are relatively modern in articulation, it is important to remember that these exact principles have been practiced for centuries and dictated the design of many historic structures.

"Historic architecture, particularly vernacular architecture, is by its very nature 'green' because it is deeply tied to the land. The use of locally available materials; careful siting of buildings to take advantage of natural prevailing winds and sun patterns; the reliance on natural systems of solar heating and ventilation utilizing the physics of thermal mass and transport of air movement; and the use of durable materials means that many historic buildings already meet many of the principles outlined for new structures intended to be sustainable design." - Sharon C. Park, National Park Service

In Charleston, the "single house" best embodies site specific, regionally considerate vernacular architecture. The familiar design of the Charleston single house remains a valid architectural form, precisely because of its practical design features, which strategically make use of site and climate conditions.

"Single House" design

Deep south-facing piazzas catch coastal breezes to improve the natural ventilation, while also shading the house from excessive solar exposure in the summer months.
In the winter months, when the sun is lower, these piazzas allow daylighting to enter the buliding.
Raised on masonry foundations, single houses are able to take advantage of prevailing coastal breezes and protect them from frequent flooding. Air circulatation beneath the first floor of the single house also helps with cooling loads during warmer months.
The piazzas and spacious operable windows protected by shutters provide control of this ventilation in order to help heat or cool the interior spaces. Shutters also help protect windows from extreme weather!

Learn Your Historic House!
Make use of the effective energy-saving features that already exist. Minor adjustments to your current use of these features can make a difference in the efficiency of your house!