Timeless Green: Reclaiming the Past

More than 150 million Americans, live in suburbs – that’s half of all Americans. While the rest of the world appears to be in a mad rush to urbanize – poverty, overcrowding, and unsanitary conditions be damned – we seem to have deserted the city for the relentlessly sprawling edges. The seductive appeal of suburbs is irresistible. The self-deterministic idea that everyone could own their own little kingdom, their own house, with access to plentiful clean air, blue skies, safe streets, and live their own lives, has been the defining thread of the American experience since the Pilgrims left England.

Paradise Lost

Unfortunately, what we haven’t come to realize, until recent decades, is that rather than realizing our own pieces of the American Dream, we’ve created landscapes of soul-crushing monotony replete with row upon row of regimented boxes. Worst of all, these boxes masquerade as the type of “traditional” homes we’ve always longed for through a formula of false facades and tacked on architectural kitsch.

But old-style homes didn’t just look the way they did for style; they looked that way because they had a functional reason to do so. In Texas, traditional houses HAD to adhere to rectilinear proportions in order to minimize heat gain and promote cross-ventilation. Long roof overhangs and deep soffits were as much about promoting a certain aesthetic as they were about keeping the sun off of the edifice. Deep porches not only functioned as a means of gathering community, but also in order to take advantage of prevailing breezes during the summer and the warm, low-angle sun during the winter. Porches worked as buffer zones that maintained consistently stable and comfortable, indoor temperatures.

Reclaiming the Past

While many historical Texas homes can be accused of borrowing historical architectural elements ranging from Greek revival to Victorian, they did so with a deep understanding of how these architectural elements functioned with the climate to create an ideal home for living. With this in mind, sustainable building is not so much a radical proposition as it is a return to and rediscovery of our rich, collective, American building experience.

Rather than creating a Frankenstein house from a pastiche of factory-produced, “traditional” elements, as is common practice, sustainable architects and builders, such as Native, look to distill the historical style to its essence. This means visual features such as sloping roofs, porches, and long overhangs exist for a purpose. This also means that eco-builders, like ourselves, will not hesitate to employ modern materials and technologies such as metal roofs if they are a better alternative to traditional materials without sacrificing the essential essence of a traditional house. This grants their buildings a rare, genuine authenticity that is reflected in a harmonious and honest “traditional” aesthetic.