Fry and Drew: Conference

‘The Influence of Fry and Drew’ Conference, Abstract 8

Daniel A. Barber, ‘Designing with Climate in the Suburb: Olgyay and Olgyay and the American Influence of Fry and Drew’

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, when Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew were exploring methods for building in the tropical climates of West Africa, interest in architecture and climate was also the concern of many practitioners in the Americas. Richard Neutra’s commissions in Puerto Rico, for example, involved school designs with induced ventilation; design innovations across Brazil and South America developed dynamic shading systems; in the US, the American Institute of Architects collaborated with House Beautiful to produce a series of articles on “Climate Control” and a handbook for architects.

This presentation will briefly summarize this American interest, and then focus on the work of Victor and Aladar Olgyay, twin Hungarian émigrés working at MIT and Princeton in the period. Committed Corbusians, the Olgyay’s met Fry in London in 1936, soon after he completed his Sun House, and were inspired by his use of the materials and methods of modernism towards a more refined relationship to climate. The Olgyay’s books Solar Control and Shading Devices (1957) and Design with Climate (1963) codified and popularized the global climatic discourse. They also present an early attempt to place these interests in historical perspective.

Whereas Fry and Drew developed their strategies in the context of the economic development goals of Britain’s former colonies, the Olgyay’s focused on the American suburb. The second part of the presentation will focus on the challenges they faced. In addition questions of orientation, materials, and building shape, developing means by which architects could engage scientific analyses of climate were paramount, as they allowed for a generalized method for designing subdivisions according to regional differences. Their method for climatic subdivision design was briefly influential, before the affordability of HVAC rendered their analyses mute – a historical consequence, as the presentation will conclude, that has ramifications for the present.

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Daniel A. Barber is an Assistant Professor of Architectural History at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is also the Associate Chair of the Department of Architecture. His research looks at the role of architectural technologies in the infrastructural and territorial transformations of the immediate post-World War II period in the United States. His current book project is titled A House in the Sun: Modern Architecture and Solar Energy in the Cold War.

Barber’s essays have appeared in numerous periodicals, including Grey RoomThe Journal of ArchitectureDesign Philosophy Papersthresholds, and DASH; he has also published articles in numerous edited volumes. An essay is forthcoming in Technology and Culture.

Barber received a PhD from Columbia University, and was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University Center for the Environment. He has held visiting positions at Oberlin College, Barnard College, and the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

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