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Your Solar House: Iowa


As a long-term resident of North Dakota, I’m embarrassed to admit that our entry in the 1947 L-O-F book Your Solar House may be the most regrettable design of the forty-nine submissions. It is so prosaic (the nicest word I can find to characterize it) that it would be a waste of time scanning and posting it here. Just trust me on this. Now Iowa on the other hand…

Amos B. Emery designed Iowa’s entry, which appears on pages 76-77.


Though his description claims “it might be placed on a lot facing any direction,” I tried mightily to put it on one of the east-west oriented lots in The Orchard where the street runs along the eastern edge (with 85 feet of frontage). There were just so many things “wrong” with its utility in virtually any orientation, including plan reversals, that I frankly gave up trying to be enthusiastic about the client’s desire to build a design by Iowa’s native son. Tell me I’m wrong.

  • The front door (i.e., the one facing the street) seems more like a service entry, especially given the distance a guest would have to travel from greeting to cocktail.
  • Service traffic from garage to kitchen directly conflicts with formal circulation.
  • Kid traffic from their bedrooms on second floor to the referenced rumpus room in the basement (skylighted, no less, like a starter frame for tender garden plants) is torturous and shares a stair hall with the formal entertainment axis between living and dining.
  • Almost as much volume is given to two entry vestibules (which seem more appropriate for the winters of North Dakota than the milder weather Iowans enjoy) as is lavished on either dining or kitchen.
  • And the stair hall itself has almost as much square footage as the living room.

What was Emery thinking? And did he consult his wife or any woman for that matter about the daily routines of domestic life? Consider now the Minnesota alternative.

I have no particular ax to grind here, but it does seem to me that Bob Cerny offers us a more workable plan, one that could be flipped and/or rotated to accommodate several lot orientations for maximum passive solar access. Internally, zoning divides the house into public and private space, with kitchen at the hinge. And the kitchen-laundry opens to a children’s playroom for discrete surveillance. If any room could be enlarged, the master bedroom might profit from a few more square feet. It is so easy in the place to imagine kids inviting their friends over, while their parents entertain business associates, neither the worse for ware. Yes, there are five doors for infiltration, but the convenience of access for outdoor entertaining/play seems ample compensation. To make this thing work in Agincourt, I simply have to reorient the garage and modify the walks.


If you’d like to see any of the other designs, let me know.


  1. OMG! The master bedroom doesn’t even have an “en suite”, clear evidence of just how primitive life could be in the mid-20th century.

  2. […] that house is grotesquely unworkable, as far as I can tell, on virtually any site I could have proposed. So we used the Minnesota design […]

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