By Anthony Denzer, Ph.D., M.Arch.
Sad but not surprising news: The George Löf house, one of the seminal buildings in the history of the solar house and certainly a modernist landmark worthy of protection and preservation, was destroyed recently. I visited the Denver site on June 22 and found a large excavation and a foundation (presumably) for a McMansion.
Prior to the demolition, the Löf house was in original condition, including the flat-plate solar collectors (air heaters) on the roof. It had hardly been touched since its construction 57 years ago, not even a coat of paint in my estimation.
At that time the house was vacant and for sale. Löf died in 2009, having lived there for 53 years. Because of the large size of the lot, the condition of the house, and the (wealthy) neighborhood, it was predictable that it would be purchased as a teardown. At that time I contacted the realtor and local preservation groups to make sure the house’s importance was understood, but obviously to no avail.
As I document and discuss in great detail in my book, The Solar House: Engineering Sustainable Design,” the Löf house was remarkable for its technical innovation and for the sympathetic relationship between the architects (James Hunter of Boulder, assisted by Tician Papachristou) and the engineer Löf. The design was celebrated in the New York Times for its heating system and Hunter’s “modern lines.”
The rooftop collectors, still in place in 2011 and just barely visible behind plywood screens, produced hot air, which could be sent straight to the rooms of the house or stored in gravel tubes. The sympathy between architecture and engineering was expressed most beautifully by Hunter’s decision to place the cardboard tubes in the staircase in the center of the house, visible from the entrance, and paint them bright red. (And in a wonderfully poetic contrast, he formed a concrete chimney from the same type of cardboard tube, and painted the chimney a cool blue.)
I visited Dr. Löf at the house just a few months before his death. He was bright and we had a long conversation. He gave me the original set of blueprints to the house, and I suspect, sadly, that he recognized that the drawings wouldn’t be needed by the next owners of the property.
For the full story, with photos, see George Löf house, 1956-2013
Anthony Denzer, Ph.D., M.Arch., is an associate professor of architectural engineering at the University of Wyoming. He is trained as an architect and architectural historian, with a background in journalism. His expertise is in 20th-century western architecture. He also has an interest in traditional Japanese architecture. Denzer serves on the American Solar Energy Society Board of Directors and is a founding board member of the Wyoming Chapter of the US Green Building Council. This article is adapted from his blog: solarhousehistory.com.