Sun Tempered Architecture – Socrates House

Socrates’ sun-tempered house
Socrates’ sun-tempered house

What is an optimum house shape that stays warm in winter and cool in summer without reliance on outside energy sources? Designers have grappled with this question since ancient times. Socrates, the Greek philosopher, studied this problem about 2,500 years ago. His solution – Socrates House as it’s now referred to — is a trapezoid shaped house with the long side facing the sun. The roof overhang on the south blocks the hot summer sun, yet allows the winter sun to penetrate into the home. The roof slopes down in the back to avoid winter winds.

From the article referenced below: In Book III, Chapter VIII, of Xenophon’s Memorabilia of Socrates, written a few decades after Aeschylus, and in the midst of a Greek wood fuel shortage, the Greek philosopher, Socrates, observed:

“Now in houses with a south aspect, the sun’s rays penetrate into the porticos in winter, but in the summer, the path of the sun is right over our heads and above the roof, so that there is shade. If then this is the best arrangement, we should build the south side loftier to get the winter sun and the north side lower to keep out the winter winds. To put it shortly, the house in which the owner can find a pleasant retreat at all seasons and can store his belongings safely is presumably at once the pleasantest and the most beautiful.”

While the Greek house that Socrates described probably lost heat as fast as it was collected, due to convective and radiation losses through the wall openings, the later Romans discovered that if the south-facing portico and windows of buildings were covered with sheets of mica or glass supported on wooden frames, the solar energy passing into the building would be trapped inside causing the internal temperature to stay more or less constant into the night.”

Read the full article at the source: Dennis Holloway Architect
(excellent summary of solar design principles)
Also recommended: The Passive Solar Energy Book (Expanded Professional Edition), by Edward Mazria, published by Rodale Press.

3 thoughts on “Sun Tempered Architecture – Socrates House”

  1. Wow, I just read that site before I saw your post. That architects website is a great read, better than some 200 page passive solar books I’ve read.

  2. When I began to design our home that is currently under construction, I got really excited about this principle. I was very disappointed to find out that where we are at 19.3434N, the sun is 4.5 degrees north of vertical on June 21 and 47.1 degrees above the horizon on Dec 21. I wanted a 1 meter overhang around the house to protect the earthen walls from rain and I could not see a way to incorporate these two ideas.

    For those that are around 30N or more, this principle would work wonderfully.


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