Metabolism

The term "metabolism" as used here means all processes by which fuel is burned whether inside our body or in a remote power plant. The most traditional and romantic of all metabolic adaptations is the fireplace. From outside the house, a chimney is symbolic of

Joshua Schmitz And Urban Design
Automatically Adjustable Sunshades:The "M-House," Gorman, California. Designed by Michael Jantzen. (Photo supplied by Michael Jantzen.)

"home," usually treated architecturally with some care. Inside, the hearth is a time-honored center of family life. With the exception of the kitchen hearth, where cooking traditionally went on all the time, the space of the hearth changes seasonally, holding the family for winter warmth and storytelling, then releasing its hold in summer.

Only in its latest mechanical forms have we become particularly dependent on metabolism, nearly to the exclusion of other adaptive modes. We can now condition interior spaces uniformly regardless of place or climate. Despite individual preferences, identical conditions persist.

Unlike the traditional fireplace, our modern sources of comfort can be invisible. The manufacture of energy is often remoteā€”a power plant hundreds of miles away.2 Once it has arrived, energy is transferred through hidden wires, pipes, or ducts to different parts of a building. Heating and cooling may go on simultaneously in different parts of a building to ensure a neutral environment. Regardless of inclination, choices about comfort may be designed out of existence.

Chimney:A symbol of hearth and home in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Chimney:A symbol of hearth and home in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Gone are many of the regional differences that traditionally linked house form to climate and culture. The New England "saltbox" and French Louisiana plantation house were originally designed for quite different climates. Both can now be found across the country, sealed and air-conditioned for comfort.

Gone too are many rituals that originally arose from living in these traditional dwellings. No longer do we habitually gather around the fireplace for comfort on a cold winter's evening, sharing stories or the day's events. Nor, at the end of a hot summer day, do we move to the porch to catch the first cool evening breeze, greeting our neighbors as they pass. We need to look for ways to reintroduce opportunities for ritual into our dwellings.

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