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November 03, 2012

1979: Thermal Delight in Architecture

Posted by: Katie Heasley

For day 13 of our anniversary series, Lisa Heschong reflects on Thermal Delight in Architecture:

Perhaps it is ironic that Thermal Delight in Architecture was finished the night of the great Boston Blizzard of ’78. The wind was so strong it drove snow in through the storm windows to drift around my feet as I typed the last pages on my IBM Selectric. The next morning the entire city shut down under monster snow drifts that completely hid buried cars. MIT closed for the first time in its history. But I needed to get the draft to a professional typist out in Arlington for a final error-free version, so I did the obvious: put the manuscript in my backpack, strapped on my cross country skis, and skied the ten-mile round trip to get it delivered on time. Not bad for the girl from Los Angeles who had to quickly learn how to adapt to Boston’s slushy winters and humid summers…the genesis of my interest in climatic adaptation.

I often call the book “my little ambassador” since, with a life of its own, it has made so many new friends, across time and place, often in unexpected corners of the world. I’d like to thank the MIT Press for taking the leap of faith with this little book 32 years ago, and continuing to make it available as it has found fresh audiences with each new generation. As we now face new climate challenges with global warming, and endeavor to design ‘zero net energy’ buildings to reduce our impacts, it is perhaps even more urgent to rethink human comfort and adaptability in the built environment. 

I recently gave talk at Parson’s School of Design, where I had the opportunity to weave the logic and ideas of Thermal Delight in with my more recent work on daylight design, performance metrics and visual comfort. I found that the original structure of book’s four chapters, exploring the implications of human physiology (Necessity), perception (Delight), social experience (Affection), and cultural meaning (Sacredness) worked splendidly for both topics.

On both fronts, thermal and visual, I think we would all benefit from greater engagement of biologists, of every ilk, with the world of architecture and urban planning, by contributing their deep understanding of complex, interdependent, dynamic systems. Given that Americans have been shown to spend 95% (!) of our lives inside of buildings, why not invest in the design of built environments that not only satisfy utilitarian needs, but can also actively improve our physical wellbeing, are a daily joy to occupy, and continue to enrich our culture over time?


Roger Conover, Executive Editor of Art, Architecture, and Visual & Cultural Studies, on Thermal Delight in Architecture:

This manuscript was originally written as a master’s thesis by a student of architecture at MIT. Still a student, and still in her early 20s when she presented the manuscript to me, Lisa Heschong may well have been the youngest author to publish a book with MIT Press at that time, or since. The book has never gone out of print, and still sells thousands of copies a year. The prose remains as fresh and poetic now as it was then, and through dozens of printings the book's cover has never changed. Thermal Delight in Architecture remains a perennial favorite among architecture students, and was the beginning of a long  tradition at MIT Press which continues to this day: publishing first books by first-time authors in the field of architecture.


Our 50 influential journal articles are listed here. The articles are in chronological order and will be freely available through the end of 2012.

For information about the MIT Press’ history, check out our 50th anniversary page.

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