Victor and Aladar Olgyay’s Thermoheliodon: Controlling Climate to Reduce Climate Control

Architectural Research Quarterly (arq) / 23:3, December 2019, 255-266

Environmental models are representations of the environment that they simulate as well as of the architecture that responds to this environment. The relationship between a model and its target system is neither static nor unidirectional. This article explores Victor and Aladár Olgyay’s 1955-1963 thermoheliodon as two environmental model/target systems and as two architectural model/target systems. The two environmental models are the existing exterior environment of a building and the climate-stable interior environment contained within it; both environments are understood as controllable data matrices reflecting architectural and meteorological developments at the time. The obvious architectural model in the thermoheliodon is the regionally altered international-style model contained within the testing bed; its point of failure was at the building skin, the interface between these two data-rich environmental systems. Conceiving of the domed apparatus as another architectural model suggests a different model of environmental design. Both models—one predicated on thermal variability and one on thermostability—persist. The article concludes by reflecting on the broader legacy of the thermohelidon, suggesting that it forecasts many challenges associated with the value systems and methodologies of contemporary environmental design.