Paul Rudolph’s original “Umbrella House” of 1953 inspires the modern day Solar
Umbrella built originally in the 1920’s. Originally a small 650 square foot bungalow, the
owners added a 1,150 square foot addition in 2005 that boasts many upgrades, most
notably the solar canopy that tops off the structure making it nearly 100% energy neutral.
This space implies a weightless quality consisting of minimal walls and windows. The
Solar Umbrella is praised for it’s environmentally friendly design, and according to one
critic it, “establishes a precedent for the next generation of Californian modern
Like many homes in Venice built in the 1920’s, this house was a single-story
bungalow. The original structure contained only the essentials that are a kitchen, small
dining and living rooms, two bedrooms, and a bathroom. However, there was room for
expansion and Pugh + Scarpa took advantage of this and Venice’s abundant sunlight to
create the modern day Solar Umbrella. The addition consists of a new living room that
has large sliding glass doors that open out onto the garden, erasing the boundary of
inside and outside. The kitchen and dining areas were enlarged. They added a
master suite and storage area as well all without drastically changing the structure.
By only looking at the space, it seems as if the Solar Umbrella can come with its
disadvantages. How will it maintain a steady temperature if half the home is outdoors?
How is it livable if the home is exposed to direct sunlight? The solar canopy protects the
home from solar gain. Heat retaining concrete, glazed overhangs and windows allow
cross ventilation. This allows the house manage its own interior temperature. Radiant in-
floor heating, powered by one of three solar hot-water panels, ups the temperatures when
cooler temperatures set in. The remaining two panels heat the household water supply
and the pool. (Kumar)
Overall, critics are ultimately pleased with both the Solar Umbrella’s design and
environmentally friendly assets it features. Deborah Snoonian, Senior Editor for
Architectural Record magazine believes Angela Brooks and Lawrence Scarpa, architects
and clients for the Solar Umbrella, have revolutionized the modern home industry. They
have successfully merged comfort and sustainability to create a piece of art that is
functional and manageable. Many people will think that the Solar Umbrella is more
costly than a “traditional” home. However, this is not the case at all. The home’s
estimated coat is priced in the mid-$300,000 range, which is below the average price for
a home in Southern California. Since the home gains 95% of it’s electricity from solar
energy, the energy bill for the Solar Umbrella is $500 for the entire year. Some
homeowner’s energy bills can reach $500 per month.
Another argument could be that the mild climate of Venice, California, where the
Solar Umbrella is located, makes it easier to live in a home like this. However, according
the home’s architect, Lawrence Scarpa, this home can be built anywhere. Will it look the
same? No, but it will actually be more cost efficient in a cooler climate because the
higher usage of the solar canopy makes the price you pay for the home pay off faster.
So why aren’t more homes like these built if they use little to no energy, they are
more cost efficient, and are just as comfortable as a “traditional” home? The Solar
Umbrella is a groundbreaking idea for the future of architecture and hopefully homes like
these are built in the future and encourage us to start using alternate forms of energy.
With the economy the way it is in times like these, homes such as the Solar Umbrella
could help the architectural industry in a time of uncertainty, they could significantly help
the environment, and they could provide a cost efficient, comfortable, and stylish
alternative for homeowners of the future.