George Fellner is a LEED AP (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - Accredited Professional) and FA is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council.  Many of the projects designed by FA are integrally designed utilizing sustainable strategies, resulting in environmentally responsive buildings.  Through an understanding of site, climate, materials, environmental systems, and alternative energy systems, FA strives to design buildings that are resource/energy efficient and sensitive to the environment.  This is achieved through the integral analysis and implementation of sustainable sites, adaptive re-use, building envelope, passive solar design, day lighting, recycled and environmentally sensitive materials, indoor air quality, water conservation, Geothermal HVAC systems, among other strategies.

As Co-Chairman of the AIA Connecticut Committee on the Environment (AIA CT COTE), George Fellner is responsible for developing and organizing programs, seminars, and workshops related to sustainability, including alternative technologies and materials.  In addition to accumulating years of experience as an active member of AIA CT COTE, he has presented numerous programs on sustainability.  In 1999, Mr. Fellner was a featured guest interviewed on a local access TV talk show on “Sustainable Building and Design.”

In 2006, Mr. Fellner organized a half-day program on Geothermal Systems for AIA CT COTE and he was one of the four presenters.  He has also presented numerous programs on Sustainable Design/Geothermal Systems for organizations including the New England Chapter of NCARB (2007) and the State of Connecticut Department of Public Safety at their annual Design and Trades Conference (2007 & 2010).  In 2009, he developed a 4-part series on Green Homes for AIA CT COTE and was one of the presenters. During 2010, he has presented a series of programs on Green Homes to numerous professional and community groups. Mr. Fellner was also a speaker at the AIA 2008 National Convention and Design Exposition held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, presenting a program on Sustainable Design/Geothermal Systems. He continues to present programs on diverse subjects such as Earth-Sheltered Residential Design.

In 2006, the Hartford Courant interviewed Mr. Fellner on Geothermal Systems for a published series on sustainability.  One of his Geothermal projects includes his own house in East Haddam, CT which is featured in the book: “Green Homes - Dwellings for the 21st Century” by E. Ashley Rooney. The book: “Shingle Style Architecture for the 21st Century” by the same author also features his design for a lake house.  In addition, Mr. Fellner wrote the Foreword: “Shingle Style Revival as Timeless Architecture.” In 2013, he was also interviewed on the River Valley Rhythms Radio Program on Sustainable Design Strategies in Architecture on WESU Radio 88.1 in Middletown, CT.



Shingle Style Architecture for the 21st Century
by E. Ashley Rooney

Shingle Style Revival as Timeless Architecture
by George Fellner, AIA

The study of an architectural style typically reveals a type that represents a quantifiable period of time.  However, one particular style stands apart, disclosing an enduring approach to home design.  The Shingle Style house was born in the early 1870s with an initial twenty-year surge.  It shifted geographically from New England to other regions and steadily dwindled down while other styles attained popularity.  Sparking off again in the second half of the twentieth century, a series of Shingle Style revivals have evolved, extending to the present time.  This incredible range of a nearly 140-year lifespan suggests that there is a quintessential timelessness inherent with this style.  It is important to note that Yale University architectural historian Vincent Scully is responsible for establishing a vast body of knowledge on this subject, starting with his book The Shingle Style and the Stick Style (1955).  Subsequently, his The Shingle Style Today or The Historian’s Revenge (1974), and his Introduction in The Architecture of the American Summer: The Flowering of the Shingle Style (1989) followed his initial work.

The prelude to this book, Shingle Style Houses: Past and Present, by E. Ashley Rooney, with John McConnell and Turner Brooks presents a comprehensive text and visual study of the manifestations of the Shingle Style.  John McConnell’s Foreword in that book describes the role of the original Shingle Style within the context of this country’s architectural history, as well as its influence on successive periods.  E. Ashley Rooney’s Introduction describes the Shingle Style in the context of the human perspective, both past and present, and her depiction of over 50 case study homes illustrates the elaborate diversity of types and locations.  In turn, through his sample projects, Turner Brooks presents a smorgasbord of Shingle Style descendents.

In a sense, this sequel, Shingle Style Architecture for the 21st Century, continues the story.  In order to attempt an understanding of the rationale for the timelessness of the Shingle Style, a review of the historical perspective is both a necessary and a useful prerequisite.  The roots of this style were seeded in the joint efforts of Andrew Jackson Davis and Andrew Jackson Downing in the 1840s, promoting the notion of the cottage house.  Their series of published pattern books in the 1840s helped direct the public consciousness towards the idea of the quaint and picturesque home within a country setting.  This awareness, in addition to the blended mix of the Queen Anne, Richardsonian Romanesque, Arts and Crafts, Late Medieval Country, Colonial, Carpenter Gothic, and the Stick Styles, led to the development of the Shingle Style.

The post-Civil War period accommodated the growth within the middle class of a wealthy segment of society.  Initially, they were drawn to New England coastal towns, seeking a lifestyle with a sense of leisure and relaxation.  From the early 1870s through the 1890s, these new clients hired the prominent architects of the day to design their country homes.  The idea of the picturesque house blossomed in a uniquely American style encompassing expansive, informal interiors and variably shaped wall and roof forms wrapped in continuous wood shingles, often sited to celebrate magnificent views.  Shingle Style homes continued to be built through the 1920’s.  Although their popularity steadily decreased as other styles gained attention, future revivals repeatedly demonstrated the Shingle Style home’s enduring attractiveness.

Based on requirements for open and flexible spaces that flowed together, a new mindset for interior planning was born.  The resulting organization of spaces created a multitude of possibilities for the creative assemblage of irregular, often asymmetric forms.  In turn, the undulating facades were capped with intersecting cross gable roof forms, secondary hips, sheds, multi-form dormers, eyebrows, and curved sections, often with multi-level eaves.  Proudly bulging as focal points, polygonal or round turrets were integrated with the main volume.  Extensive wrap-around porches pushed and pulled on the exterior enclosure, offering multiple options for outside leisure and recreation.  For the external envelope, the wall and roof cladding was typically composed of continuous wood shingles with occasional decorative patterns.  Stone was often used for covering the lower story, foundation, turrets, porch supports, and sometimes arched entries.  As a whole, the overall massing attempted to evoke the surrounding landscape, contextually relating the house with the site as well as the region.  Furthermore, prominent chimneys, Palladian as well as single and grouped windows, bays, and balconies, with subtle detailing, contributed to the total package.  Within the interiors, the detailing of the woodwork, reflecting Craftsman and an assortment of other architectural styles, carried through this high level of design and construction. 

This experimentation with variations on a theme was practiced by Henry Hobson Richardson; William Ralph Emerson; McKim, Mead and White; Greene and Greene; and numerous other architects of the period.  Vincent Scully summarizes the essence of the Shingle Style:

"So the houses were both new and old, freely serving and suggesting every kind of domestic relaxation while at the same time linking modern life with an American past seemingly more primordial than it had ever been…  It all added up to an eloquent architectural language, free and easy but with its depths, at once rational enough and endlessly resourceful in fancy."1

One interesting aspect of the Shingle Style that forms the beginnings of a possible rationale for its timelessness is the fact that the homes were designed to be uniquely responsive to the clients’ personal needs.  The spatial organization, informal spaces, orientation to celebrate views of the landscape, and innovative use of materials and details, coupled with the multiplicity of contextually evocative forms that clearly identified with the site, suggest the notion that these houses were sensitively designed to be responsive, distinctive, and personal.  A second aspect worth noting is that these houses were designed to withstand the extremes of climate and variable weather conditions through the use of deep porches and overhangs for shading, carefully detailed exterior envelopes, and the heating/cooling of the interior.  In short, this style reveals a true sensitivity to the realities of client needs, vernacular context, and environmental factors.

The writings of Vincent Scully acted as a catalyst for the first Shingle Style Revival period of the 1960s-70s.  Although the architects utilized the original style’s characteristics as a point of departure, they used a similar strategy of pluralistic experimentation.  The works of Robert Venturi, Charles Moore, and Edward Larrabee Barnes, among numerous other architects, formed a body of work representative of this period, involving a reinterpretation and an abstraction of Shingle Style characteristics.  A second wave of the Shingle Style revival occurred through the 1980s-90s.  Although many of the architects from the first wave continued to design within this mode, many new faces joined the ranks including Turner Brooks, Steven Izenour, and Jeremiah Eck, among a multitude of others.  As evidenced in the book Shingle Style Houses: Past and Present, and also in this sequel,it is apparent that a third wave of Shingle Style revival is alive and well with an ever-growing list of participating architects!

A close look at this present wave of twenty-first century Shingle Style revival shows an evolving body of work that continues the tradition of homes designed to be specifically responsive to the needs of the client.  Clever, well-designed open and flowing spaces, circulation elements, the wide variations in spatial organization, and the informality of choreographed interior and exterior spaces, along with an ever-growing repertoire of new materials and building techniques, continue to reveal new possibilities.  This creativity is even more evident today with the abundance of potential options, amenities, and technologies ranging from audio-visual computer systems, entertainment spaces, spas, and reading/meditation niches for mind and body, to radiant heated floors.  Fine interior detailing is often observed.  Although the interiors are contemporary, sometimes there are ties to the past through the occasional embracement of historical detailing.


The realities of rising energy costs, economic challenges, and increasing data regarding relationships connecting carbon emissions and climate change have effectively created a new mindset for sustainability.  There is a desire on the part of the public for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and all things “green.”  The design of a sustainable home should intentionally result in a habitat that is durable, healthy, comfortable, energy efficient, and environmentally responsible.  It is enlightening to realize that today's Shingle Style offers great potential for incorporating sustainable strategies.  For example, the site can have indigenous landscaping with rainwater harvesting systems.  The architect can select recyclable/renewable materials and preserve indoor air quality by using non-toxic carpets and paints with no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).  In addition, compact fluorescent lights offer high efficiency.  Energy Star rated appliances and high efficiency plumbing fixtures can effectively reduce energy costs.  Furthermore, the exterior envelope involves numerous component/type choices regarding cladding, windows, insulation, and moisture control, among other systems. 

Sustainable strategies can also be applied to renovations and additions to existing homes.  There are many old Shingle Style houses that can be modified and updated to accommodate twenty-first century lifestyles.  Moreover, countless non-Shingle Style homes have the potential to be converted or transformed into a Shingle Style revival home.  These types of projects allow for the re-use of existing buildings, giving new life to various degrees of existing concrete foundations, interior and exterior walls, and roof enclosures, as well as some of the interior finishes and woodwork.  Although the magnitude of modifications can vary the amount of re-use of existing materials and systems, the important realization is that the final product often requires less energy to construct than a totally new building.

Renewable energy system options are also being incorporated.  Innovative design can result in Shingle Style homes that optimize natural daylight and integrate passive solar design principles.  Solar hot water systems can provide cost savings.  Photovoltaic (PV) systems utilize the sun’s perpetual energy to create electricity, thus reducing electric utility costs.  In addition, wind systems utilize the wind’s kinetic energy to supply electricity.  These technologies are in a continual state of development, resulting in improved systems.  Another efficient strategy involves geothermal heating and cooling systems, which utilize the earth’s natural heat, continuously supplied by the sun.  These systems produce no on-site combustion of fossil fuels, with substantial savings in heating and cooling costs.  Many of today’s Shingle Style revival homes are now being designed with these alternative, renewable energy systems.

Although energy and environmental factors have certainly acquired importance in the present mode of design methodology, sustainable strategies can be planned and integrated with the fundamental characteristics of the Shingle Style, which are very much alive today.  The present revival includes houses within the context of gardens, meadows, farmland, vineyards, forests, mountains and valleys, hillsides and bluffs, cliffs, waterfronts, harbors, as well as villages and urban settings.  The sensitive juxtaposition of architecture and site, along with the hopes and dreams of the client are critical for a successful union.  Furthermore, as demonstrated in the successful nineteenth century homes, today’s carefully planned houses are also sited to celebrate views of the landscape.  Indeed, the different orientations facing public streets, private yards, adjacent properties, distant vistas, as well as geographic and climatic factors offer cues for variations in façade design.  In a sense, the architecture establishes a dialogue with the site context, offering the means to perceive and react with the outside world.  Thus, the architects' imagination continues to create evocative forms that relate to the landscape, as well as to the local and regional vernacular context.  The Shingle Style may be considered as an archetype that is reinterpreted, transformed, and abstracted through the interplay of geometry and form.

A sense of timelessness is inherent within the Shingle Style vernacular and within its revival manifestations, suggested by a lifespan stretching from the late nineteenth century through the early twenty-first century.  The following paradigms are presented to summarize and articulate the rationale for this phenomenon:

- The notion of the picturesque house, expressed in a uniquely American style, offers a universal appeal.

- Well-designed, often informal spatial organization/circulation of interior spaces to accommodate living, leisure, entertainment, self-improvement, as well as work/study environments, along with evolving technologies, offers flexibility and perpetually new possibilities.  The design process focuses on reacting to the client’s needs and dreams in order to effectively result in creative and unique solutions.

- The sensitive juxtaposition of site and architecture effectively grounds the house for optimum use and placement with contextual relationships at multiple levels of meaning.

- The archetypal forms of the Shingle Style vernacular include a repertoire of undulating facades, capped with intersecting cross gable roof shapes, secondary hips, sheds, multi-form dormers, eyebrows, and curved sections, often with multi-level eaves, along with exterior shingle cladding.  In addition, turrets, bays, balconies, porches, chimneys, as well as multiple window possibilities are included.  This assemblage offers points of departure for pluralistic experimentation and the multiplicity of contextually evocative forms.  Furthermore, there is limitless potential for reinterpretation, transformation, and abstraction through the interplay of geometry and form, as it relates to the local and regional vernacular context. 

- A celebration of the landscape through the use of building orientation and the establishment of views accommodates the human appreciation for scenic beauty.  
- The different orientations of the house facing public ways, private yard areas, distant vistas, as well as geographic and climatic factors offer cues for creative variations in the façade design.  This responsive approach allows the house to establish a dialogue with the surrounding site, offering the means to perceive and react with the outside world.

- The use of porches and balconies, pushing and pulling on the building enclosure, offers multiple options for outside leisure as well as for the choreography of interior/exterior spatial interplay.

- A high-quality level of design and construction is often demonstrated by the interior detailing.  The occasional embracement of historical themes within a contemporary context, offering ties to the past, can accommodate the human need for nostalgia.

- The growing and evolving selection of new, innovative materials and building techniques is a welcome palette for a style that has historically appreciated experimentation.

- The diversity in sustainable strategies, including energy efficient and environmentally sensitive systems and materials, renewable energy systems, as well as the re-use/modification of existing homes, is well-suited as an integral part of the design process.  This responsive methodology is essential for an architecture that can hope to claim a sense of timelessness.

The integrated implementation of these paradigms suggests that Shingle Style homes of the twenty-first century are designed to be uniquely responsive to the users’ personal needs and dreams, as well as to establish synergy with the site’s vernacular context.  Distinctive and personal, these houses are responsive with multiple levels of meaning as true expressions of a timeless architecture.  In essence, this design methodology offers the potential for an architecture that is familiar yet new and refreshing, thus perpetually re-inventing itself.

1  Vincent Scully excerpts taken from the introduction he wrote for The Architecture of the American Summer: The Flowering of the Shingle Style.  Robert A.M. Stern, gen. ed.  (Columbia University, New York, and Rizzoli International Publications, New York, 1989).

GeoExchange Heating and Cooling Systems:
A Sustainable Strategy for Design

by George Fellner, AIA
AIA/CT Newsletter - Fall 2001

It is well understood that the Earth has a finite amount of natural resources in the form of fossil fuels.  In contrast, this planet has the inherent ability to absorb and to store thermal energy: a perpetually renewable resource.  While we usually think of solar energy in terms of solar panel collection systems in their various manifestations, there is another alternative.  GeoExchange systems also use solar energy which is stored within the Earth.  In essence, GeoExchange systems transfer this heat energy from the ground through a liquid medium within a loop system, up into the building.  In turn, a geothermal heat pump uses compressors and heat exchangers in a vapor compression cycle to concentrate the Earth’s energy and to release it within the building at a higher temperature, thus providing heating.  In contrast, the process is reversed for cooling purposes, whereby heat is drawn from the building, expelled to a loop, and back into the ground.

In order to understand the theory and mechanics of a GeoExchange system, one must consider the Earth connection, the geothermal heat pump, and the air delivery system.  There are a number of Earth connection systems available.  For example, the open-loop system uses actual groundwater from a well as a heat source, pumped up into the heat pump and expelled back to the aquifer through a return well or by open discharge into a stream or lake.  However, this system involves many variables including water quality, aquifer source, potentially extensive equipment maintenance, local regulations, etc.      

While the idea to bury pipe in the ground to gather heat energy has been around since the 1940’s, we have seen a major evolution within the last ten years in the form of new improved heat pump design, piping materials and installation procedures.  As a result, GeoExchange systems are now economical and highly efficient.  A closed-loop system utilizes high density polyethylene pipe sealed and filled with a circulating anti-freeze solution.  There are two types of closed-loop systems: horizontal ground and vertical ground.  The horizontal ground system uses a flexible layout within 4’ to 6’ deep trenches, requiring 500’-600’ of piping per ton of system capacity.  In contrast, the vertical ground system uses 150’-450’ deep wells with single loop piping, requiring about 150’ per ton of system capacity.  These figures will vary, based on actual conditions, energy calculations, and fine-tuned systems design.  Another type of system, is the pond closed-loop which transfers heat energy from a pond or lake through circulating, coiled piping. 

A geothermal heat pump is much more efficient than a conventional heat pump that uses outdoor air as the heat source.  While air temperatures can fluctuate as much as 100 deg. F during seasonal extremes, the ground is relatively stable with about a 25 deg. F fluctuation.  The mechanics of the geothermal heat pump process involves a cycle of evaporation, compression, condensation, and expansion.  In essence, the anti-freeze solution from the ground loop, always warmer than the liquid refrigerant, transfers its energy through a heat exchanger and evaporates the refrigerant into a gas.  In turn, a compressor pressurizes the gas and raises its temperature to over 180 deg. F.  This hot gas then circulates through another heat exchanger, transferring energy to air which is pumped out at about 100 deg. F to heat the building.  Upon losing its heat, the refrigerant cools back down to a liquid, passes through an expansion valve, and the process is repeated for continuous heating.  For cooling, the flow is reversed and heat is pulled from the interior environment, using the Earth as a heat sink. 

The air delivery system uses supply and return ductwork to both heat and cool the building, similar to any conventional oil or gas-fired system.  The basic difference is the use of a heat pump instead of a furnace.  Thus, retrofits of existing systems are often possible.

In terms of economics, while early GeoExchange systems were expensive, costs have declined over the years as a result of improved technology and innovative/efficient loop installations.  In terms of operating costs, the electric bill is higher due to running the pumps and fans; however, there is no oil or gas bill.  Consequently, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it is estimated that a GeoExchange system can save homeowners between 30-70% in heating costs and between 20-50% in cooling costs, compared to oil, gas, or electric systems.  Thus, payback can vary between two to six years.  Oil and gas price fluctuations would not have a direct impact on operating costs.  In addition, GeoExchange systems can be modified to utilize excess heat to provide energy for domestic water heating uses.  Furthermore, GeoExchange systems require minimal maintenance with a long life-span.  Due to the desirability of sustainable energy systems from a marketing standpoint, there is a potentially higher appraised value factor for the re-sale of homes.  It is also worthwhile to check for “incentive programs” offered by some utilities, as well as low interest financing programs.

There are numerous comfort and appearance benefits provided by a GeoExchange system.  For example, warm air is distributed in adequate volumes to evenly heat interior spaces, thereby eliminating hot and cold spots.  The system also tends to operate quietly.  In terms of equipment, the heat pump is comparable in size to a conventional furnace and there is no need for tanks or exterior condensers.  In fact, heating and cooling is accomplished by the same components, with only the flow reversed.  Ductwork is also comparable in size to conventional systems.  Furthermore, there is no need for a flue. 

GeoExchange systems provide a number of environmental benefits.  There is no on-site combustion of fossil fuels and no venting of exhaust gases, as well as no need for oil or gas deliveries.  Due to the inherent nature of the heat pump refrigerant and the ground closed-loop systems as self-contained arrangements, there is no contamination.  In terms of efficiency, geothermal heat pump systems have a coefficient of performance (COP) of 2.5-3.5.  Thus, for every unit of energy used to power the system, about three units are supplied as heat.  In comparison, while a fossil fuel furnace may have an efficiency range of between 50-90%, a geothermal heat pump is about 300% efficient.  Nevertheless, it is important to remember that a GeoExchange system must be integrated with other energy-conscious design and construction elements, such as adequate insulation, well-sealed joints, low E glass, passive solar features, among other positive sensitivities.  In essence, GeoExchange systems offer an alternative, sustainable strategy for the sensitive use of the Earth’s thermal energy, which is certainly a renewable, efficient and environmentally friendly energy source.