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Best Green Houses


Discovering Modernist Savannah: Passive in the Peach State

Savannah, Georgia
October 2011

By David Sokol

When Cornelia Stumpf and Celestino Piralla moved from historic downtown Savannah to the North Central area of Phoenix in 2002, the couple restored a midcentury house that barely had been touched in 50 years. A return to Savannah in 2010 did not promise a reunion with the 1883 townhouse they had left behind. “When we lived there in the late ’90s people already were climbing up the front porch to the windows to look into our house, and the influx of tourists and students since then has increased dramatically,” Piralla says. “It can become pretty awkward.”

Photo © Richard Leo Johnson/Atlantic Archives, Inc, Courtesy of Savannah Magazine
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So Piralla and Stumpf decided to again preserve a historic building of more recent vintage. Savannah is home to more than 100 intact midcentury residences, mostly custom designed by local Modernists and by transplants from the Sarasota School of Architecture. The enthusiasts stumbled across one of them, which the developer John Ahern built from molded concrete block in the near-downtown neighborhood Magnolia Park. Looking beyond the shag carpet and traditional wallpaper, it, too, was largely unchanged from its 1955 design. Stumpf made a bid on the spot.

Whereas preservation is a responsible use of existing resources and embodied energy, for this project it also promised a more sustainable day-to-day existence. Just as the Sarasota School of Architecture is best known for adapting a crisp European vocabulary to a subtropical climate, so this 1,852-square-foot building embodied a sophisticated understanding of intense sunlight and stifling humidity. Restoring the house approximately to its original intentions meant underscoring its passive qualities...


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