In 1891 Dr. Willem van der Heyden designed and built a remarkable house in the grounds of the Yokohama General Hospital.
His iron and glass building featured a starkly ‘modern’ light-filled interior. External walls of two glass skins contained between them a supersaturated solution of alum designed to harness phase change energy.
Incoming air was also filtered and warmed or cooled by carefully calibrated arrangements prior to entering the habitable space. Everything was designed from first principles and meticulously built and tested in a country that had only recently joined the 19th century.
This paper examines how a foreign doctor succeeded in constructing an unprecedented, environmentally advanced building and how his inventive ability to harness and integrate contemporary scientific ideas was crucial to its realization.
The doctor’s own writings invoke the authority of many leading experimenters on heat, radiation and bacteriology. The environmentally controlled, ferro-vitreous cities of science fiction were also acknowledged as inspiration for this house.
Meiji Japan’s, enthusiasm for Western industrialization and everything ‘new’, probably contributed to the experiment’s success. Despite this, van der Heyden’s innovations did not catch on.
This paper examines van der Heyden’s remarkable work and speculate on why it fell by the wayside.