American architectural style can only be described as eclectic. We have developed some very distinct regional styles based on climate, culture, and the era in which the bulk of development occurred.
Without the benefit of sophisticated HVAC systems, our ancestors were more conscious of the need to build in response to local conditions. They had to work with the climate, not against it.
When you're thinking about a new building, take a look around your community to see if you can discern a predominant architectural style. Looking at some of the oldest buildings in your area could provide you with clues as to what works best in your climate.
Picture the adobe buildings of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Modeled on historical Indian pueblo structures, they are made of very thick adobe or mud brick walls with flat roofs and small windows. These buildings are effective in keeping heat out. When equipped with bigger, south-facing windows and large roof overhangs, these buildings can let in the low-lying winter sun and offer protection from northerly winds.
The historical New England or Cape Cod home was built as compactly as possible to contain a lot of livable space within a small volume. Decreasing the surface area of these boxy, two-story buildings reduces heat loss and in turn, heating costs. The small eaves or roof overhang reduces "ice damning" that can occur when snow melts and refreezes as heat seeps out of the building at the juncture of the exterior wall and the roof.
Old Florida style architecture is characterized by low-pitched, wide roofs with large surrounding porches to shelter the house from the sun. These houses are often raised up above a first-floor basement that was historically used for cooking or storage. These buildings sit up in the air to catch the breezes, to be away from the water, and to avoid the possibility of rot. Old Florida homes often have Bahama shutters which shelter the house but let gentle winds in.
Hawaiian Lanai architecture is similar to Old Florida. Often built of very light, wood-frame construction with large porches and the most mimimal walls, these structures are more like open air shelters than actual enclosures. These buildings allow for maximum cooling by letting the breezes blow through.