Looking to the Middle East for Cooling Architecture

Cooling mechanisms built into traditional architecture offer lessons for U.S. builders as heat waves grow more intense.

1 minute read

August 7, 2023, 12:00 PM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Stone windcatcher tower that provides natural air flow in Shiraz, Iran

'Windcatchers' like this 14th century example in Shiraz, Iran create air flow through buildings without electricity. | viktoriia1974 / Adobe Stock

In an article in Time, Anna Gordon describes the centuries-old Middle Eastern architectural cooling techniques that could help U.S. households reduce their reliance on air conditioning, which “is believed to cause 1,950 million tons of CO2 emissions per year around the world, accounting for almost 4% of global carbon emissions.”   

John Onyango, a professor at the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture, told Gordon, “Barajeels have passively cooled buildings for centuries. These wind towers can lower temperatures by up to 50 degrees Fahrenheit depending on how they are designed and the levels of wind.” These devices “work by funneling hot winds from outside to the lower floors of the building or even underground, where the air is cooled naturally. The cooled air is then released inside the building. So long as there is wind flowing, the barajeel works without ever requiring electricity.”

Other ways to improve air flow and cooling include chimney-like structures in tall buildings and high dome-shaped roofs. Gordon also points out the energy efficiency of many traditional Middle Eastern building materials. “Unlike the production process for steel or concrete, the production of stone and mud bricks does not lead to large amounts of carbon emissions.”

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