Wind Catching ~ The Ancient Art And Science Of Persian Air Conditioning

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Wind towers – aren’t they  just beautiful? Not only that, they provide low-tech, totally renewable energy solutions to day-time desert heat waves. Within the capped tower is a port that is opened towards the prevailing wind. Some towers are multi-directional, the vents opened and closed as appropriate. Air is drawn into the living quarters below, its movement providing the cooling effect.

When there is no wind, the tower acts as a chimney, venting hot air from the interior. A more sophisticated version involves an underground canal, qanat, in which case the wind tower vent is opened away from the prevailing wind, and the system pulls cooling air up from the canal. You can read more about this if you follow the link.

But it seems to me to be an example of perfect human ingenuity – problem solving with minimal impact on the natural environment, while at the same time harnessing natural resources without depleting them. Persian architect-engineers came up with such elegant and aesthetically pleasing solutions over 2 millennia ago, although Ancient Egyptians apparently had something similar.

And not only can you have upmarket palace installations, but there is also the demountable, flat-pack desert nomad version.

The first kind was photographed (above and below) in Dubai at the restored Sheik Saeed Al Maktoum House on Dubai Creek. It is now a museum, but built in 1894, it was originally the home of the ruling Al Maktoum family. Persian architectural techniques arrived in Dubai in the nineteenth century along with the development of the pearl fishing industry there.

The portable Bedouin version I spotted in the Dubai Museum  in the courtyard of the old fort. Apparently the disadvantage of this kind of makeshift structure was that close proximity to the cooking hearth could have the unintended consequence of turning it into an actual chimney, and thus a major fire hazard.

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 copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

For more wind themed posts please visit Ailsa’s blog at Where’s My Backpack

25 thoughts on “Wind Catching ~ The Ancient Art And Science Of Persian Air Conditioning

  1. Wow, never seen such a thing – love it. And glad to have hopped on board with Ailsa’s blog too, Tish. I think my mom is following your blog too and it’s kind of corny, sitting in the same room with one another reading your posts. Good stuff. Supposed to get near 40 here today in southern Germany. Thank heavens for these thick walls in my mom’s 500-year-old house. I think we all feel like barn animals lazing about in here, swatting flies.

    1. Barn animals lazing about. That’s a great image, and 40 degrees would have me flat too. How funny, and how lovely that you and your mom reading my blog. That makes me smile inside and out. Have a cooling day.

      1. I think if you can give nothing else, give smiles. Amen to that.
        With that, I return to my angry, post-punk record by the English band Wire.

  2. We humans are such clever creative creatures. Too clever for our own good lately I think when we have so many simple solutions and have had them for a long time. Thanks for sharing this little tidbit. We’re off to Turkey, Jordan and Egypt in a couple of weeks – maybe we’ll find something similar there.
    Alison

    1. Oh yes, I’m sure you’ll find all kinds of small-is-beautiful technology in those countries. I always remember being impressed as an 11 yr old by the Egyptian shadoof, which I think they still use. Then in very ancient times they had some sort of amazing flood level detecting device. Have a great trip both.

  3. I love these pre-electrical inventions that really work! Everything was invented in the past and the managed to make it work without modern power sources. It’s so great 🙂 Thanks for this explanation. Fascinating stuff.

    1. I think the world’s vast garbage dumps should tell us how unsustainable our current ‘high-tech’ thinking and consuming is. Frightening really. I think all politicians should be made to spend a day on their biggest nearest refuse site.

  4. Now why on earth do modern architects not learn from the past. You have shown us such a practical and simple solution from the past. Over here our pioneers built houses with wide verandas, up high with open space under the house for circulation and windows all round that could be opened and closed depending on the wind and weather, or shut down and firmly secured when the hurricanes arrived. Now the houses have no verandas, often not even any eaves and rely totally on air conditioning units.

    1. And when it comes our overheated, leaky homes in the UK, there is no excuse to be wasting so much energy. If government insisted on proven simple eco-building techniques that both insulated and, where possible made use of solar/wind/water power – we could both save energy and produce clean energy. Of course it all goes against the grain of Big Corp.

  5. I remember encountering a modern version of this in a resort complex in Egypt. It was wonderful. And I am intrigued to learn that you have leaky homes too. Leaky homes have been a big issue/scandal in NZ for many years. A costly one too.

    1. There have been government initiatives to encourage people to insulate lofts etc, but no real attempt to push the building industry down truly sustainable eco-routes. New houses are certainly better insultated, but as a nation we have a huge amount of old housing stock with single glazed ill-fitting windows etc. Also on the radio last week there were people saying how they just left their heating on all the time – even in summer.

  6. What an intelligent traveller you are! You bring and take so much knowledge, and you always have a fascinating slant on themes and challenges (or have I said that before?) My father-in-law had an ingenious cooling system for his house on the opal mine at Grawin, near Lightning Ridge: cool air from underground drawn up and fanned through. It wasn’t as elegant as these systems though! He also had a vast number of water tanks rescued from the tip and repaired, so he could splash water around in the alleys between his various buildings when everyone else was on iron rations.

    1. That’s a great story, Meg. Would you perhaps like to write more about those by-gone mining days??? The notion of cool air from a mine cooling a house, has all sorts of resonances.

  7. Attempts to control indoor temperatures began in ancient Rome, where wealthy citizens took advantage of the remarkable aqueduct system to circulate cool water through the walls of their homes.

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