The Architecture of Cool Air

Share this information:

As summer returns to the Philippines, flowering trees are in bloom, and the temperature begins to climb.  This change in seasons is marked by lighter clothing, trips to the beach or pool, and reminders to stay hydrated.

As an architect, I also see design as an important tool for staying cool.  Throughout history, architecture has been influenced by climate, including summer heat.   Some of the passive techniques used by architects through the ages are still with us today.

In the arid climate of North Africa and the Middle East, wind towers have been used in traditional buildings for thousands of years.  They consist of hollow towers with wide openings at the top, which capture the breeze and direct it downwards through the tower and into the building’s living spaces. They are an excellent example of passive architecture.  “Passive” in this case, refers to the fact that the structure performs as desired (by lowering temperature) but without consuming energy, or relying on mechanical systems.  The design feature performs simply by capturing the breeze and redirecting it. This happens quietly and without the consumption of electricity.

Shading is another important element for cooling.  By protecting living spaces from the sun, temperatures are kept several degrees cooler.  Historically, architecture has incorporated shading in many ways. Arcades, which create a covered walkway for pedestrians, and recess each shopfront to provide shading, have been incorporated in many architectural traditions from medieval European town centers, to souks and bazaars, to Victorian era shopping buildings.  Here in the Philippines, we see the same technique creating covered sidewalks in many commercial areas, from the oldest to the most newly built, protecting shoppers from the sun and rain.

The chimney is one design feature that we associate with heating, and not with cooling.  But it lends its name to the “Chimney Effect”, which can be harnessed by architects to maintain cooler temperatures.  Over any fireplace, hot air rises and escapes through a chimney above.  This movement pulls in cooler air from the environment.   In the tropics, though we have no need for fireplaces, buildings can be designed to harness the chimney effect for passive ventilation.  By designing an internal atrium, warm air can rise through the center of the building and escape through the roof, while pulling in cooler air laterally.  This lateral flow, if directed through living spaces, can passively cool the environment for inhabitants.

In my practice as an architect, I use many of these techniques in my designs for contemporary buildings here in the Philippines.

At IDC, we harness passive cooling through cross-ventilation and interior atria.  We apply digital precision to model sunrays and shading throughout the year according to our projects’ precise latitudes, using advanced software.  At each stage in the design process, we apply innovation to address the unique needs of each project.  When we survey the histories of these techniques, we often find that innovation is not only invention, but also the tailoring and re-adaptation of classically elegant solutions inspired by heritage and by nature.

I would like to invite you to Like, Follow, and Share my online spaces and content on Facebook and LinkedIn (Architect Romolo V. Nati), and on Twitter (@romolonati).



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.