India: Ancient Cooling Systems, an Option to Environmental Sustainability

Reducing the use or even getting rid of air conditioner creates quite a challenge for people living in countries with warmer climate. For instance, countries in South Asia and Southeast Asia have a high demand for air conditioner (AC), because it provides the easiest way to reach a comfortable temperature in a room. In fact, owning an AC unit has become the symbol of middle class status in India.

On the other hand, air conditioning has unwanted side effects. At the time when CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) was still widely used as the refrigerant in air conditioner, it caused ozone layer breakdown. Later on, CFCs had been replaced with HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons), which doesn’t have anything to do with ozone depletion, but nonetheless produces greenhouse gases which later contributes to global warming. Lately, as the awareness regarding the disadvantages of AC rises, more and more architects avoid using it as a mean to control the temperature inside a building.

Learn from Ancient Passive Cooling Systems

Without using mechanized cooling system, architects should find a way to outsmart nature. They should provide a cooling system by natural means, and passive cooling system comes up as a solution. This system allows zero energy consumption while trying to improve the indoor thermal comfort. There are so many techniques, including the ancient ones. Long ago, before the invention of air conditioner, architecture in Asia had shown the method to adjust the temperature inside a building.

Windcatcher, one of many methods to get natural ventilation, is famous in Central Iran, Western Asia. It is usually built together with water reservoir, or also known as Qanat. The combination between these two, besides as a water supply, can also be used as a cooling method. In South Asia, India also inherits ancient passive cooling systems, called jali and stepwell.

Jali (Jaali) is a latticework with ornamental patterns, such as calligraphy and geometry. It gives privacy for building occupants while it also acts as a filter for light and wind in a building. As it filters the sunlight, it automatically prevents direct heat distribution. A stepwell is also very common in India. The difference between a stepwell and a well is the accessibility. A stepwell is completed with stairs to make it easier to reach the water. The well itself cools everything that surrounds it when the water evaporates in heat.

Embracing Modernization through a Traditional Value

In the suburb of Jaipur, India, stands evidence that ancient cooling systems can be implemented in today’s building. Pearl Academy of Fashion, which is designed by Morphogenesis, an architectural firm in India, adapted a cooling system that is inspired by jali and stepwell. The jali provides a thermal buffer and is applied as the secondary skin of the building. The density of jali in this building has been measured using a computed shadow analysis based on orientation. Moreover, to optimize the benefits, the jali was placed 4 feet away from the building. This distance enables it to reduce the exposure of direct heat and diffuse daylight. In addition, this secondary skin gives a contemporary look to the building.

Equally important is the presence of stepwell, which takes part as a heat sink. How does it work? Look carefully at an opening on the lower part of the building. The base of the building is lowered to a few meters below the ground to entrap heat within its descending set of steps. As the bodies of water encased evaporate in heat, it immediately lowers the temperature of the space around it. This process helps create a cool microclimate inside the building. Furthermore, the architect has provided a system to recycle the water from the on-site sewage treatment plant to fill the waterbodies.

All of the efforts in using ancient cooling systems have given a satisfying result. When the exterior of a building reaches a temperature of 47⁰C, the interior temperature could drop even to 29⁰C. Sometimes the ancient ways still work the best, right? ( – YTA)

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