This is how air hunters worked

This is how air hunters worked
This is how air hunters worked
  • Hundreds of years ago, the Persians already knew the secret of a very modern technology

  • They designed huge chimneys that trapped the fresh wind

The history of air conditioning is very interesting. Heat is something that has always been there and not only does our body respond in a certain way with heat, but some materials do not handle it well and make some tasks more complicated. Over the years, civilizations have endured high temperatures as best they could (with fans in the case of the Chinese, eating snow in the case of the Romans or through canals inside the villas as the Arabs did.

A few hundred years ago, however, the Persians already had something called a ‘wind catcher’ that allowed rooms to be cooled efficiently and with differences of up to 16º with the outside temperature. And they are fascinating structures.

A chimney. More or less. It is difficult to trace the origin of the wind towers, but it is estimated that they are approximately 1,500 years old. This may have been the case in its earliest form, with vestiges in ancient Egypt, but it seems that it was in the area of ​​Mesopotamia, present-day Iran, where the use of these structures was most refined and popularized.

It is a tower that has a series of openings and whose mission is to collect the wind. They were manufactured in three types depending on their opening: unidirectional (a single opening in the direction of the prevailing wind), bidirectional and multidirectional (multiple openings perpendicular to the direction of the wind).

Original air conditioning. These towers constituted a passive cooling system and were highly optimized. Engineers knew that acute angles favored the separation of air flow and were a more optimal shape than rounded shapes and it was possible, in some cases, to completely or partially close the air channel to prevent the spread of diseases or the entry of sand in storms.

And its operation is very simple. The elevation of the towers is essential not only to capture clean air, but to cause the chimney effect inside the structure. The openings in the tower capture clean, cold air, which is conducted into the home or room. Due to thermal buoyancy (cold air weighs more than hot air), the hot interior air moves upwards and, thanks to this chimney effect, it comes out through one of the exit openings that are not capturing the wind.

Adding groundwater. Beyond knowing the separation of the flow, the architects added bevels that were a kind of spoiler to reduce turbulence in case the wind was too strong. Although this system is effective because it allows hot air to be evacuated and replaced with fresh, clean air, it could still be optimized a little more. And that’s what they did.

Something that the Persians also developed about 3,000 years ago were qanats. It is an underground water irrigation system that passes under the town and constituted a system of canals. Between the qanat and the house there was a space through which air circulated at a pleasant temperature thanks to convection and they discovered that they could create openings in the floor of the houses so that cold air could enter both from above through the wind catcher and through the the lower area.

Past and future? In the end, it is a system that generates natural ventilation thanks to the intelligent channeling of clean air and the expulsion of hot air from the interior. These temperature differences between inside and outside are used to vary the pressure, and that is precisely what is currently being explored in some cities.

Beyond the historic buildings that continue to use this system in areas of Iran or Egypt, we have examples such as Qatar University in Doha with a similar system. In Europe, buildings such as the Saint-Éthiene Métropole multipurpose space use aluminum collectors that work in any wind direction. And in the United Kingdom there are buildings with towers that allow this ventilation chimney effect. Among other buildings in different parts of the world.

Climate change. And the interesting thing is that, at a time when we are exploring options to reduce our carbon footprint, solutions from the past can be relevant in new constructions. With this wind catcher system, the temperature can be reduced between 8 and 16º compared to the outside temperature, which would mean considerable energy savings.

Studies have also been carried out that showed that incorporating these wind catcher systems can reduce the cost of a building’s energy consumption by 23.3%. Taking into account that conventional mechanical ventilation represents a fifth of electricity consumption worldwide (it’s nonsense), these alternatives win votes to be taken into account.

As we say, there are several buildings throughout the world that have opted for these passive cooling solutions in recent decades. And if you see one, you already know that it is not a prodigy of modern architecture, but something with a few millennia behind it.

Images | Rage, Bernard Gagnon, Sky2105

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