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Wednesday April 17, 2024

How Iranian city Yazd's ingenious architecture keeps it cool in summer

Known as badgirs in Persian, these wind catchers are a testament to the ingenious engineering developed by the city's residents

By Web Desk
July 21, 2023
According to UNESCO, Yazd is listed as a World Heritage Site, with the city being described as a living testimony to intelligent use of limited available resources in the desert for survival — AFP/Files
According to UNESCO, Yazd is listed as a World Heritage Site, with the city being described as a 'living testimony to intelligent use of limited available resources in the desert for survival' — AFP/Files

In the desert city of Yazd, Iran, tall chimney-like towers rise from centuries-old adobe houses, offering a refreshing breeze to the inhabitants of one of the hottest cities on the planet. 

Known as badgirs in Persian, these wind catchers are a testament to the ingenious engineering developed by the city's residents to combat temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) during scorching summers. 

Unlike energy-consuming air-conditioners, badgirs are not only cost-effective but also carbon-free.

Abdolmajid Shakeri, the provincial deputy of Iran's cultural heritage and tourism ministry, explains that for centuries, before the advent of electricity, wind catchers enabled comfortable living conditions by cooling the dwellings. 

While the oldest wind catcher in the city dates back to the 14th century, the architectural feature is believed to have originated around 2,500 years ago during the reign of the Persian Empire, when Yazd was a bustling stop along the ancient Silk Road.

The badgirs played a crucial role in the city's prosperity, pulling fresh air into buildings and allowing hot air to escape through large vertical slots. Majid Oloumi, in charge of the Dowlatabad garden housing a towering 33-meter (100-foot) wind catcher, praises the cooling method's cleanliness since it operates without electricity or polluting materials. 

UNESCO recognised Yazd as a World Heritage Site in 2017, lauding the city's intelligent use of limited desert resources for survival.

The bioclimatic architecture providing thermal comfort in Yazd has attracted interest worldwide, particularly as the planet faces heating challenges.

 Paris-based architect Roland Dehghan Kamaraji, who has studied Iran's wind catchers, points out that the badgirs demonstrate that simplicity can be a key aspect of sustainability, challenging the misconception that sustainable solutions must be complex or high-tech.

Although some sustainable architectural traditions, like the wind catchers, have inspired contemporary designs in other places, they have sadly been largely forgotten in Yazd itself. 

The advent of air conditioners led to the neglect of the city's unique heritage, with traditional clay, mud-brick, and adobe houses being replaced by modern cement structures, ill-suited to the local climate.

Besides the wind catchers, another sustainable architectural feature in Yazd is its underground aqueduct system called qanats. 

These qanats transport water from underground sources to provide water supply, cool dwellings, and preserve food at ideal temperatures. 

Unfortunately, the number of operational qanats has declined in recent years due to overconsumption and the drying up of underground water sources.

However, the people of Yazd are now realising the importance of preserving these ancient methods as they face future challenges when fossil fuels become scarce.

Rehabilitating and valuing these traditional systems may prove essential for ensuring the city's sustainable future when modern conveniences are no longer viable options.