Sunday, May 15, 2011

We call it a windcatcher, the Persians called it a badgir, the ancients had to be GREEN to live in the desert.

Green and not greed, was the motto. All for one.

In Persia, now called Iran, the deserts were just as unforgiving as today, a place of hard beauty, stark landscapes, lots of eye appeal but as we would say
now, hard to make a living in.

A place where the unprepared died off.

In that long ago time; 4,000 plus years ago, humans settled down together, in
villages and towns with houses set close together, but made with thick walls and out of unbaked mud bricks. Just like over half of all humans living today.

Think about that- just use this blogger’s life history as an example.

I have written here about my homes in Joshua Tree and Morongo Valley, out in
the California desert. Living that far away from my service territory was only possible due to cheap energy and that my employer provided a company vehicle and paid for all the commuting costs. The goal was to experience nature, to get out away from close neighbors, to find peace. This motivates a lot
of desert dwellers, I believe. Just ride out along Hwy 62 from near Palm Springs and on out to Joshua Tree, 29 Palms, and beyond- lots of scattered homesteads and jackrabbit cabins, trailers, etc.

The above model I lived and mentioned in the above paragraph will probably prove to be unsustainable in the new era of changing weather patterns, and
especially when the era of cheap and abundant energy comes to an end.

Unless we go back in our other culture’s history and see how the advances that were figured out and implemented by the ancients, can be applied today to solve the problem presented by these more severe and changing weather patterns that we are facing now.

This internet search that I have been on for the last couple of days, all started when I read this article over at Mother Earth. Architectural students built an off grid, rammed earth home out on the Navajo reservation for the Begay family
which incorporated a Windcatcher in the design to provide natural cooling.
image

In Maxine Begay’s house above, the wind comes in and will pass by damp pads, which will cool the air like a swamp cooler. I wonder just how the pads
will be kept damp.

Of course, after whetting my appetite with that article, I googled windcatcher
and from there made the leap to badgir which is what the windcatchers are
called in Iran.
image

Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia under Creative Commons License. The towers are the windcatchers or badgirs in Persian.

In my study I found this site and article which impressed me so much that I now follow them on Facebook. The site is Green Prophet and it is about living
green and is focused on the Muslim world. A very interesting site, indeed.

I also found a very interesting scientific paper presented in Greece at a conference in 2005 devoted to passive building for low energy environments, which I lost the link to, but which can be read over at Scribd.

This link is to a very informative link over at the Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies site which, in great detail, explains the “windcatcher” system.
The Cooling Systems in Traditional Iranian Architecture

Here is a Youtube video from the Iranian city of Yazd, which is home to more “windcatchers” than any other city in the world. This video actually shows the inside of the badgir. It is in Farsi, maybe someone can translate this for us.

This may be the a/c of the future. Remember the ancient ones invented this 4,000 years before Christ lived.

And here is an absolutely fantastic video welcoming you to the city of Yazd.
Special request to my readers. If you like this video please leave a comment over on the youtube page, to counter what I feel are a few racist comments there.

So what would life have been like thousands of years ago in the desert city
of Yazd? From my reading and viewing the photos online, the buildings had tall ceilings, some were 2 story, with flat roofs, and built close together. The city was walled, for protection against invaders and also to keep the wind and
sand storms out, as much as possible. People could stay indoors out of the
blazing, never ending sun, and move from room to room, or up and down floors, even sleeping up on the rooftop at night, as many people still do today.
There was no computers or television, so people either used lamps for light, or
went to bed early. You discerning readers realize of course, that these people
were living a green lifestyle with no carbon footprint of any consequence, a
thought that is an anathema to this modern day age of endless, never ending
consumption of earth’s resources like there is no tomorrow!

Having lived on my own way out in the middle of nowhere, could I adapt to living so close to neighbors in this way? Yes, I think I could. The fact that the walls would be so thick and that I could build in a courtyard, all for privacy and escape from a neighbor’s thumping bass stereo for example, make me think that I could handle the close confines, and you would still be part of a community with the benefits and responsibilities involved- definitely a thought
to ponder on my next hike in the wilderness.

There is an awakening now going on amongst the planners and architects, as well as off gridders and others, that maybe these modern ways just aren’t working out, especially as we face the new day that is coming. Whether you believe in climate change, global warming, peak oil or coal, whatever- the 800 pound gorilla in the room is the fact that there are billions and billions of humans, and the number is growing by leaps and bounds, and we are running out of the cheap energy that this modern society requires to operate. So we have to look to other answers, perhaps going back and studying how our ancient predecessors looked at and solved problems in a low energy manner, might be our solution.

Morongobill

A late addition, for me after thinking all this over, I really like the design of the Begay house incorporating the badgir or windcatcher as the main cooling feature. With the addition of a few solar panels, and items like a clothesline outside, I believe that I could get along very well out in the desert. Very well indeed.

Another thought, the badgir also depended on the qanat, an underground pool, to work in conjunction with the air moving through the “tunnel” which is similar to a modern day swamp cooling system.

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