As the Middle East developed, energy use driven by air conditioners has, along with carbon emissions, grown hugely.
In 1990, World Bank figures indicate, cooling internal spaces in the Middle East accounted for about 25 terawatt hours of electricity. By 2016, the figure had risen 400 per cent, to 125 TWH.
Meanwhile, the Middle East and North Africa’s carbon dioxide emissions almost triple, from about 864,000 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide in 1990 to about 2,556,000 kilotonnes in 2019.
As development continues, and the planet and the region continue to heat up, there seems little prospect of anything other than ongoing increases in electricity demand to keep buildings cool.
Indeed, other World Bank statistics indicate that, by the middle of this century, the number of air-conditioning units around the globe will increase threefold, to five billion.
But some architects, such as Karim El Kafrawi and his partners at the architectural practice he co-founded, the Karm Architecture Lab (KAL), based in Egypt, are finding ways to keep buildings cool that do not depend on air-con.
Thanks to shading, extra-thick walls, airflow corridors and other features, some of KAL’s buildings can be comfortable without air conditioning, even during the height of summer.
What is more, Mr El Kafrawi hopes this approach offers a better experience for those inside the building and makes housing more affordable to the less well off.
“We’ve forgotten the ancient methods or historic methods of how to deal with passive cooling or passive heating,” he says.
“With the adoption of technology through air conditioning, everybody said, ‘We don’t need to worry about that any more.’ That was at a time when we thought energy availability was infinite. Of course now we’ve realised this is not the case.”
Medieval Cairo is one place where the old-style methods, such as wind towers to create airflow, were used. Where wind towers were impractical because of the high density of buildings, designers used other simple ways to create positive or negative air pressure and keep air moving.
“If you walk through the entrance you get this gradual flow that the deeper you go in, the cooler it gets,” Mr El Kafrawi says.
“The way they did that was positioning openings for daylight and for air to come in certain places, so that when the door opens … suddenly hot air is in one place and cool air comes and moves where hot air is.”
Ceiling height could also be adjusted to promote airflow, while having a large thermal mass ― thick walls ― was another approach.
Bardsley, Daniel. (2022, August 5). How one Egyptian architectural firm is keeping buildings cool without air conditioning. Retrieved from https://www.thenationalnews.com/mena/2022/08/05/how-one-egyptian-architect-is-keeping-buildings-cool-without-air-conditioning/