Modern air-conditioning has become an essential commodity in many parts of the world, and guzzles more than its fair share of energy as it shifts heat around buildings. But while scientists sweat to find solar solutions to cool this burning energy issue, over a thousand years ago ancient cultures had discovered sustainable precursors to air-conditioning, albeit by and large just for the privileged few. Here are three of the coolest indoor-cooling innovations from those environmentally-savvy ancients – and not a chemical in sight.
3. Freshly Circulated Roman Aqueduct Water
Aqueduct image: Chris O
Sections of ancient Roman aqueducts supported by towering arches are a sight to see across European landscapes. In their heyday hundreds of miles of these waterways supplied fresh aqua pura, sufficient for entire cities and millions of residents. Even more innovatively, the water channelled in was piped through the walls of select houses in order to cool the brickwork and lower the room temperature.
It seems only affluent citizens could afford the luxury of installing these smart water-circulation systems – and they must have been even more expensive if the water bill was worked out on a meter! Excess water usage aside, though, this pioneering air-conditioning concept is further proof that when the Romans weren’t busy conquering territories to expand their empire, they were developing damn cool feats of engineering way ahead of their time.
2. Big Fans of the Ancient Chinese Dynasties
Emperor Xuanzong Image: Ranveig
Prefiguring its modern appearance by nearly two millennia, a 3m wide, manual-powered rotary fan with seven wheels was pioneered in the 2nd Century by Ding Huan, an artisan and inventor of the Han Dynasty. Five hundred years on and the cogs of early Chinese air-conditioning where again turning as hydraulic power was brought into play. Tang Dynasty Emperor Xuanzong had the aptly named Cool Hall built in his palace, recorded as containing water-powered rotary fan wheels as well as water issuing up in jets from fountains.
While also taking the load off the people on fan-rotation duty, this spa-like complex must have been heaven for those who got to chill there – though Xuansong’s reign did actually tone down of the ultra-lavish lifestyle of the imperial court. During the subsequent Song Dynasty, fans for creating cooling artificial drafts were becoming progressively more popular.
1. Currently Cool Wind Towers of Medieval Persia
Wind Tower Image: Jacqueline Naerebout
Wind towers are still prominent in pockets of the Middle East, and in Dubai a whole area of the structures stands in cool contrast to the city’s skyscraper-crazy skyline. Conceived in medieval Persia around five hundred years ago – but based on two thousand year-old wind scoops – these ingenious towers feature windows for capturing prevailing winds, with internal vanes used to funnel cooler air into the buildings below and suck warm air out.
Wind towers worked as effective natural air-conditioning in desert climates where average summer temperatures exceed 100F. Scorchio! In some cases, water was added to the equation via pools of collected rainwater that further cooled the air flowing over them as they evaporated. Wealthy Persian merchants later built splendid wind towers across the Gulf – and credit where it’s due for aesthetic appeal plus zero environmental footprint.
We’ll even throw in a free album.