Inspired by termites, this desert city uses ‘natural AC’ to beat the heat

UNESCO described the city as a “living testimony to the wise use of limited resources”.

Yazd, Iran:

Tall, chimney-like minarets rise from centuries-old homes in Iran’s desert city of Yazd, drawing pleasant air for residents of one of Earth’s hottest cities. The Wind Catcher, called Badgir in Farsi, is one of the engineering marvels developed in this ancient city in central Iran – where temperatures reach more than 40 °C (104 Fahrenheit) in summer.

And, unlike energy-guzzling air-conditioners, they are expensive and carbon-free.

“For centuries, before we had electricity, they made it possible to cool homes,” said Abdolmajid Shakeri, provincial deputy of Iran’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Tourism.

The oldest of the city’s 700 wind catchers dates back to the 14th century, but the architectural feature is believed to date back 2,500 years when the Persian Empire ruled much of the Middle East.

Shakeri said of the desert city, which was a caravan stop on the ancient Silk Road, that “the bards played an important role in the city’s prosperity.”

“Thanks to them, people lived comfortably,” he said, describing how wind catchers draw fresh air into buildings and allow warm air to escape through large vertical slots.

Majid Oloumi, head of the Daulatabad Gardens, where there is a 33-metre (100 ft) tall wind-catcher – one of the tallest in the world – described the cooling method as “completely neat” as it uses neither electricity nor electricity. Uses polluting materials. ,

UNESCO listed Yazd as a World Heritage Site in 2017, describing the city as “living proof of the intelligent use of limited available resources in the desert to survive”.


The bioclimatic architecture that provides thermal comfort for the people of Yazd has attracted interest elsewhere on a warming planet.

Paris-based architect Roland Dehghan Kamraji, who has studied Iran’s wind catchers, said, “The budgerigars demonstrate that simplicity can be an essential quality for sustainability.”

“This goes against the common misconception that sustainable solutions have to be complex or high-tech.”

In a sustainable urban community called Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates, buildings are “designed to use natural ventilation for cooling, just like arbors,” he said.

Similarly, ventilation inspired by “termite mounds, an approach similar to Badgir”, was built atop the Eastgate Centre, a shopping mall and office complex in Harare, Zimbabwe.

However, the unique architectural traditions of Yazd have been largely abandoned in their birthplace.

“Unfortunately, our ancestral heritage has been forgotten,” Olumie said, “especially since the emergence of air conditioners.”

Yazd’s old city is a labyrinth of narrow streets and roofed streets. Its age-old buildings made of mud, mud-brick and raw materials provide protection from the scorching heat.

But the old houses are in stark contrast to the modern cement buildings and multi-lane roads.

He said, “Today, the architecture of the house copies other countries, and the cement-based construction does not suit Yazd’s climate.”

Kamaraji says that bioclimatic architecture has been undermined by economic constraints and modern construction methods, which “largely favor the use of energy and fossil fuel intensive materials”.

old but effective

Another enduring architectural feature of Yazd is its system of underground aqueducts called qanats, which carried water from underground wells, aquifers, or mountains.

“These underground aqueducts have a lot of utility,” said Zohre Montazer, an expert on water systems. “They form a source of water supply and make it possible to cool dwellings and preserve food at an ideal temperature.”

It is estimated that there are approximately 33,000 qanats in use in Iran today, a significant decline from the 50,000 qanats in use in the mid-20th century.

UNESCO states that the decline in qanat is partly driven by the drying up of underground water sources due to over-consumption.

Iranian officials have sought in recent years to rehabilitate the Qanat of Zarch – which is believed to be the tallest and oldest dating back some 3,000 years.

The water network – which stretches for 70 kilometers in Yazd, and runs to a depth of about 30 meters – serves as a reminder of the challenges Yazd’s residents face.

“The day fossil fuels run out, we’ll have to go back to these methods,” Montazer said.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV Staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)