The common response to vernacular elements such as the windcatcher from architects in the Developing World differed from that of Western architects. The response of Western architects to Islamic-Arab architecture varied. While some architects admired the new possibilities of employing the windcatcher as it was built in the past, others were inspired by the philosophy and the environmental and humanistic approach behind it. In 1960s, there was an increasing interest in traditional architecture and away from the ideas that were promoted by the first generation of modern architects.
This period witnessed a strong rejection of the tenents of the International Style, whose buildings were regarded as unresponsive to the environment as well as less demanding of creativity. Architects regarded the characteristics of modern architecture, such as wide windows and glass-and-concrete structures made no sense in extreme heat, especially in societies with time-honoured environmentally responsive architectural elements such as windcatchers. The appropriateness of glass-curtain-walled, air-conditioned office blocks is now being questioned worldwide, because they require an enormous amount of energy to maintain internal environmental comfort and because they detach their users from the external environment.
There has been an increasing awareness of the application of natural ventilation and passive cooling approach in western countries, specifically the wind-catcher. Experimental studies have been conducted to investigate the performance of wind-catcher, which depends greatly on the wind direction and speed. The results proved that passive air movement inside the building improves the air quality and reduces the internal temperatures. The idea of windcatcher attracted the attention of western architects, who revived the traditional Arab windcatcher as a shape and function and employed it in their modern wooden buildings without the addition of any modern mechanical devices as shown in the Visitor Centre at Zion National Park, US. This centre represents a successful example of the adoption of energy-saving technologies, such as the windcatcher, which yields a significant, measurable energy savings in the building.
Image credit: The Visitor Center at Zion National Park, US
Other western architects integrated the principles of windcatchers with modern technology as helpful devices to improve the quality and efficiency of the provided fresh air. An advanced cool tower design was developed to combine the traditional windcatcher and modern devices. It is made out of light aluminum and provided with a large upwind swivel scoop to create a larger air flow. The exhaust vents also swivel with a venturi system to keep the exhaust openings oriented away from the wind. With this system the wind can blow from any direction and the cool tower will continue to function. The system is also provided wit a water tank and a small pump to circulate and evaporate water to cool the incoming air. A removable door to close off the top of the tower in case of a wind storm can be added.
Image credit: Passive Air Cool-Tower
There is another modern version of the historical wind catchers, which is called Monodraught. Its main aim is to provide natural ventilation and light to any space in a building. Monodraught are fully automatic and programmable and can control ventilation with a fully adjustable ceiling ventilator, dampers, as well as different types of sensors. Windcatcher Sensors may include air temperature, CO², wind movement, noise and humidity depending upon the specific requirements of the space. For example, temperature sensors are normally set to start opening at 16°C during the summer months and open 20 per cent for every one degree centigrade in internal room temperature. Another sensor is responsible of distributing fresh air throughout a building when the carbon dioxide levels become too high and ensure the hot air is removed. The unit closes completely in winter, but opening enough to admit enough fresh. Monodraught can take many different forms that suit the architecture of a building.
Image credit: Different forms of Monodraught windcatcher
The Kensington Oval cricket ground, in Barbados by Arup Associates, and the Saint-Etienne Métropole's Zénith Rhône-Alpes, by Foster and Partner architectural firme represents a new contemporary interpretation for the Islamic-Arab windcatcher. Both applied the same design concept of capturing the prevailing wind and disperse it around the building.
Image credit: Métropole's Zénith, Foster and Partner
- Hassan Fathy, Natural Energy and Vernacular Architecture: Principles and Examples with Reference to Hot Arid Climates. Chicago, 1986.
- Miles Danby, Privacy as a Culturally Related Factor in Built Form, in Farmer, 1993, p. 139.
- Abdel-Mohsen Saleh Mito, Hassan Fathy and Balkrishna Doshi: Two Regional Architects in the Context of Modern Architecture. Thesis (Ph.D.) - University of Georgia. 1990, pp. 86,104.
- Gut Paul and Ackerknecht Dieter. Climate Responsive Building. SKAT, 1993.
- Main picture: Kensington cricket ground, ARP Associates, Robert Booth, BD Magazine - Sport and Leisure, 2007.