Wind-Catcher (Malqaf): A Traditional Natural Ventilation System - Part 1

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The wind-catcher is based on a traditional Persian architectural device, which was used to create natural ventilation in buildings. Since the energy crisis of the 1970s, the ecological or sustainable architecture movement dominated architect’s thought

The traditional architecture of Central Asia and the Middle East is the product of the local climate, as well as people’s culture and traditions. The human needs and the environment represented the most essential factors to be considered in their designs. The traditional and vernacular architecture of this region introduced many realistic solutions and devices to the local environmental problems such as the Malqaf (Wind-catcher), which became a common architectural feature in buildings.

Image credit: Windcatcher in a school, Yazd, Iran

The wind-catcher is based on a traditional Persian architectural device, which was used to create natural ventilation in buildings. Since the energy crisis of the 1970s, the ecological or sustainable architecture movement dominated architect’s thoughts of realizing buildings that are environmentally relevant to their regions. In recent decades, there has been an increasing awareness of these traditional environmental devices and their potential for possible future buildings. However, traditional and vernacular architecture, which considered the human needs and the environment, provided many realistic solutions to the more recent modern environmental problems.

Image credit:

Beyond the evident typology in Muslim-Arab architecture and the guiding architectural principles, their buildings were formulated and shaped by a conceptual framework, which developed a clear understanding of conscious responses to environmental, urban and societal conditions of existence. In fact, traditional buildings are the true expression of the architecture that provides comfortable living conditions in all different climates. In hot arid regions, in specific, the forms of these traditional buildings have been shaped according to the available natural sources of energy, which help reduce humidity and create natural ventilation. There are number of architectural elements which help provide cooling in internal spaces, including an inner courtyard, local materials and wind-catchers. However, this article will be concerned with the importance of wind-catcher in buildings.

Throughout history, a wind catcher was introduced as an architectural device, which achieves thermal comfort inside buildings. It is believed that it is a traditional Persian architectural device, which was used for many centuries, but there is evidence that the idea of the wind-catcher dates back to the early Pharaonic periods. Examples can be found in the Eighteenth Dynasty houses of Tal Al-Amarna. The following image shows the Pharaonic house of Neb-Amun, which was depicted from a painting on his tomb of the Nineteenth Dynasty (1300 BC.). It shows a wind-catcher with two openings, one facing windward to capture the cool air and the other facing leeward in order to evacuate the hot air by suction.

Image credit: Malqaf of the Pharaonic, house of Neb-Amun, (c.1300 B.C.), [1]

Other widespread and successful examples of wind-catchers can also be traced in the architecture of the Middle East, Pakistan, and India, which exhibit the impact of the traditional Persian architecture on these regions.

Image credit: Wind catchers in Yazd City

There are many different types of wind-catchers, whose forms and functions are based on the climatic conditions of their regions. The most common ones are the unidirectional (malqaf, windcatcher), and the multi-directional (Badgir, windscoop). These two types of windcatcher will form the subject of part 2.

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