What Came Before
Contemporary air-conditioning has become an indispensable commodity in many parts of the world, but the concept is older than you might think. Whilst modern scientists explore solar solutions and sweat over ways to conserve energy, here are some of the most revolutionary indoor-cooling inventions from the environmentally-savvy ancients.
The remnants of Roman aqueducts can be found across Europe, their bulk supported by towering, partially-crumbled arches. In Rome’s heyday, entire cities containing millions of residents relied on hundreds of miles of these waterways to keep them supplied with fresh aqua pura.
This system was engineered to serve a dual purpose and provide air conditioning to the homes of Rome’s premier citizens. Pipes were installed to channel water through the walls of select houses, cooling the brickwork and lowering the room temperature. This innovative air-conditioning concept proves that as well as being peopled by master military tacticians, Rome also contained some brilliant minds capable of incredibly impressive feats of engineering.
Ancient Chinese Giant Fans
In the 2nd century, Ding Huan, an artisan and inventor of the Han Dynasty, developed a 3m wide, manual-powered rotary fan with seven wheels. Five hundred years later hydraulic power was brought into play and the cogs of early Chinese air-conditioning began to turn again. Tang Dynasty Emperor Xuanzong used the principles of the technology to create the aptly named Cool Hall in his palace.
According to contemporary records, the room contained water-powered rotary fan wheels, and water which rose up in jets from multiple fountains placed around the room. The revolutionary concept must have been particularly warmly received by the servants who had formerly been assigned to fan-rotation duty, and also proved to be a great hit with subsequent members of the Song Dynasty, who helped fund further technological developments.
Medieval Persian Wind Towers
Five hundred years ago, medieval Persians invented ingenious towers based on two thousand year-old wind scoops. These buildings featured windows for capturing prevailing winds, and internal vanes to funnel cooler air into the buildings below and draw warm air out. In some instances, water was added to the scenario via pools of collected rainwater which cooled the air flowing over them as they evaporated.
Wind towers worked as effective natural air-conditioning systems in desert climates where average summer temperatures exceeded 35°C. Rich Persian merchants built breath-taking structures across the Gulf, creating environmentally-friendly constructions with a ton of aesthetic appeal. These wind towers can still be found in pockets of the Middle East, and in Dubai there are a number of structures interspersed amongst the city’s skyscraper dominated skyline.
Millennia ago, ancient civilisations had already developed sustainable air-conditioning systems, which were environmentally-friendly and free of pollutants. The task for modern scientists is to develop solar solutions to combat the high-energy consumption of contemporary designs, without restricting them to a privileged few.