May 25, 2009
My Experiments with Cooling
by Aditya Dev Sood
This is Delhi in its glory. Hotter, even, than when I knew it as a child, the temperatures these days scratching past the 45 degrees Celsius that were their absolute threshold then. Every day the earth baking, every night the atmosphere billowing in response, plumes of invisible heat unsettling the skies, a sudden imbalance and extreme of the natural order, corrected by crazy dust storms in the late afternoon, whose special, threatening light, one knows, will never break to rain. The dust is everywhere. On window sills and on the floors of my home, on doorknobs and banisters, and even hidden atop curtain rods and high shelves. The body is always tormented by the heat, always seeking respite, coolness, moisture, a wet towel, ginger-lemonade, the direct draft of an air-conditioner.
In the center of the two-storied house is a kind of small atrium, or large shaft, which stretches from plinth to roof. My neighbor has one just like it -- it is mandated by local zoning. The idea was, in those pre-aircon-days of the Raj and early Indian post-coloniality, that air would circulate through the house, gathering heat from the groins and armpits of its wilting inhabitants, before entering the atrium and rising up as hot air must, but also following Bernoulli's principle, that fluids will accelerate as they pass through a narrower channel. The logic of air-conditioning, sadly, runs so directly counter to this ecological understanding of architecture, as a coordination of air flows from outside the building, in through its interiors, all the way out its top.
These days, my free time at home is taken up with imagining ways of converting the double-storied atrium at the center of my home into a kind of building-wide cooler. I am imagining a thirty foot tower of khus-khus, through which I would allow water to drip over two-and-a-half stories. An enormous fan -- or maybe centrifuge -- at the roof would push air down and through the khus tower. We would all be living in, essentially, a habitable cooler.
From that originary apiary home, we have wandered far, into natural deserts as well as those devised of our own self-incarceration. Yet, we long to recreate those densities of flora and moist-cool habitation, though in our contemporary image. Architecture serves as both boundary and link back to our pre-cultural past, and we need it to be moist and cool when it is hot and dry outside, and warm and dry within when it is cold and wet outside.
Along the same lines, we need a cooling solution that allows a party guest, in the middle of May, to walk over to a cabinet or shelving unit to admire the book collection, while exposing his chest and armpits to the full blast of cool moist air for a few minutes, before he heads off to the bar. The solution must be as integral to the architecture of the building as it is to the room, and it should involve the strategic location of moisture, greenery and forced ventilation through it. This, at any rate, is what a contemporary cultural-architectural response to Delhi's heat would have to look like -- a marriage of ingenuity with responsibility, informed of a thousand years of eloquent space-making within the city.
Posted by Aditya Dev Sood at 12:00 AM | Permalink