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EnvironmentIn China, some are using ancient technology to cool homes

In China, some are using ancient technology to cool homes

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Gaston de Persigny
Gaston de Persigny
Gaston de Persigny - Reporter at The European Times News

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The sky wells, also known as “air shafts,” serve as a means of ventilation and provide shade from the sun!

The sight of the massive residential complexes, which accommodate a significant portion of China’s population, is astonishing.

Just by looking at the enormous concrete buildings and imagining thousands of people living in confined spaces, one can feel overheated and claustrophobic.

This is the contemporary appearance of the country’s vast megacities. However, centuries ago, when life was quite different, the Chinese had their own method of constructing buildings that were environmentally friendly.

One aspect of this approach was the incorporation of sky wells in houses, similar to patios or atriums found in the southern regions of Spain. These are small courtyards, sometimes featuring water, designed to provide a cooling effect.

The traditional houses in southern and eastern China often feature a characteristic known as the “heavenly well.” Unlike the courtyard architecture seen in other parts of the country, this design is small, narrow, and less exposed to the elements. The upper part of the house is composed of elongated roofs, and this style of construction was common during the Ming and Qing dynasties from the 14th to the 20th century. The main feature of these houses is a small rectangular courtyard in the centre, with rooms surrounding it on all sides. The roofs of the building form the boundaries of this courtyard.

One of the main purposes of this architectural design was to maintain lower temperatures. When the wind blew over the building, it would enter through the opening of the courtyard and create an airflow that displaced the heated air. This airflow would then exit through the well. Additionally, the design allowed for better ventilation and the collection of rainwater. The well also served as a transitional space between the indoors and outdoors and acted as a heat buffer. It was most effective when filled with water, as the evaporation of the water would cool the air. Rainwater was collected in the well through gutters installed on the roofs.

In recent years, there has been a revival of interest in traditional Chinese architecture, including houses with sky wells. People are recognizing the benefits of these designs, and some buildings are being restored or newly constructed to incorporate sky wells. The return to these old methods is also in line with the government’s policy of promoting greener construction and energy efficiency. Architects are now incorporating the principles of sky wells into new buildings to improve ventilation and reduce electricity usage.

While the use of sky wells in modern architecture can be seen in buildings like the National Heavy Vehicle Engineering Technology Center, reviving these techniques is not without its challenges. The shape and size of traditional wells vary depending on the specific location and climate, so research and a tailored approach are necessary for their successful implementation today. However, apart from their practical benefits, the nostalgia associated with these courtyards also stems from the sense of togetherness and communication they fostered among families.

Illustrative Photo by Maria Orlova: https://www.pexels.com/photo/tropical-resort-spa-with-moroccan-bath-pool-4916534/

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