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Windcatcher
A windcatcher (Persian: بادگیر Bâdgir, or Malqaf / Malgaf in Arabic) is a traditional Persian architectural device used for many centuries to create natural ventilation in buildings.
 

It is not known who first invented the windcatcher, but it still can be seen in many countries today. Windcatchers come in various designs: uni-directional, bi-directional, and multi-directional. Examples of windcatchers can be found in traditional Persian-influenced architecture throughout the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Background

Central Iran has a very large day-night temperature difference, ranging from cool to extremely hot, and the air tends to be very dry all day long. Most buildings are constructed of very thick ceramics with extremely high insulation values. Furthermore, towns centered on desert oases tend to be packed very closely together with high walls and ceilings relative to Western architecture, maximizing shade at ground level. The heat of direct sunlight is minimized with small windows that do not face the sun.

Function

The windcatcher or malqaf can function by several methods:

One of the most common uses of the badgir is as an architectural feature to cool the inside of the dwelling, and is often used in combination with courtyards and domes as an overall ventilation / heat management strategy. The malqaf is essentially a tall, capped tower with one face open at the top. This open side faces the prevailing wind, thus 'catching' it, and bringing it down the tower into the heart of the building to maintain air flow, thus cooling the interior of the building. This is the most direct way of drawing air into the building, but importantly it does not necessarily cool the air, but relies on a rate of air flow to provide a cooling effect. This use of the malqaf or windcatcher has been employed in this manner for thousands of years, as detailed by contemporary Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy.

 
A windcatcher and qanat used for cooling.

The second usage is in combination with a qanat, or underground canal. In this method however, the open side of the tower faces away from the direction of the prevailing wind. (This can be adjusted by having directional ports at the top). By closing all but the one facing away from the incoming wind, air is drawn upwards using the Coandă effect, similar to how opening the one facing towards the wind would pull air down into the shaft.

As there is now a pressure differential on one side of the building, air is drawn down into the passage on the other side. This hot air is brought down into the qanat tunnel, and is cooled by the combination of coming into contact with the cold earth (as it is several meters below ground, the earth stays continuously cool) as well as the cold water running through the qanat. The air is therefore cooled significantly, and is then drawn up through the windcatcher by the same Coandă effect. This therefore brings cool air up through the building, cooling the structure overall, with the additional benefit that the water vapour from the qanat has an added cooling effect.

Finally, in a windless environment or waterless house, a windcatcher functions as a solar chimney. It creates a pressure gradient which allows less dense hot air to travel upwards and escape out the top. This is also compounded significantly by the day-night cycle mentioned above, trapping cool air below. The temperature in such an environment cannot drop below the nightly low temperature. These last two functions have gained some ground in Western architecture, and there are several commercial products using the name windcatcher.

When coupled with thick adobe that exhibits high heat transmission resistance qualities, the windcatcher is able to chill lower level spaces in mosques and houses (e.g. shabestan) in the middle of the day to frigid temperatures.

So effective has been the windcatcher in Persian architecture that it has been routinely used as a refrigerating device (yakhchal) for ages. Many traditional water reservoirs (ab anbars) are built with windcatchers that are capable of storing water at near freezing temperatures for months in summer. The evaporative cooling effect is strongest in the driest climates, such as on the Iranian plateau, hence the ubiquitous use of these devices in drier areas such as Yazd, Kashan, Nain, and Bam. This is especially visible in ab anbars that use windcatchers.

A small windcatcher (badgir) is called a "shish-khan" in traditional Persian architecture. Shish-khans can still be seen on top of ab anbars in Qazvin, and other northern cities in Iran. These seem to be more designed as a pure ventilating device, as opposed to temperature regulators as are their larger cousins in the central deserts of Iran.

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