In many Mediterranean climes, it has been the norm for centuries to build homes that stay cool even under a hot, boiling sun. Thick stone walls, small windows, wooden shutters, cool tile floors and windows placed on the northern side of homes have been time-tested ways of keeping a home in a hot climate cool. In fact you’ll find in most warm climates that builders have learned how to enhance the coolness of homes. In the Southern United States, for example, wide porches, tall windows, and high ceilings have been used to keep the temps down.
Above, a wide porch helps shield windows from direct sunlight. A screened in porch provides optimal ventilation, without worry about invading insects from open windows. Ceiling fans keep breezes moving. Ceilings are high, allowing plenty of room for hot air to rise.
In the Southwest, thermal mass in the envelope (adobe brick walls) provides a buffer against the intense summer sun, similar to the thick stone walls seen in the Mediterranean. See below:
In more temperate climates, a mix of these strategies works best. Including:
- Cutting down on direct sunlight in warm months
- Drawing warm air out of the interior
- Tightening a home’s envelope to keep heat from infiltrating
- Designing spaces that keep the air cool in the “occupied zone”
For example, the two houses pictured at the beginning of this post are from the “From the Ground Up” competition. They are passive houses using very tight envelopes and heat-recovery units. The upper floors sport openings that allow the interior to act like one big chimney. The pop-up that caps the house has a south-facing window that heats up this zone, helping to draw warm air up and out of the house.
For those not yet willing to stray too far from traditional forms of architecture, a “ranch-style” home oriented with the length from east to west can successfully work for passive cooling and heating. This design minimizes the home’s direct gain from the summer sun while maximizing its winter solar exposure.
Thermal zoning is important to getting a passively-cooled home to work properly. Living spaces should be placed in an area of the home where they will be cool or warm depending on the time of year. In hot climates, main living areas should be clustered along the cooler north and east sides of a home. Buffer zones like garages or porches should be placed on the home’s west side to protect interior living spaces from gaining too much heat.
The north-facing living room in the Australian home below attempts to work just that kind of magic.
Another important component of a passively cooled home is the windows. Think carefully about where the dominant summer wind comes from, so you can use the prevailing breezes to your advantage. You should also give some thought to the type of window. Casement, jalousie, and awning windows can act as air scoops, channeling breezes into a home. Windows placed on opposite sides of the house aid in cross-ventilation, routing air through the home instead of letting it stagnate.
In addition, basics like insulation and a reflective roof can help out quite a bit.
If you’re smart about your home’s design, it can be surprisingly easy to survive the summers without air-conditioning. Your home will stay naturally cool with maybe only a bit of help from ceiling fans. You’ll stay comfortable, help save the planet and save a few bucks at the same time!
A traditional Swahili house is scattered along a natural clearing in the coastal forest of Lamu in Kenya by Urko Sanchez Architects.
The client, Fernando Torres, wanted a house that would be in contact with nature.
He had a passion for architecture, and for Swahili traditional construction.
He needed a home that could host family gatherings but feel equally comfortable when he was alone.
The result, an outdoor pavillion on on sandy ground, reflects the client’s love of Swahili traditional construction and craftsmanship, as well as his enjoyment of outdoor living close to nature.
He wanted to preserve the forest as much as possible, so the house winds along within in a small natural clearing.
A series of curved exterior planters that extend inwards to become the smooth and cool concrete floor repeat the curved footprint of the outdoor “house”.
Cool breezes supply natural ventilation.
Construction had a low impact because only local materials were used.
The high arch of the traditional makuti roof effectively keeps out the bright sunlight and is also a good thermal insulator.
In Swahilli architecture this kind of makuti roof is used as a separate structure over the roof of the house or detached as a temporary construction.
Electricity to run the fans and lights is supplied by a solar power system out of sight.
Rustic and lovely hand-shaped concrete sinks define the inside bathroom, but it is far from rudimentary.
Dignified Art Deco details like the lighting and the plaster decorations on the wall seem oddly fitting.
Outside the shower room an al fresco bathtub in the same hand-shaped blond coral stone concrete makes bathing a natural delight in the midst of the forest clearing, for the grandchildren, or for Fernando when he is alone.
Another outdoor bathroom offers a rustic privacy for visiting family members
A sense of Kenya’s colonial past infuses the architecture.
Local craftsmen were used to create all of the intricate handiwork.
There is a seriousness to the incongruity of placing chandeliers in such a rustic natural setting.
The house could easily seem incongruous, with two such contrasting styles; urbane Art Deco played against the rustic Swahili.
Yet there’s nothing self consciously whimsical about the mixture of the highly civilized and the rustic traditions of Swahili construction.
The Strauss Residence by Alexander Brenner Architekten is an imposing structure reminiscenmt of the Bauhaus movement.
Located in in Stuttgart, Germany, it houses a large multigenerational family – a couple, with their two children, and their parents.
Its all-natural material palette is somber, deliberate and weighty: stone, stucco, serious hardwoods.
Delineating the scultural exterior, highly polished black marble is juxtaposed with slabs of smooth matte white stucco.
The carefully sculpted exterior includes an interesting L shape shelf over the front door.
Despite the no nonsense practicality, there’s an amusing contrast in the sweet romance of the chandelier and the deer antlers.
The kitchen is along a wide corridor that offers visual connection directly to the garden at both ends.
It also has a sightline directly out to the pool area of the garden.
The small pool is sheltered in the corner of the high walled compound.
An abstract crazy quilt of cupboards in the kitchen is well disguised as a sculptural piece.
The large home is a live work office for the couple at the below-ground level, while the two stories above are the family quarters.
Brazilian architecture firm Anastasia Arquitetos designed the al fresco Nova Lima House with a bold open upside-down L shape.
The house is sited next to a nature reserve and embraces the surrounding tropical rainforest.
Outside, a checkered pattern of timber decking and grass clears a piazza space in the jungle.
Here, a pool is set perfectly flush into the continous timber deck like a piece of jade glass.
From the street, the house gives no clue to the surprise awaits you inside.
One clue. It has a grand triple height entrance.
Once inside the home’s exterior walls, the interior really opens up.
Command of the gigantic interior space from this triple height canopy is magnificent, huge.
A wood slat skylight ceiling spills natural light spill deep into the vast tall space.
A soaring atrium creates a staggered multivolume space filled with overhead light.
Floor to ceiling glazing slides completely into the wall transforms the indoor area into an outdoor living room.
The exterior seems smaller, with horizontal slatted wood contrasting with the verticality of the forest surroundings.
Outside and inside, its materials – concrete, air, timber, and glass – offset the close tropical surroundings perfectly.
AQ Arkitekter has created an intriguing vacation retreat that completely shuts up like a clam when not in use.
The center of Studio Furellen in Sweden is open, creating a central lightwell under a green roof “frame.”
The central atrium floods the silky interior with natural daylight even when the “clamshell” is tightly closed.
Completely unseen from outside, this sky lighting at its heart defines the interior light.
The minimalist shiny white interior is industrial, uncompromising, brisk.
A cool and crisp bedroom awaits its secretive visitors.
On each of the four corners, hydraulic and mechanical terraces can be opened out to the world.
Levelers under the deck extend down to keep the decks level on the varying terrain.
The detailing is brisk, efficient and very chic.
By contrast with the rugged and weathered exterior, the interior is like the inside of a clamshell.
This is an odd and yet very intriguing hidey hole.