The Wind Catchers of Hyderabad 1928 - Photo from the book “Architecture without Architects” by Bernard Rudofsky

Windcatcher – Passive cooling and cultural identity

The Wind Catchers of Hyderabad 1928 - Photo from the book “Architecture without Architects” by Bernard Rudofsky
Architecture, culture and sustainability

A study titled Nature Climate Change, published in July 2015 revealed that more than 65 percent of adults in many developing countries had not even heard of climate change. Their studies also led them to conclude that in many African and Asian countries, of the people who are aware, risk perception is greatly correlated with real, tangible factors such as changes in local temperatures.

To that end, we’ve explored various strategies to engage third-world communities, many of which are hugely inconceivable. And so, I’m interested in the idea of propelling local, cultural change for sustainability because a grassroots domino effect could subvert the idea that sustainability is insignificant, unattainable or even elitist.

Pakistani senior journalist and cultural analyst, Abid Ali Syed says ‘’photographs from the 1920’s and 1930’s of the Hyderabadi skyline dotted with windcatchers serve as an archetype of a communal, synchronous climate responsive effort.’’ The Middle Eastern windcatcher, a natural ventilation strategy that has also been implemented in contemporary projects, is an architectural, climate-responsive device that directs cooler air from higher surface areas above the roof, where wind speeds are higher than they are near the ground, down into the active, living spaces of the building. Larger wind-catchers rose up to 22 metres and had ornate and detailed inlets and outlet vents. Photographs show the pervasive use of the device; the impact regional culture expressed in architecture had.

The technology was used in the Pakistani city of Hyderabad for more than 500 years but started to abate with the advent of electricity during World War II when British authorities built a powerhouse in the city.

Utilisation of thermal mass as a heat sink for cooling purposes is essential in the designing of residential buildings in the densely populated urban areas. It prevents people from moving to different areas, causing overcrowding in public squares and parks. Ulrike Passe and Francine Battaglia in their book, Design spaces for natural ventilation – an architect’s guide, note that ‘’Wind catchers in the past have been a part of a larger strategy of passive environmental control features and processes, one of which seems to have been daily and seasonal migration from one room to another.’’ On that account, windcatcher integrated design would promote a culture of internal migration- instead of moving to different regions, there would be summer living rooms in the middle connected to windcatcher shafts, while winter rooms would be near the sun-exposed façade.

The case for local passive cooling techniques such as the windcatcher is one of land-based and human-centred design principles. Architectural historian, Paul Oliver suggested that ‘’arguments have been powerfully made for a physical and environmental determinism that considers that advantageous climates and temperatures, give shape to man’s culture.’’ Differing environmental and social conditions call for varied design responses. Perhaps if contemporary architecture in developing countries implemented local solutions that were both functional and culturally recognisable, those techniques could be greatly popularised leading to more widespread compliance of sustainability.




  • Abid Ali Syed (journalist and cultural analyst), email interview with author, 8th March 2017
  • Phillip James Tabb and A. Senem Deviren, The Greening of Architecture (2013): 4
  • Ulrike Passe and Francine Battaglia, Designing Spaces For Natural Ventilation, An Architect’s Guide, (2015): 111-115
  • Bernard Rudofsky, Architecture without Architects, (1964): 48 – 49
  • Tien Ming Lee, Ezra M. Markowitz, Peter D. Howe, Chia-Ying Ko, Anthony A. Leiserowitz, Nature Climate Change, study published (July 2015)

Minelle Ali is a Masters of Architecture student at the UWA, from Karachi, Pakistan. She graduated as an Interior Architect from Ravensbourne university in London. In her two years in Pakistan in between her undergrad and masters degrees, she worked as an architectural designer with a number of local design studios. Her architectural philosophy focusses on human-centered design, exploring connections between the arts, media and psychology. In her free time, she practices Pilates and reads Noam Chomsky.

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