The Windcatchers of Yazd

And How Architects Know Next to Nothing About Climate Control

Marjan Krebelj

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A couple of years ago, I read somewhere that medical students typically learn almost nothing about nutrition, a cornerstone of health and wellbeing. I was outraged. How could this be? Now, looking at my own field, I found an analogue. In my seven years at architecture school, I don’t remember hearing anything substantial about the principles of natural heat exchange. At best, it was just a passing remark.

Photo by author

Just a disclaimer: I am not a practicing architect. I did obtain my master’s degree and worked for two years in an office as an intern. Even when I was asked back as an assistant professor, my job was to teach multimedia — video, photography, and a bit of sound — which has been my occupation for the last 15 years. So this is not a critique of mature architects working in offices, but of my years as a student in the early 2000s.

So, what did we learn? Well, for the first three years, we covered the basics. A significant portion of our time was devoted to learning drawing skills. We spent endless hours drawing and redrawing classical architecture from ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt. I probably still know most of those proportions by heart. Another large chunk of time was dedicated to mechanics, math, physics, and structural engineering, ensuring the house would not collapse, and finally, the basics of architectural design and how to structure a functional floor plan.

In later years, more sophisticated subjects appeared, and we did have a whole compulsory course dedicated to the thermodynamics of a building and an optional special course for ecological (meaning passive) housing, which I remember taking. Sadly, when I think about it now, both of these courses focused on high-tech solutions.

In thermodynamics, we learned about heat pumps, radiators, oil consumption, electrical ventilations, moisture control, mechanical shading of windows, and so on. The course on passive housing went a bit further; it also introduced insulation layering, air-tight doors and windows, and so on. There, we had to design our own house using all these fancy products. I remember most of us being shocked at how much these products cost.

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Marjan Krebelj

Once an architect, now a freelance photographer/filmmaker with passion for words.