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Learning from Iran

Sustainability-minded San Diegans should head over to the La Jolla Library today for what looks to be a fascinating talk from longtime San Diego architect Simi Razavian of MSA and Associates. Her talk is titled Sustainable Architecture without Architects: Using Ancient Building Techniques in Modern Architecture to Save Energy. We spoke recently over the phone and Razavian shared with me some of the building techniques  employed in her native Iran, and described how they might be adapted to the desert climates of Southern California.

This image from Razavian's presentation shows the benefits, as well as some iterations, of designing with a courtyard and water feature.
This image from Razavian's presentation shows the benefits, as well as some iterations, of designing with a courtyard and water feature.

What Razavian proposes is a kind of rediscovery of passive heating and cooling methods that have been in place in Iranian towns like Tabas for centuries. She told me about the climatic benefits of cross-ventilation (which are widely known) but also described how a combination of central courtyards with water features and high windscoops built into roofs can create an effective form of stack ventilation that not only gets warm air out of the shaded courtyard, but cools the air coming in over the water. Razavian made a study of the buildings in Tabas in 1978 when she traveled from Tehran by Jeep to observe the vernacular building style.

"As soon as I graduated from architecture school [in Iran] I built a house for my aunt," she says. "I made use of these kinds of passive techniques."

Here's another slide that describes the work of the Baudgeer or wind scoop in a passive ventilation system.
Here's another slide that describes the work of the Baudgeer or wind scoop in a passive ventilation system.
She contends that building methods like these are uncommon in the United States because of our reliance on inexpensive air conditioning. "Probably building like this is not advocated or advertised because it gives you something for free," she says. "No one benefits commercially from design like this." She continues, "We've forgotten about daylight, about courtyards, and even about shade from trees."

As Americans watch their energy bills soar and their climate heat up, its clear that though your power company might benefit from an inefficiently cooled house, you certainly won't. Good thing designers like Razavian, who has been employing similar techniques in her work in the San Diego area for nearly 25 years, are around to keep regional knowledge alive. Her lecture starts at 6:00 at the La Jolla Library.

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