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close this bookNatural Energy and Vernacular Architecture: Principles and Examples with Reference to Hot Arid Climates (UNU, 1986, 172 pages)
close this folderPart 1. Man, natural environment, and architecture
close this folder1. Environment and architecture
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentEffect of climate on architectural form
View the documentEnvironment
View the documentConscious modification of the microclimate
View the documentTrends in international architecture

Effect of climate on architectural form

Climate, in particular, produces certain easily observed effects on architectural forms. For example, the proportion of window area to wall area becomes less as one moves toward the equator. In warm areas, people shun the glare and heat of the sun, as demonstrated by the decreasing size of the windows. In the subtropical and tropical zones, more distinctive changes in architectural form occur to meet the problems caused by excessive heat. In Egypt, Iraq, India, and Pakistan, deep loggias, projecting balconies, and overhangs casting long shadows on the walls of buildings are found. Wooden or marble lattices fill large openings to subdue the glare of the sun while permitting the breeze to pass through. Such arrangements characterize the architecture of hot zones, and evoke comfort as well as aesthetic satisfaction with the visible endeavors of man to protect himself against the excessive heat. Today a great variety of devices such as sun-breakers or brise-soleil have been added to the vocabulary of architectural features in these zones.

Notice, too, how the gabled roof decreases in pitch as the rate of precipitation decreases. In Northern Europe and most districts subjected to heavy snow, gables are steep, while in the sunnier lands of the south, the pitch steadily decreases. In the hot countries of the North African coast the roofs become quite flat, in some areas providing a comfortable place to sleep. Still further south, in the tropical rainfall zone, the roofs are again steep to provide protection from the torrential downpours typical of the region.

It is worth noting that so long as the people of the humid tropical regions built their huts with reeds and grass, which allowed air to pass through the walls, the steeply pitched roof was a useful device. However, once they began to use more sophisticated materials like cement block and the common gabled roof topped with corrugated iron sheets, the houses became unbearably hot and stuffy. This kind of roof prevents the catching of draughts at the very level where they prevail, and the solid walls prevent the passage of air.

The traditional flat roof and the brise-soleil of recent tropical architecture, with its modern feel, have attracted the imagination of architects in colder regions who are continuously searching for something different and exotic. The result is that in some northern cities thoroughly inappropriate examples of architecture, with shapes suitable to an alien climate, have succeeded in making the neighboring buildings look old-fashioned without responding to the needs of the people in their climate. The temptation to create up-to-date designs which assails a modern architect prevents him from achieving the chief aim of architecture: to be functional. He forgets the environment into which he will implant his buildings because he is attracted by new and modern innovations and gadgetry. He fails to realize that form has meaning only within the context of its environment.