Sustainable Traditional Buildings Of IRAN A Climatic Analysis


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In a vast country of Iran with different climatic regions, traditional builders had in the past offered a series of rational solutions for human comfort and environmental sustainability. Unlike the present time, they designed and built each of the different types of buildings such as housing, religious, commercial, educational and service buildings in different climatic regions of Iran differently.

Iran can be divided into four climatic regions. In Region One, which embraces the southern coasts of the Caspian Sea, the annual rainfall is around two meters and the humidity ratio is about eighty percent for most of the year.

 Region Two, which consists of most of the Central Iranian Plateau, receives almost no rain for about four months of the year. It is very dry and hot in the summer and cold in the winter. In the mountainous Region Three that covers the northern and western parts of the country, the cold weather and snow reduce outdoor activities during its very cold and long winter months.

 Finally there is Region Four, covering the northern coasts of the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman. The 11th century Arab geographer, Shamsoldin Moghaddasi refers to this long and narrow band of coastal land as the gateway to hell, apparently because of the very hot and humid weather, especially from the middle of spring to early autumn.

We can see that in such varied climatic conditions and without using modern technologies, the traditional masons and builders of Iran had devised ways and means by which human wellbeing and comfort could be provided by resorting only to natural resources such as earth, sand, stone, water and plants and utilizing the renewable energies of the sun and the wind.

Our present methods of construction are based on the maximum consumption of resources and maximum production of waste and pollution. Today, in spite of the new construction materials and the variety of technological means at our disposal, our buildings are very expensive to build and costly to upkeep and we produce too much waste and pollution to construct, maintain and demolish them.

In the past, the builders had to understand and consider environmental elements and factors and make the best use of them; otherwise, their buildings would have been very cold in winter and very hot in summer. In other words, since they had very limited resources and real choices, they had to make the best use of what was at their disposal.

As recently as fifty years ago in the capital city, Tehran, people used to sleep on the roof at nights and stay in their cool basements in the afternoons during the hot summers. The plants would be watered and the ground of the courtyard sprinkled with water in the afternoons so that the air could be cooled and humidified by evaporation. In order to protect the buildings from the summer heat, straw canopies would be stretched in front of their deep and long southern balconies.

However, today we try to provide comfortable conditions in our buildings only by means of expensive and polluting mechanical equipment. If for any reason these equipment stop working, life would get intolerable.

As the cost of the maintenance of mechanical equipment and the price of energy becomes increasingly expensive and in addition the environmental pollution of so many equipment is on the rise, the attention of the general public as well as that of the scientists, architects and engineers is being directed more and more towards the use of clean and renewable energies such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydro energies.

Although there are vast reserves of oil and natural gas in Iran and they are being used extensively, at the present rate of consumption it will not be possible to export any oil after the next few decades. Plus it would cause many ecological and health damages for our environment and ourselves.

Of course it is not right or possible to go back to the ways our ancestors used to live. But certainly studying and learning from the ways they used to make buildings and take advantage of the environment for building sustainable places and bringing about comfortable conditions in buildings is both necessary and helpful.

According to an Old Persian proverb “there is sense in experience” and in the many methods and principles that our ancestors employed for thousands of years in constructing buildings, we can vividly detect sense and reason.

In order to keep our environment clean and free from pollution and noise, protect the green and natural areas of both within and around our cities and reduce the extraction of fossil fuel, we would better understand our natural environment and reestablish the now dislodged relationship between man and nature. Only utilize mechanical equipment when climatic design fails to satisfy the conditions for human comfort.

Chapter one of this book deals with climatic factors and chapters two to six discuss the climatic conditions of each region of Iran and their effect on urban texture, building form, and construction materials, in particular with regard to houses. In chapters seven to thirteen, the effects of climate on the form of different types of commercial and religious buildings and also bathhouses, cisterns, ice-making structures, caravanserais and bridges will be presented for each of the four climatic regions of Iran. Chapter fourteen is the conclusion and suggestions of this research for contemporary sustainable architecture.

  •  Vahid Ghobadian
  • Samira Ghobadian

 Tehran, October 2018

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