Revisiting Indigenous Air Cooling in Jaipur

Located just outside of Jaipur, India, the Amer Fort, also known as the Amer Palace, was built in 1592 by Raja Man Singh, and remains in pristine condition today. Like many Indian palaces, buildings, and urban dwellings, the Amer Fort still benefits from some of the most traditional and exquisite air cooling technologies. By creating different rooms and places for different climates and temperatures, the Fort’s architects planned for the seasonal use of varying spaces throughout the palace grounds. For example, the “Pleasure garden” is located in the center of a lake and is used for exceptionally hot summer days. If the palace’s dwellers or visitors become uncomfortable outdoors, they can migrate to the center of the lake to cool off. Similarly, inside the Amer Fort movable screens and curtains were used to keep spaces like the emperor’s throne as cool as the open lake. As Vinod Gupta, Assistant Professor of Architecture at the School of Planning & Architecture in New Delhi, writes, “It is said that in summer there were three sets of screens used, two of them grass mats kept wet by sprinkling of water. Heavy quilted curtains were suspended in place of these screens in winter.” Additionally, one of the most fascinating air cooling technologies employed at the Amer Fort are the apertures, some of which are no larger than one centimeter, designed to let in air which then gets cooled within the larger structure of the building by filtering through an underground (and therefore shaded) tunnel where air flows over shaded water (pictured) to keep it cool.

While beginning to write this post I found myself struggling to employ the appropriate lexicon to describe the concept of air cooling without air conditioning, an area of study important to FutureAir but still somewhat obscure to an average city dweller like myself. As Gupta writes, the energy crisis has spurred the accumulation of a vast body of literature about “passive cooling systems,” or technology that cools air naturally and sustainably, but he argues that the strategies employed by indigenous Indian builders and architects remain the most developed. According to Gupta, “When [modern] architects talk of passive cooling, it is as if the maintenance of certain specified temperatures in a building is an end in itself. On the other hand, the indigenous builder could not care less if the building was cool or warm so long as people could be comfortable within or without the building.” Without electricity indigenous Indian architects used their knowledge of physics and the climate in which they lived to strive for comfortable and utilitarian structures, which are, as a result, quite beautiful.

“Amer Fort.” Jaipur: The Pink City, August 24, 2016. http://www.jaipur.org.uk/forts-monuments/amber.html.
Gupta, Vinod. Energy and Habitat: Town Planning and Building Design for Energy Conservation. John Wiley & Sons (Asia) Pte Ltd, 1984.