The box-shaped barjeels that crown many villas in the UAE may soon add function to their form, if one scientist gets his way. As we report today, Ben Hughes of Heriot-Watt University in Dubai is developing a low-energy cooling system that draws inspiration from the wind-towers of old.
If his method is successful, it could reduce the UAE's leviathan carbon footprint - the largest in the world per capita, according to 2007 figures.
Mr Hughes and his partners at Qatar University are one team among many employing ancient methods for modern-day design challenges. Earth sheltering, for instance, a practice of packing earth against walls for insulation, is another old architectural trick that is enjoying a renaissance. The past has been a boon for designers in the field of sustainable architecture.
As cooling needs increase in countries such as the Emirates, the barjeel offers a refreshing alternative to energy-intensive air-conditioning. Indeed, the barjeel's ingenious method of cooling by regulating the rate of air flow through a long, narrow tunnel has made it a permanent feature of homes, schools and mosques from Arabia to Iran. In Persian architecture, it even allowed large volumes of water to be stored at cold temperatures during the summer, an ancient form of refrigeration.
Cities throughout the world battling hot temperatures, take note. There may soon be barjeel technology coming to a roof near you.