How To Live Without Air Conditioning: Syrian Beehive Houses

Houses in North America all look alike; you can find the same gablegablegable or faux chateau style from Calgary to Tuscon. But before thermostats, people designed to suit the climate, and did a damn fine job of it. Justin at Materialicious points us to a wonderful site , eartharchitecture.org, where I learned about Syrian beehive houses.

Designed for the desert climate, the beehive homes keep the heat out in a few ways. Their thick mud brick walls trap in the cool and keep the sun out as well (beehive homes have very few, if any, windows). The high domes of the beehive houses also collect the hot air, moving it away from the residents sleeping at the bottom of the house.


Inside, its high dome serves to collect the hotter air, and outside to shed rainfall instantly, before the brick can absorb it and crumble. Its thick roof-cum-wall is an excellent low-velocity heat-exchanger, and keeps interior temperatures between 85° and 75° F. while outside noon-to-midnight extremes range from 140° to 60°.

Clearly, we have to start building these in Phoenix. Saudi Aramco World provides more detail:

Restricted choice of building methods and materials left the north Syrians few alternatives, mostly painful. Their houses had to resist the mechanical stresses of wind pressure and the minor shocks of the frequent earthquakes which afflict the region. Door and window openings had to be few and small to minimize the sun's glare and the entry of hot air during the day as well as cold air at night. And they had to have a high-heat-capacity roof to absorb the sun's rays during the day, and slowly reradiate it toward the interior during the cool night; the roof, furthermore, should have a continuous surface to provide a maximum of shade with a minimum of area exposed to the sun, and it should slope steeply to shed the occasional but torrential rains. All this—and it had to built of the only abundant material locally available: adobe brick.

The beehive house was the answer, and one that a computer could scarcely improve upon. Its conical shape presents almost no structural difficulties, requires no high-tensile-strength reinforcements, and can be built quickly by unskilled labor. Nothing cheaper—nor more rugged, more efficient, and easily serviced—can, be built at the same site from local materials. The beehive house, moreover, attains that ideal that architects eternally seek but so seldom find: it combines functionalism with simplicity, elegance and beauty.

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