How We Beat the Heat Before AC

brown and white concrete building

Throughout history, humans have developed ingenious ways to beat the summer heat and keep their living spaces cool and comfortable. Long before the advent of modern air conditioning systems, people relied on innovative techniques and architectural designs to create a cooler environment indoors. From ancient civilizations to more recent times, here are six historical methods employed to beat the scorching summer heat.


One of the oldest and most effective techniques to keep buildings cool is the use of windcatchers. Employed in regions with hot climates such as the Middle East, windcatchers are architectural elements designed to capture and channel breezes into buildings. These tower-like structures were strategically placed to catch prevailing winds and direct them through a series of shafts or tunnels into the living spaces, creating a natural ventilation system.

Courtyards and Gardens

Many ancient civilizations, such as the Romans, Greeks, and Persians, incorporated courtyards and gardens into their architectural designs to combat the summer heat. Courtyards acted as central open spaces that allowed air circulation, while gardens provided shade and cooling through evaporation. The combination of greenery and water features created a microclimate that reduced temperatures and provided relief from the sweltering heat.

Thick Walls and High Ceilings

In regions like the Mediterranean, where heat is a constant challenge, builders employed thick walls made of materials such as stone or adobe to insulate against the external heat. These walls absorbed heat during the day and released it slowly at night when temperatures dropped. Additionally, high ceilings helped to create a buffer zone of cooler air above occupants’ heads, preventing the accumulation of hot air at ground level.

Mashrabiya Screens

Originating in Islamic architecture, mashrabiya screens were intricately designed wooden lattices used to create privacy while allowing airflow. These screens were placed on windows, balconies, and verandas, allowing occupants to enjoy cross ventilation while maintaining shade and privacy. The geometric patterns not only provided functional benefits but also added beauty to the building facades.

Water-Based Cooling Systems

Ancient civilizations like the Egyptians and Persians employed water-based cooling systems to combat the heat. For example, the ancient Egyptians used evaporative cooling by saturating reeds or cloth with water and placing them over windows. As the water evaporated, it absorbed heat from the air, creating a cooling effect inside. Similarly, Persians developed intricate water channels called qanats to bring cool underground water into their buildings.

Roof Gardens

In densely populated cities with limited green spaces, such as ancient Babylon or medieval Europe, people created rooftop gardens to mitigate the heat. By covering rooftops with soil and planting vegetation, they created an insulating layer that reduced the amount of heat absorbed by the building. Additionally, plants release moisture through transpiration, which cools the air and creates a refreshing microclimate.

From windcatchers to courtyards, mashrabiya screens to roof gardens, these historical techniques combined architectural ingenuity with an understanding of natural elements to create comfortable living spaces. As we appreciate the advancements of modern technology, it is worth recognizing and learning from the innovative methods employed by our ancestors to beat the summer heat.

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