Page E1.1 . 25 August 2004                     
ArchitectureWeek - Environment Department
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On Not Cooking Clients

by Katherine Kaufer Christoffel, MD, MPH

On a recent trip to Havana, Cuba, I observed colonial architecture with characteristic thick adobe walls and naturally ventilated courtyards that were cool and comfortable, in marked contrast to the hot and humid conditions outside the building.

There is also a marked contrast between this venerable architecture and the typical glass buildings in modern cities, which almost seem designed to deliberately bake their residents in the summer. We are endangered by the many contemporary buildings that actually promote heat accumulation and impede the dissipation of heat and humidity.

As a physician with an interest in public health, I have been observing how the built environment affects thermal well-being. Every summer more Americans die from heat than from more publicized natural disasters, such as earthquakes or floods. In 2003, about 12,000 people died in Europe during a two-week heat wave.

I believe architects should take more seriously the responsibility for building and rebuilding our cities to reduce the public-health consequences of summer heat. Traditional architecture is a rich source of useful solutions for minimizing and dissipating heat in non-air-conditioned buildings.

How Heat Affects Health

Heatstroke is the only fatal condition due directly to heat, but overheating also contributes to heart and lung disease. This is because the human body does not function well outside a fairly narrow temperature range.   >>>

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The drawings for this article are from Climate Considerations in Building and Urban Design by Baruch Givoni, © 1998 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. This material is used by permission of the publisher.



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An open-air courtyard in Cuba designed to exclude and dissipate heat.
Photo: Katherine Kaufer Christoffel

ArchWeek Image

A scheme common in Thailand is a building complex raised over a platform, accommodating both indoor and outdoor living spaces.
Image: Sukanya Nutalaya


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