Building of the week: Masdar’s wind tower

Wind towers are a form of passive cooling found in traditional Middle Eastern architecture. Depending on how they are constructed, they can either draw air upwards or downwards.

Persian architects paired them with underground water courses, and used the upwards method. Warm air was drawn up out of the building, pulling water-cooled air in at the bottom. Other Middle Eastern designs tend to use the downwards technique, orienting the tower towards the prevailing winds to invite fresh air down into shaded courtyards. Sometimes damp cloth was hung at the top to cool the incoming air.

Wind towers was used for thousands of years to cool buildings naturally. But then air conditioning was invented, and they fell out of favour. Over a billion installations later, there are so many A/C units running that they could single-handedly scupper our chances of avoiding runaway global warming, which is all rather sadly ironic. It’s time to revive ancient cooling techniques.

One place that’s putting a new spin on the wind tower is Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s high-profile attempt to build the sustainable city of the future. Whether the desert is really the place to build a sustainable city is another question, but what has been built so far in Masdar has a mix of pioneering new technologies and rediscovered old ones. Its wind tower has become something of an iconic fixture.

The tower looks more industrial than the traditional forms, but keeping the whole thing open and simple helps to explain how it works – visitors can walk under it and look up inside. The tall cylinder has louvres at the top that open to the prevailing wind and bring air down into a central courtyard. A mist can be sprayed at the top to cool the air. The Masdar tower itself isn’t going to be a picture-postcard for decades to come, but it has highlighted the usefulness of passive cooling and shown how ancient techniques can be incorporated into modern buildings.

This concept is likely to get some global attention at the Qatar World Cup in 2022. The Khalifa International Stadium has been retrofitted with an enormous wind tower to lower the temperature on the pitch and in the stands.


  1. Given the cult of the individual common across the world these days, we need IKEA to knock out cheap, self-assembly wind towers for home installations…

    1. If possible, yes. I suspect it would need to be included as an architectural feature from the beginning, but there may be roof ventilation systems that would have a similar effect and could be retrofitted. Arabian architecture also has window-based cooling systems that could also be considered. Not sure I would attempt a flat-pack feature on my own roof though!

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