Do not underestimate a heat wave
Time stops for no-one…I have not had enough of the amazing spring with its variety of colors and freshness, and here we are on 21.6 – the first formal day of summer.
Twenty years have passed since I left a mountainous area, and I still have not learned how to cope with the merciless degree of summer humidity. There are 3-4 months in which life on the coastal plain becomes hard and insufferable.
The addiction to air conditioners is a matter of saving life in our land struck by heat and humidity. Air conditioners are necessary if we want quality of life but obviously have a price tag – and not just from the electric company. As the weeks pass, the continuous white noise that masks the sounds of life, the air devoid of natural scents, and the detachment from outside closes your heart a little, therefore I try to extend the period of open windows as much as possible, and appreciate the fact that in the final analysis most of the year we are blessed with a wonderful climate that is worth our while knowing how to enjoy.
In a warm and Mediterranean land like ours, we need to learn how to respectfully relate to the climate in order to conserve our quality of life. Before air conditioning was invented, Mediterranean architecture needed to find solutions that would enable contending with the warm season and discover creative solutions that would relieve us of the heat. If we succeed in combining some of these principles today as well, we can better enjoy the summer and conserve energy.
Shading is the first and most required step. Combining the elements for shading above the openings of the house enable you to enjoy fresh air and make you suffer less from the heat that accumulates when the rays of the sun fall directly on the windows. Like pergolas, which provide separation from the sun that beats down and the house, and thereby create another living space.
In our climate, the importance of designing shade in a public, city open space should be top priority in order to enable commercial and community life to take place outside. Already in ancient Greece and Rome, the commercial roads were covered and around many houses and shops were arcades (covered passageways).
Also the planners of Bauhaus buildings who built the cities on columns, did this in order to create a covered, shaded public space.
The combination and caring of mature trees in a city space is obligatory not only for aesthetic reasons but also for creating a pleasant and shady area that will cause people to leave the air conditioning and enjoy the city. In addition to the shade that they provide, trees also filter the air and preserve its quality. From this derives the importance of protecting old trees and of treating them correctly in the appropriate seasons. In the settlement where I live there is a tendency to remove the trees’ branches specifically during the peak of heat, so that exactly when the children need every drop of shade they can get, on the way to school or the pool, the avenues become naked and threatening, which is a pity.
Shades that are planned outside, enable controlling light.
Considering wind directions
Planned reference to the movement of the sun, wind and rain is essential to enjoying the advantages and reducing the disadvantages that the natural Mediterranean conditions summon.
East – Thanks to the sun that shines in the morning hours, on this side of the house we enjoy three to four hours of direct and low sun. This is perfect for those who want to wake up naturally, or enjoy a lighted breakfast in the kitchen.
South – The direction that is influenced by maximum light and heat throughout the day and the year. It is perfect for caring for the plants in the garden but requires thought about shading. A pergola at the exit of the lounge will prevent the rays from shining directly on the house in summer. In winter, due to the change of the sun’s angle, rays will penetrate under the pergola and lighten and warm the space.
West – The direction of the sea and sunset. In summer we enjoy a good breeze that penetrates wide windows, although in the winter we need to protect ourselves from wind and rain that flow essentially from west to east. Every day in the afternoon for a few hours, low, strong and blinding rays will enter and necessitate thought about appropriate shading solutions.
North – The shaded and coldest front throughout the day and the year. Due to the fact that the sun’s path moves from east to south and from south to west the house forms shade by itself in the northern garden. The drawback of a shaded garden is that it is very limited in the types of plants that will thrive in it. On the other hand the value of an external, northern corner in summer is priceless because it enables enjoying pleasant hours outside even in July and August when the temperatures skyrocket – until eleven in the morning and again in the evening.
Every house needs a veranda
At the beginning of the twentieth century, when the new immigrants from Europe began to build Jewish settlement in Israel, they understood that the only thing that would help them survive the Israeli summer was a veranda with a slight breeze, in which they sat towards evening with a slice of cold watermelon. They were even prepared to concede a room for this external space of the home. Over the years, many apartment owners preferred to close the veranda to increase the size of the house. Today the trend has reversed itself and more and more people ask to return to the house the intermediate space that enables establishing outdoor life in the city and to adopt one of the most prominent principles of Mediterranean life.
Traditional Mediterranean building was based on especially thick walls that contributed to insulation by keeping the coldness in summer and the warmth in winter. In our day we do not build like this anymore as there is no constructional need for thick walls, but there are insulated blocks of advanced technologies that contribute greatly to the insulation of the home. They will return your investment in a short period of time by saving on energy.
Combining elements with water
In a garden or public space water increases the humidity (a reminder to the residents of the coastal plain – there are dry areas in which water is a blessing) and essentially revives the soul. When there is a cruel heatwave you are encouraged to jump into the water or at least cool your feet.
Warm air rises and leaves the bottom area of the space colder and more pleasant. We can see this in the traditional Arab building in which the height of the ceiling is at least 3.2 meters, or in the ancient Nabatean building in the Negev, that left a curved opening in the ceiling in order to enable the hot air to go out and exchange it with fresh air that penetrated the room through the lower openings.
Internal yards are one of the elements I most like in Mediterranean architecture. The ultimate in-between space. It is not the street and not the house, and not totally private (when it is shared with the neighbors), but is also hidden from a stranger’s eye. It creates social intimacy and has endless functional use. The internal yard is shaded most of the time by the building itself but lets into it an abundance of natural light and flow of fresh air.