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By: Razie Rahmi, Ph.D
Persian vernacular architecture and urbanism, are impressively rich with observant techniques applied by the early inhabitants. Architects used to protect themselves from different weather conditions. While energy consumption has not been defined as today, the Persian vernacular version of architecture has utilized some passive design methods by attending to the potential of the region. Furthermore, Iranian traditional buildings, architectural or structural aspects, have all taken shape based on natural sources of energy. These buildings have been designed in such a fashion to take in maximum sunlight in winter and maximum shade in summer, for better natural ventilation and good comfort.

In the hot and dry area of Iran, the climate had a major effect on the performance of traditional building architecture. The lack of water and energy sources in these areas forced people to build their houses with some strategies based on minimum energy consumption. Heating and cooling usually use the largest portion of energy in buildings. Therefore, builders tried to use natural climatic strategies for coping with harsh conditions. These strategies include layout orientation, the distance between buildings, building orientation, and form. Climatic elements such as Iwan (porches), wind catchers, central courtyard, and so on.

How Kashan attracts the travelers

In the hot and dry area of Iran, the climate had a major effect on the performance of traditional building architecture. The lack of water and energy sources in these areas forced people to build their houses with some strategies based on minimum energy consumption. Heating and cooling usually use the largest portion of energy in buildings. Therefore, builders tried to use natural climatic strategies for coping with harsh conditions. These strategies include layout orientation, the distance between buildings, building orientation, and form. Climatic elements such as Iwan (porches), wind catchers, central courtyard, and so on.

-Persian Previous Architecture

There are many examples of Persian previous architecture, surviving within centuries and resisting the worst conditions. It is carrying the required functionality, efficiency, comfort, safety, and health as well as aesthetic aspects. Despite the occurrence of earthquakes, natural In a vast country such as Iran, with different climatic zones, traditional builders in the past have presented a series of logical solutions for human comfort. This architecture is based on issues such as respect for the environment and compatibility of the building with its surrounding environment and the community’s social, cultural, and economical values, therefore this coverage of aspects provides a sort of design and construction knowledge that has a large number of common values with sustainability scope in today architecture.

Kashan at a glance

Inspiration from nature can be seen in many features of different cultures and have an effective influence on conceptualism and initial innovation in the early design stage. There is a widely held belief among the Persian people to respect all elements of nature. In Theosophy, it is believed that water, wind (air), soil, and fire
(light and temporal factors) are the basic elements forming our surroundings? The presence of these elements in Persian architecture is clearly observed. The existence of windcatcher (Badgir), water pond in the courtyards, and the sustainable use of water in arid regions by Qanats (Underground aqueducts) could be good examples of Persian architecture scopes.

Kashan, The City of Traditional Houses

The city of Kashan is an important example of Iranian urban history, whose urban fabric, well adapted to the region's dry and hot climate, is relatively a living and dynamic area. Kashan is located in the central part of Iran, The neighboring deserts, as well as scanty rainfall, give the city a dry climate. The city has a 3000-year long history, dating back to the time of the Elamite Empire, an ancient settler of Iran. Kashan has an enormous historical residential building and a large number of traditional structures. Climatic specifications have made it necessary to adopt a particular architectural style and urban schemes. The existence of these mud-brick ventilation structures, which dominate the city’s roofscapes, creates a distinctive architectural feature of Kashan.

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Layout Plan

The plan of the house mostly is geometrical and nearly symmetrical. The best state of buildings is taking the least heat in summer as much as holding the heat in winter, which is the optimum orientation for this kind of climate. The major rooms are facing southwest and southeast. Window openings are in walls with orientation within 15-45 degrees west of the south with a southern orientation being the optimum position. In the plan of these buildings the big size rooms were known Talar with the number of doors or windows, the location Balakhaneh (room located on the second floor) and only rarely according to their function (kitchen). The courtyard where consists of plants and trees compatible with to desert environment and a big water pool(like Brojerdi House).

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The basic unit of measurement in traditional buildings of Iran is called Peymoon. This unit (module) is a base for other measurements in construction. This means that other parts of the building are laid out based on this module and the dimensions are a proportion of this unit. All elements of traditional buildings used to be built based on this unit and specific proportions in the building system.

 • The great open vaulted summer rooms face north across the courtyard, away from the sun, while the winter rooms with their glass doors, face south towards the low winter sun.

• The whole form of the house is designed to maximize its passive cooling potential in summer and its power to warm in winter when sun angles have to be designed well to ensure the maximum penetration of the light.

Central Courtyard

Courtyards are always on the ground floor and have distinct forms depending on the landscape of the house. This space, is sometimes layout on the lower surface of an ally or street, where to access one should go downstairs for more than 6-8 steps. In the city of Kashan, nearly all buildings are semi-introverted, and architectural features face in, rather than out. Rooms are usually arranged around the courtyard in such Semi-open spaces as the Iwan had an important role in joint closed spaces. The Iwan is a vaulted hall or a space, walled on three sides, with one end entirely open. Typically, Iwans open onto a central courtyard.
Another way the control hot regions is to design the courtyard as more compact and of less size. One reason for it is the facilitated way of tree irrigation and the permanent supremacy of shadow in the hot season. A big central water pool and resistant trees such as pomegranate, grapes, pistachio and keep the atmosphere moister and calm making the space beautiful. In the houses of rich people, there are two central courtyards. One is the private quarter where private members of the family such as wives, daughters, and family people live and the other is an external one where private people commute.

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Panj-Dari (Five windowed room)

In these houses, windows are usually made high and long and used in the large room that is often flanked by the main talar of the house. These windows are a traditional element of vernacular Persian architecture. The word comes from the Persian word Panj (five) and Dari (window or door), meaning "five windowed room".
These model windows are most often connected to a large balcony with broad verandas looking at the lanes and spaces. They all account for ventilation in heat weather if one leaves the windows looking at the yard and those on the lanes, he will make it possible for the natural bilateral air current to flow freely.
This will slump down the intensely high temperature in interior spaces. In winter the family retreats to live on the courtyard level only, spending most of the day and night in winter living rooms. In these, the glass and timber doors catch the free heat of the sun, to be stored again in the great brick walls, often 70-80 cm wide to keep the family warm at night. Sometimes in these houses rooms were having Orsy (the doors moved vertically) with colorful glasses.


In this region, the construction of arched roofs is not commonly used, and conversely, most buildings have flat roofs. In hot seasons, when right comes people are used to sleeping on roofs because of the cool weather. The shelters on and around the roofs are often made in the form of a grid so that the occupiers would be kept safe from the looking of outsiders and at the same time, a user may be made of air current on the roof.
Finally, the surface of the roof is covered with one layer of clay plaster. The arched roof always generates wind and reduces the heat which the roof has accumulated due to severe sun radiation. As mentioned earlier at night to the temperature, repelled by the roof, is quickly emitted. In addition, the designers used the massive form of the building, with rubble-filled spaces in walls and roofs, hypocausts, made of partially filled cavities, and shade walls and roofs to not only ensure that the sun never fell on, for instance, a thinner part of the roof, or inside rooms in summer with angled walls, but also they used the curve of the domes and vaults to minimize solar gain into the room below and speed up heat loss from the room through ventilated cupolas, or Hava kesh.


In hot and dry regions some materials have been used that each has a lower thermal mass and has the capability to store and keep as reserved the volume of heat neither. In Kashan in traditional buildings are used material composed of mud, unbaked brick, and its derivatives. In fact, mud and mortar can be used in such regions the same as Kashan, because there are no other building materials, that can be found in this region. During the hot season the absorbed temperature, mud, and unbaked bricks strongly resist the incessant sun rays and they have the perfect resistance. Here one must refer to the question of self-sufficiency in desert regions because all the earth excavated during housing construction is used as a building material in the form of mud. In the meantime, in cold seasons the chambers are warmed with very little heat and even the unbaked brick walls turn into massive and intact blocks after drying and are fully resistant and hardy.

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The walls and roofs of buildings in a hot and humid climate are painted with light colors which it will play the best role in absorbing the sun’s rays and radiation. Of course, the amount of heat the internal space of a building takes in depends largely on the thermophysical features of layers. Light colors painted on external surfaces of a building also play an effective role to decrease the daily level of temperature caused by reflected sun’s radiations, increasing the thermal stability, and capacity and finally providing the community with comfort at night. However, plastering (white plastering) is not repeated time after time, it is natural that the building should take in and absorb solar energy the most due to its exterior surfaces.

Air trap or Windcatcher

Air trap is a specific feature of architecture in the majority of hot regions of Iran. It was normally in a suitable location where the wind is blowing from a specific direction. The air trap is open in one direction and closed in the other three directions in the house according to the size of the building. The air trap in ancient times has functioned like the present modern air conditioning system. An air trap is like a chimney whose end is in the underground and the top is set over a specific height on the roof. At the upper outlet, many small openers or ducts are set. At the end of the air trap at the bottom of the door often a pond is set whose water was provided by qanats (aqueducts). The height of the surface of the cross-sections, the number of openers, and the location of the air traps differ in different buildings

As the traditional architecture in Kashan, we can find perfect ornamentation in some buildings. These ornaments are popular such as arches and semi-circular arches on the openers of buildings. Usually, in some traditional buildings, we can see these decorations in special spaces: Including the great hall (Talar) in the center with a skylight and windows that have double vertical grid color and side windows that are closed. These rooms often have plaster ornamentation and interesting paintings and mirrorwork. A plaster mesh window that looks like delicate lace fabric is used in front of the room in the inhabited, Iwan bed.

Iwan( Verandas)
Iwan is one important space in houses in a hot and dry region. Iwan, semi-open areas, are used to create shaded and cool living spaces during the day. It usually has three sides closed passageway in front of the rooms, which permits a common life inside. They are usually oriented to the south, especially south and east-oriented. Iwan is a very cool and shady place for summer afternoons. Ravagh is the semi-open colonnade arranged in the courtyard that always provides shady areas and is used as living space during half period of the year. Iwan and Ravagh are usually built-in broad, with high canopies and a beautifully ornamentally crafted

Badgir (wind catcher)
Wind catchers are other elements due to the hot climate which were used to ventilate the buildings. Windcatchers are structures built onto the roofs of buildings with open units at their heads facing in the direction of the cooler prevailing winds. Each face of the Badgir opens into a separate chimney-like air shaft that leads right down to the lowest level of the house. The slightest air movement in any direction is caught by the tower's openings and is funneled around ducts that run behind the walls. It usually is a water pond under the ducts, for helping humidify and cool the air coming from the Badgir. The plan of the Badgir may take different shapes, but the square plan is the most commonly used one. The badgir is divided by two partitions placed diagonally across each other down the length of the badgir’s shaft. The badgir can also be used in pairs or four on the roof of buildings. In addition to its role as a ventilation device, the badgir is usually used as a decorative element in buildings

In Kashan, some traditional buildings were designed with large basements. In the scorching hot and dry summers, the inhabitants spend their afternoons, cool in the deep basements and many rooms around the courtyards of their houses with rich gardens, ponds, and fountains. The air was channeled all the way down to the elaborate function rooms built in the basement. Maybe in the basement, some factors have caused cooling this space, especially in summer which will be the difference between the basement and it started out to be 15 to 20-degree temperature. These cases are, the wind beat up, the type of materials used in the body, and a pond that was in there help for cooling this space. Sometimes street level with a height difference of about 4 to 5Cm with these spaces. So the chill breeze will come from the land surface into the central courtyard pool and after that will be going to the basement.

Kashan historical sites

Vernacular architecture of Kashan showed that old cities can be manifestations of a culture of sustainability and passing from generation to generation in a friendship relation with nature. Attending to the potentials of the region of Kashan and making them highlight as can be seen in some houses. The use of semi unifies urban texture in urban planning, spiral-shaped lanes with high walls to provide shade in hot seasons. In houses with a central courtyard, the existing typical features such as thick walls in the central courtyard, broad verandas(IWan) with high canopies, and wind catchers (Badgir) to remove humidity and provide cooling in internal spaces, and planning.
These buildings have been designed in such a fashion to take in maximum sunlight in winter and maximum shade in summer, for better natural ventilation and good comfort. These buildings have been formed based on climate factors.