Thermal delight: History, Innovation, Culture, Architecture – all in one episode

Home with porch and cupola located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by Tobin
Home with porch and cupola located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by Tobin

The episode covers a history of air-conditioning, its marketing in the early years (including some interesting adverts), its impact on the movie industry(!), on politics (creation of the sunbelt vote bank in the US), and, most interestingly for me, our architecture.

It’s a beautiful, informing, inspiring episode by the good folks at

Listen to it here.1

— There may be (more) spoilers from the episode below —

The tres2 things that struck close to heart:

Un: I love architecture. I’d wanted to study architecture when I was pushed instead into a computer science for undergrad. Much later, after my MBA, I spent many, many free hours working with Google’s Sketchup app – developing (elementary) 3D models of my old family home, an old colonial-era building opposite my old school, a traditional Tamil house in a movie from my youth.

Dos: My appreciation for what I called Indian architecture increased after I moved to the UK. The podcast refers to it as vernacular architecture – architecture that has evolved to best suit the local conditions in a particular area.

My favourite example of the north Indian vernacular architecture was the roshandaans and high ceilings in most old north Indian homes. These were small tilt-open windows near the top of the wall in the room. In hot summer months, when the windows were opened, they allowed warm air inside the room to rise and exit through the roshandaan, while the colder air sank to the bottom, thus creating a gentle current and keeping the room cold. Sadly, with the advent of air-conditioning, most of these roshandaans were either walled in to prevent cold air escaping the room! 🙄

One more of my favourite items, the jaali, has been covered in the podcast. Another of my favourites is the square doughnut design of many traditional houses in parts of south India – rooms in the doughnut, with a roofed passage lining the inside of the doughnut, and a fully open space in the middle. The open space usually had a tulsi (Indian basil) plant in the middle for religious purposes (also an excellent insect repellant).

Tres: I loved the temperature-controlled chair they discuss near the end of the episode. It’s a relatively expensive, but relatively more implementable solution to the office AC problem. And it’s so simple to envision and implement (I could envision the implementation in my head even while listening to them talk about the chair). This is just the kind of innovation idea that gives me a kick – simple, and solving a well-identified problem.

Pearl academy of fashion - using the old Indian baoli concept in a modern building
Pearl academy of fashion – using the old Indian baoli concept in a modern building (Src:

  1. If you’ve listened to the podcast, go check out that link anyway. It’s got additional photos and videos. The images in the vernacular architecture section, and the Pearl academy layouts are inspiring. 
  2. I’ve started learning Spanish again. 

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