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  • 10.29.15

This Building Doesn’t Need A/C: The Building Itself Is An Air Conditioner

This ingenious cooling system circulates cooled air in an endless loop–all without any electricity.

If they weren’t so necessary, you wouldn’t choose to build an air conditioning system inside a large building. With endless ducting, they take up lots space, produce lots of noise, and cost a lot.

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So developers and architects should be pretty happy with Ben Bronsema’s idea for a building that has no electric air conditioning at all.

In his long career in the Netherlands, Bronsema has designed and installed many large AC systems–in government ministry buildings, airport terminals, and corporate headquarters. Then, in his seventies, he figured the whole thing was silly. He developed the concept of “Earth, Wind & Fire” system, which does the same thing as a traditional AC, but in a natural way, without electric fans.

“People in America don’t believe in air conditioning without fans. ‘Well that’s crazy, that can never work,’ they say. But it will work, and we have to show it will work,” says Bronsema, who completed a PhD on the design with Delft Institute of Technology in 2013.

An Amsterdam developer, the Dutch Green Company, plans to use Bronsema’s concept in a new hotel opening in that city in 2017. If the project goes ahead, it could become one of the world’s most energy-efficient buildings, the “first (nearly) zero-energy hotel,” the company says.

The system is based on the principle of a climate cascade. At the top, wind turbines bring air into a chute that runs right down through the building. As it enters, it’s sprayed by streams of water. At the foot of the cascade, the building distributes cooled air to the rooms. Then on the other side is a solar chimney, which, as it’s warmed by the sun, lifts heated air up and out of the building again.

The result is an endless loop of cooled running air. And what is more the system provides additional heat when needed. The heat in the exhausted air is extracted and stored in the soil underneath for winter. At the same time, the roof also generates power both from the turbines and solar panels located there. Bronsema has been working the idea for five years, and in 2013, gave the TED talk in Delft below.

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The 80-year-old Bronsema has modeled the building using computers and erected large models of the cascade and chimney. He hopes to do a final master design for the Breeze, as the hotel is called, in the next few weeks. The whole building is budgeted to cost about $15 million, though the 158 rooms are not meant to be particularly flashy or expensive for guests. The price per night will be about 125 euros ($137).

“There is no fan noise. And the air is not very cold compared to normal air conditioning. You don’t hear anything and you don’t feel anything, and the air quality is better,” he says.

“We don’t need an air conditioning plant in these buildings. The building itself is the machine for air conditioning, if it can be applied. The proof,” he says again, “will be in the eating. It’s very important the hotel is finished and people can come and experience it themselves.”

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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