Traditional courtyards: An example of eco-efficiency for architects

Oct 15, 2012
Traditional courtyards like this one in the Santa Paula Convent (Seville) are a reference for researchers. Credit: Juan M. Rojas.

Researchers from the University of Seville (Spain) have used mathematical tools to assess what has been known for centuries: the temperature inside the typical Mediterranean courtyard is cooler than that of the street. Though seemingly common sense, understanding such information in detail helps to save energy and money, which is the objective of eco-efficient buildings.

The inhabitants of Mediterranean regions have known for centuries that during the summer their courtyards are cooler than the street. "Why then put air conditioning extractor units on or outer walls when we could save by taking the cooler air from inside the courtyard," suggests architect Juan Manuel Rojas.

Along with two lecturers at the University of Seville, the researcher has developed a that for the first time assesses the complex thermodynamic behaviour of the courtyard. Details have been published in the Energies journal.

"These spaces create a mixture of phenomena: ( rises and falls); (the walls heated throughout the day project air upwards); and (whirlwind formation depending on the geometry of the space)," explains Rojas.

All of this information is brought together in a programme using specific data on the local climate ( and wind speed) and that of the courtyard itself (height, width, the materials with which it was built) since not all absorb the same levels of radiation. The result is a 'film' showing air evolution throughout the day.

The researcher's model has been put to the test in a hotel in Malaga. Credit: Arquitectos Hombre de Piedra.

"The model allows for the thermal advantages of the courtyards to be assessed. In turn this provides new design possibilities for more efficient and sustainable buildings without going over budget," outlines the architect, who demands that the knowledge and wisdom used for over 4000 years continues in the construction of modern day buildings.

Eco-efficient projects of recent decades tend to do away with courtyards or use glass covered atriums since the greater the surface area, the greater the energy transmission.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
This shows traditional courtyards: an example of eco-efficiency for architects. Credit: SINC

"But the energy rating used to calculate this assumes that the air inside and outside of the courtyard is the same temperature. This is not the case and must be considered," insists Rojas, who recognises that closed atriums can work well in Central and Northern Europe.

The researcher's model has been successfully put to the test in a hotel in Malaga (Monte Málaga) following the thermodynamic strategies of the courtyard for an overall improvement in their energy efficiency.

The hotel is air-conditioned by taking the from the lower part of the courtyard, which can be up to 9 ºC cooler than outside in the summer. This translates as a financial and energy saving, as the building consumes half the energy of the surrounding buildings.

New historical vision

The study also offers a new thermodynamic interpretation of historical courtyards ranging from traditional examples in Cadiz and Seville to cloisters of Santiago de Compostela Cathedral and the Palazzo Farnese in Rome.

"The deepest and narrowest courtyards work better in hotter regions, whereas more open ones work better in the North, as we can see by simply searching on Google Maps," says Rojas.

The architect believes that the climate, and not culture or art, has conditioned the most appropriate courtyard type according to region, which has then been continued due to tradition: "In the same way that natural selection chooses the best organisms, the area itself has always determined the use of architectural options that have best exploited available resources."

Explore further: New solar power material converts 90 percent of captured light into heat

More information: Juan M. Rojas, Carmen Galán-Marín,Enrique D. Fernández-Nieto. "Parametric Study of Thermodynamics in the Mediterranean Courtyard as a Tool for the Design of Eco-Efficient Buildings". Energies 5 (7): 2381-2403, 2012. Doi:10.3390/en5072381

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

EPA cuts its own energy use

Oct 08, 2005

In response to the President Bush's directive to federal agencies to conserve energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is turning down its thermostat.

Energy police patrolling China

Jun 13, 2007

China is recruiting "energy police" to make sure offices, schools, shopping malls and other buildings aren't using too much power.

White roofs to make for cooler Melbourne buildings

Jan 25, 2012

The research assesses the benefits of white roofs and aims to help residential, commercial and industrial building owners determine if white roofs are suitable for their buildings and guide them through the best materials ...

Microclimates: Managing weather from street to street

Apr 20, 2011

Walk through a city and the weather may change from block to block, often in startling ways. Step into a canyon of tall buildings and sunlight disappears. Winds arise seemingly from nowhere. The air smells ...

Recommended for you

Preparing for a zero-emission urban bus system

15 hours ago

In order to create a competitive and sustainable transport system, the EU must look to alternative fuels to replace or complement petrol and diesel. Not only will this reduce transport emissions but it will ...

Exploring the value of 'Energy Star' homes

16 hours ago

The numbers in neat columns tell—column by column, page by page—a story spread out across Carmen Carrión-Flores' desk at Binghamton University. It's a great story, she says; she just doesn't know how ...

Toward a networked energy future

Oct 29, 2014

February 1, 2050, is a good day for German electricity consumers. The breeze off the north coast is blowing so strongly that offshore wind farms and the wind turbines on land are running non-stop. Since it's ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.