Ant Studio’s passive cooling alternative to air-conditioning is energy efficient and aids in reducing the carbon footprint.
While the world is steadfastly working towards fighting global warming and energy crisis, India is still a step behind. India is one of the top polluters contributing around 4.9% of greenhouse gas emissions, and additionally, our building industry is a major consumer of energy. Hence, the best way to tackle cataclysmic damage is preempt it and encourage energy-efficient innovations.
Delhi-based practice Ant Studio’s evaporative cooling system, Beehive, may have started as a site-specific installation to counter the industry generated heat, but now has become a scalable passive cooling prototype. Monish Siripurapu, the principal architect of Ant Studio explains, “The pilot Beehive project was installed to cool down a driveway of an office building, where a diesel generator set was installed. The DG set added to the outdoor heat, scaling the temperatures to 40-45°C and making the temperature differential between indoor and outdoor unhealthily vast. With electricity consumption of 3.5 units a day, Beehive was able to achieve a drop of 10-15°C, while restoring thermal comfort to the employees.”
The studio’s invention was one of the twelve winners in the Asia-Pacific Low-Carbon Lifestyles Challenge, winning a US$10,000 grant from UN Environment to further develop and enhance the system. Beehive was lauded for using zero refrigerants and only a fraction of the power of regular units.
Beehive adopts the traditional evaporative cooling technique, which essentially imitates function of perspiration in human body. Taking cues from our tradition of storing water in earthen pots to naturally cool water, this system uses the same principle but in a reverse manner. “We let the air pass through the earthen pots soaked in water.
Calibrating the traditional method with modern computational tools, CFD analysis and material research, we were able to reduce the energy consumption and carbon footprint of cooling drastically,” says Monish. The apt use of material, technique and geometry collectively plays a critical role in making the system effective.
“While designing the system, we tested various configurations and the present geometry inspired by a beehive turned out to be the most efficient,” Monish elaborates further, “Cooling effect was paramount while designing and with cylindrical pots we realised that we can use both sides for cooling and even the negative spaces between the stacked pots helps in cooling.”
The modular design of Beehive enables the installation to be fabricated in parts which can be assembled at the desired place. The system efficiently performs a dual role of cooling and purifying the air. Biofilm of micro algae forms naturally on these terracotta pots and feed on the emitted carbon, thus enhancing the air quality. Moreover, Beehive is maintenance friendly and is designed to function efficiently up to 3 years, post which you can replace the pots.
“We believe that functional art is the future,” says Monish. Beehive promises to be an ecological and economical art installation. Apart from the necessary thermal comfort, Beehive also renders a complete sensorial stimulation – the subtle scent of petrichor, sound effect of a brook brimming over terracotta pots, and the visually appealing beehive structure which adopts biomimetic design – while consuming only 40% of energy when compared to other systems. Beehive’s modular design makes it scalable in terms of the radius of effect and space, enabling it to be used at airports, railway stations, open public spaces, exhibition galleries and corporate parks.
The studio has been resolutely working on creating various modules and aims to come up with efficient indoor cooling options. “Beehive is designed as a modular and sizeable product and will be available through the IKEA assembly format, where customers can choose to scale down costs by picking out parts and assembling the installation themselves,” explains Monish. They plan to initially channel sales primarily through E-commerce while simultaneously catering to commissioned work enquires.
Monish strongly advocates the need to adopt passive cooling methods as a norm and not an alternative. “Unfortunately, our lifestyles dictate that we spend most of our time indoors, however, we must find ways to overthrow systems that are not energy-efficient. Sadly, our current Indian rating system doesn’t support passive innovations. In fact, it encourages artificial cooling.”
When a wave of the West swept over, Indian architects and designers abandoned ancient Indian building practices that upheld building with nature, which eventually upset the environmental balance. Monish believes, our lifestyles, our needs, the material use, and the aesthetic expectations have all changed, but by bringing in newer sensibilities and state-of-art technology, we can rediscover those vanishing passive design strategies. Hence, there arises a need to explore these strategies and reinterpret the knowledge of the past to suit the needs of the present and the future.
Monish is not just thinking of here and now, but also prognosticating future eventualities, “Why should one cool an entire volume, say like a house? What if personal cooling is the future? “With the wondrous new-age smart devices, what if the cooling system could just cool the bubble around us, and not the entire space?” That’s a concept worth investigating.
Text By Shweta Salvi