Sunday, 15 May 2016

Hawa Mahal: A Natural Cooling System

The Hawa Mahal
A strong wind blows, stops at the closed windows in mock surprise. It then rushes through the tiny orifices, quietly rising through the narrow spiral staircases and stopping at the other side. The cylindrical balconies now appear stacked upon one another, like a set of different-sized flutes when tied together. From the chaotic crossroads at Badi Choupad in Jaipur, the road slopes down as it goes past the Old Legislative Assembly and Town Hall and the Hawa Mahal appears on the left, in a self-repeating fractal pattern spanning five floors in a series of smaller pyramids. 

The Hawa Mahal in its fundamental design resembles a honeycomb structure. It has also been equated as a symbolic representation of Lord Krishna’s crown. The Hawa Mahal was designed by architect Lal Chand Ustad for Maharaj Sawai Pratap Singh.  The original function of the building was to allow women watch processions on the streets below, through the intricate jharokhas, without a threat to their modesty.  

Interestingly, the Hawa Mahal is designed like a natural cooling system, based predominantly on the ‘Venturi Effect’ in Physics. The 953 perforations in the fa├žade serve as a device that generates wind for those who stand inside at its ramping corridors. The fractal design, with its self-repeating pattern at every scale—scaling up to the fourth floor where one can spot the Brihat Samrat Yantra, the tallest sundial at the Jantar Mantar. The air blown through is compressed, very similar to the ordinary laws which govern a modern day air-conditioner and is reflected through its curvy linear bay windows. With the Hawa Mahal being made of limestone, the principles that govern the making of the Hawa Mahal make it a very climate responsive building, to the point where it is dubbed as a ‘natural air-conditioner’.
The Brihat Samrat Yantra at Jantar Mantar from Hawa Mahal


It is striking when one realises how tall the Hawa Mahal seems in photographs, compared to its mere 50 feet and the portion we often see is actually the rear portion of the palace. Yet, the palace of winds is best viewed from the chaotic crossroads of Badi Choupad as it is from these very streets that people from across ages have looked up, marvelled at the grandeur and have led one to appreciate the finer intricacies of life, even as I tried to imagine the life which was once lived metres from poverty.