Playlist TEDx

Four very fresh ideas about air conditioning

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

Air conditioning used to be a luxury — but as Doris Kim Sung points out in this talk from TEDxUSC, modernized society has become thoroughly air-conditioning reliant.

This is largely a problem of materials, says Sung, a professor at the USC School of Architecture. Many new buildings — especially skyscrapers — are built with floor-to-ceiling windows, which means that the spaces inside are constantly heated by the greenhouse effect and that the windows cannot be opened to let in a breeze. But could there be a smarter material that is better able to regulate inside temperature?

Sung — who studied biology before she became an architect — has given herself the challenge of creating a metal that acts like human skin, in which pores and sweat glands work together to provide cooling.  She has created a thermo-bimetal that bends and flexes depending on outside temperature, without using any energy at all. Crafted into interlocking strips, these thermo-bimetals warp in the sun to form a canopy that shades an area, while leaving openings for ventilation. Having tested the strips in installations (check out her sculpture “Bloom”), Sung now imagines using them in the creation of new buildings, as well as in replacement windows that could be fitted into existing ones. Thermo-bimetals could potentially replace curtains and shutters, providing privacy while also lowering air-conditioner reliance.

“When you’re tired of opening and closing those blinds day after day, when you’re on vacation and there’s no one on the weekends to turn off the controls, or when there’s a power outage and there’s no electricity to rely on, these thermo-bimetals will still be working tirelessly, efficiently and endlessly,” says Sung.

To see exactly how these thermo-bimetals work and to hear about how Sung is also taking inspiration from eyelashes and grasshoppers for new materials, watch her talk. Below, a few other TED speakers who also have creative ideas for how to keep us cool.

Wolfgang Kessling: How to air-condition outdoor spacesWolfgang Kessling: How to air-condition outdoor spaces
Wolfgang Kessling: How to air-condition outdoor spaces
In June of 2022, Qatar will host the World Cup. Wolfgang Kessling has been tasked with creating an open-air stadium for the event that will keep both fans and players comfortable in the 106F/41C heat. In this talk from the TEDxSummit in Doha, Kessler explains that the plan isn’t to blast air conditioning, but to use innovative shading as well as chilled water piped through the stadium’s floor. (Read the TED Blog’s roundup of five public spaces with surprising cooling systems.)
Kamal Meattle: How to grow fresh airKamal Meattle: How to grow fresh air
Kamal Meattle: How to grow fresh air
As activist Kamal Meattle shared at TED2009, it is possible to grow your own air indoors. He explains how three common household plants — Areca palm, Mother-in-law’s tongue and the Money plant — can be placed in specific spots in a home or office to dramatically improve the air quality.
Thom Mayne: How architecture can connect usThom Mayne: How architecture can connect us
Thom Mayne on architecture as connection
Architecture is about the world of ideas bumping up with the limitations of reality, says architect Thom Mayne. At TED2005, he takes us on a tour of some of the buildings he’s created, including an office in San Francisco whose tower has no air conditioning at all. Instead, it uses a skin that moves on hydraulics, forcing air through it.

Comments (26)

  • Ronald Niles commented on Dec 5 2013


    Really Nice post written by you. I will return to read your updated one.


  • jennyross ross commented on Oct 31 2013

    Thermo bimetals is not a new idea. The problem is that it is underrated especially in terms of air conditioning

  • Jone scollins commented on Sep 3 2013


    Really impressive blog you got here. Thanks for posting this air conditioning tips.I love to visit this blog.

  • raj kumar commented on Aug 27 2013

    Hi Kate Torgovnick,

    nice article,i am more ideas this blog..

    Raj kuamr

  • guido r commented on Aug 26 2013

    That comes so useful on every household. I can save a lot of money using these steps.
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  • Ahmad Rami Kabbani commented on Aug 21 2013

    Great idea,and that would be useful in summer. But how about winters, it’ll keep on cooling us too, when we don’t want to.. Right?

  • A-1 Plumbing Heating Air Conditioning commented on Jul 25 2013

    Great Article, very usefull here at we like to stay up to date.

  • commented on Jul 16 2013

    A very nice informational blog. Keep on making such important blog post. Your work is really being appreciated by someone.

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  • Jenny Ross commented on Jul 2 2013

    wow TED! i am really amazed.As a housewife i know how much unavoidable AC is. but when it comes to Air conditioning service never trust anyone else experts. i call 301-219-3000 and within few hours i get my Air Conditioning system repaired.

  • Air Temp commented on Jun 15 2013

    I really appreciate you for sharing such a wonderful post. These ideas are really fantastic. Good heating and air conditioning services do their best to regulate these conditions to make sure you are comfortable in the home.

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  • Arulanantham Subramaniam commented on Jun 7 2013

    Really great blog. Can’t believe I haven’t found this before. Nice work keep it up.

  • commented on Jun 6 2013

    The first modern air conditioning system was developed in 1902 who was young electrical engineer.His name was Willis Haviland Carrier. It was designed to solve a humidity problem at the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company in Brooklyn, N.Y. Paper stock at the plant would sometimes absorb moisture from the warm summer air. But some days before my Air conditioner give disturb & I want to repair it.For this region I call Air conditioner compain. The people of this compain is very good & their service also good.

  • Wade Rusk commented on May 9 2013

    Bimetals being used to create shade throughout different times of the day is brilliant! All of these talks are great, but this would be a great way to go about creating structures that “breathe.” This could make home service companies’ lives a little easier too, considering you could cut down on how much your air conditioning unit will even need to run. Fewer air conditioning repair calls makes a happier customer.

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  • Gus Melo commented on Mar 3 2013

    It always seemed like the most opportunity to save on energy when cooling or heating a building was in the structure itself. Often times building for more efficiency meant compromising the indoor air quality. More innovations like these have been developed recently that accomplish clean air and efficiency.

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  • commented on Nov 26 2012

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  • Michael Roberts commented on Nov 20 2012

    To update your Broward air conditioning unit and make sure it’s working as well as possible, call A Star Air Conditioning.

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