5 amazing spaces with surprising ways to stay cool

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Going to an outdoor event during the steamy months of summer generally involves packing a miniature fan and slathering yourself in sunscreen, as most venues do little to shade attendees in the cheap seats. This is something Wolfgang Kessling, of the German climate engineering firm Transsolar, would like to change. In a talk at the TEDxSummit in Doha, Kessling describes the challenge of designing an open-air stadium in Qatar to host the World Cup in June 2022, which would keep both the players and fans feeling cool in Doha’s legendary heat (in the month of June, the daily high temperature is around 106F / 41C, according to Not a proponent of blasting attendees with energy-wasting cold air, Kessler suggests several innovations—for example, PV membranes that collect solar energy as they shade a stadium, and “radiant cooling” achieved by piping chilled water through a stadium floor.

“Our general approach is to enhance outdoor comfort by considering shading, wind, sky cooling, thermal mass,” Kessling tells the TED Blog. “Active solar cooling systems are the [best] choice in areas that get very hot. They turn the high solar radiation of these areas from a problem into an opportunity.”

We’ll see how it goes in 2022. In the meantime, here’s a look at 5 other public spaces—both existing and in the works—that harness innovative cooling strategies.

Plaza, The City of the Future
Masdar, United Arab Emirates

Kessling worked on the social center of this complex in the United Arab Emirates, designed as an experiment in sustainable technology and architecture. In the plaza, a series of enormous umbrellas—which look like something out of “Avatar”—protect the open plaza from the sun during the day. At night, they can be closed. [Environmental Graffiti]

The Living Roof, California Academy of Sciences
San Francisco, Calif.

Rather than a traditional black-tar and asphalt roof, architect Renzo Piano designed the top of this museum building to house 197,000 square feet of native Californian plants, organized in undulating hills. This lush planted roof beats the “urban heat island” effect, and keeps the interior an average of 10 degrees cooler. [California Academy]

The Pearl Academy of Fashion
Jaipur, India

This fashion school looks modern, but it employs an ancient cooling system. The academy’s ground floor features a large, shallow pool, which chills the interior as it evaporates and keeps it 20 degrees cooler than the sweltering air outside. The design was inspired by Mughal palaces. [CNN]

[For more on India’s ancient secrets of water, watch Anupam Mishra’s TEDTalk]

Canal City
Fukuoka, Japan

An outdoor mall in southern Japan, this space feels like a canyon with a river flowing at the bottom. While the waterway chills the space, the shape of the buildings directs a cooling airflow. But the canals also serve aesthetic purposes—the complex is known for its hourly fountain shows. [Inhabitat]

The Guggenheim Museum
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Another project that Kessling has worked on, this Frank Gehry-designed museum will be surrounded on three sides by the Persian Gulf. When built, the museum will feature covered courtyards naturally cooled and ventilated using wind-catching towers, an ancient architectural element found throughout the Middle East. [Guggenheim]