AUTHOR: Sascha Roesler
CONTEXT: Quaderni dell’Accademia di architettura, Università della Svizzera italiana, edited by Sonja Hildebrandt et al., 2018
The city of Hyderabad in Pakistan was widely known as manghan jo shaharu, the city of the wind catchers. In the second half of the 20th century, these wind catchers became part of a modern iconography of the winds. Since images have been published in Bernard Rudofsky’s influential book Architecture without Architects in 1964, the roofscape with its scores of wind catchers has repeatedly appeared in publications on architecture and the ecology movement. The recurring reference to the roofscape shown by Rudofsky has imbued these images with a twofold reference character which follows the interpretation of Hyderabad that was created by the New York MoMA exhibit. Rudofsky’s exhibit and exhibition catalog have constituted the framework for an interpretation of the circulating images of Hyderabad’s roofscape ever since. By tracing the photographic tradition of Hyderabad’s wind catchers, this article reveals the historical character of this motif and thus an allegorical concept of the relationship between architecture and environment which, given today’s focus on sustainability, is becoming increasingly important. “Nature,” says Walter Benjamin, “has always been allegorical,” thus anticipating an insight of contemporary science and technology studies (STS). A rereading of the interpretational approaches to the wind catchers reveals the questionable character of the one-sided transfer of modern energy and technology concepts onto architectural forms that originated in different historical contexts. An allegorical interpretation of the wind catchers may help to recognize vernacular forms of knowledge as mediated and as circulating on a global scale. Illustrations of wind catchers in modern architectural publications tell us as much about the energy societies in Europe and the U.S. as about the vernacular thermal forms of knowledge in Pakistan. Beyond the cultural, the sculptural, and the technological interpretation of the wind catchers, the motif directs our eye to a general solution for the entire city, which is gaining importance in today’s reflections on urban forms of energy supply. The task of cooling is transferred from the building scale to the urban scale and from high to everyday culture.