Reading list: Air Conditioning and urbanism

A research led by a first-year student Allison Carafa for a seminar at Columbia's GSAPP entitled "The Artificial Cryosphere", a seminar conducted by Edible Geography's Nicola Twilley that I would like to share: A Field Guide to AC Units. Her study has been posted on Urban Omnibus on April 11th, 2012. You can go and read her entire text. This essay is worth reading at least two reasons: it poses the question of AC units for those who like me live in a country with a strong disinterest for this item; it relates AC units as 'agents of historic preservation' to quote Nicola Twilley's tweet.
But, first off, a rapid description of her study:
It's almost that time of year again, when respite from our hot and humid summers comes in the form of an ugly box we tend to stick out our windows. Despite its prevalence in the urban landscape — messing with the visual coherence of apartment building façades, introducing a variety of chemical refrigerants into the environment, or contributing to otherwise unsustainable cooling practices with excessive demands on water and energy — air conditioning is not an aspect of urbanism whose implications we often consider. What follows is Alison Carafa's fresh and cheerful journey through some of the unintended uses for, hacks to and consequences of this unloved but, for many, indispensable addition to urban windows.

Indeed, a journey on the importance of air conditioning in summertime as well as in wintertime… in countries such as America, South America and The Caribbean as well as Asia and India. I will go back to my statement later. First, this research is brilliant, well-conducted, a bit story-telling-type of text, very refreshing.
Originally appeared on Urban Omnibus.

Air conditioning, as Carafa shows, has been playing an important role in urbanism "affecting patterns of trade, industry, settlement and architecture." In short, as known, Air Conditioning allows for cooling, ventilation, heating, and humidity control for houses and buildings.
It appeared in 1935 and continues to dominate, in particular, in Asian cities and other part of the world where climate is dry and moist. In Tokyo, the apartment I shared, like all the apartments and single-family housings,  is equipped with Air Conditioning, an item daily utilized from summer, to autumn, to winter, to spring, to… Those of you who have travelled or have the experience of living in Asia have certainly noticed the importance of AC units in housings and buildings. I remember of having asked a Japanese woman about this highly use of Air Conditioning.
"There Are Holes In Our Walls" report cover and excerpted tables | Steve Winter Associates for Urban Green Council.
Originally appeared on Urban Omnibus.

She answered that most of Asian cities are reliant on climate: moist across southeast sections, dry across much of the interior — another and plausible reason resides in the fact that living in very tiny spaces reduce dramatically possibilities: preventing from noise and views from outside to guarantee privacy. Discretion is the best arm in overpopulated cities. In this context, Asian cities could not live without Air Conditioning in spring, in summer as well as in autumn and winter. Neither South American and Caribbean cities, nor many American cities, there for other reasons. Carafa says:
An object that most people would say they cannot live without, an object that much of our modern world was built upon — without air conditioning, a city like New York would just be uncomfortable, but a city like Phoenix wouldn't exist in its current form — this lack of attention seems odd.
For many reasons — but impossible to listing them here —, France seems to dislike Air Conditioning. In a nutshell, in winter we prefer heater; In summer, we sweat. This does not mean French do not use air conditioning as some restaurants are equipped with AC units. But when it comes to equip their homes with AC items, French feel uncomfortable. They prefer to open windows for ventilation — it's more sustainable; they spend most of time in cooler rooms. Or: they sweat. As Philip Delves Broughton wrote in The Telegraph in 2003, "France is as badly equipped for hot weather as Network Rail is for leaves on their tracks." He continues:
Government offices, banks and the larger corporations, naturally, are fine. But try  the Louvre, which claims to be air-conditioned but has you feeling as moist as chocolate cake within minutes. Few homes or restaurants or small shops have air conditioning. Public transport is hell.

Suggested article: Philip Delves Broughton | Why the French sweat to Yankee air conditioning | The Telegraph, 2003

Images: top right and middle right by Michele Howley; all others by Jason Eppink.
Originally appeared on Urban Omnibus.

In particular the underground metro. Why? French dislike Air Conditioning. Delver Broughton writes:
For some reason, the French have been slow to perceive air conditioning as progress, unlike the Italians, Greeks and Spanish, who are years ahead of them. Sales of home air conditioners are finally rising by about 20 per cent a year and nine out of 10 new European cars come with air conditioning.
I have heard many Parisians (to limit to Paris) confessing that Air Conditioning is not sustainably friendly; It is also unhealthy — allergies, for example. Perhaps they are right, perhaps not. Delves Broughton contradicts my point of view about the few reasons of French disdain for air conditioning:
[T]he French remain maddeningly ambivalent about the technology. Not for the admirable environmental reason for the process generates more heat than cool. It just seems excessive, obese and McDonald's-ish. The only time it is needed is in July and August, when any proper Frenchman is by the sea or buried deep in some rural dell.
I let Philip Delves Broughton with his point of view. However, there is another and accepted reason: Air Conditioning are not aesthetics, French would say, and noisy. Simply put, French find AC items too visible and too… ugly.

Suggested article: Florence Hubin and Tupac Pointu | Paris n'aime pas les Climatiseurs | Le Parisien | 2004 (in French)

Beyond this, let's go back to Allison Carafa as we go too far away from her post. I will post two examples, among others that illustrate her text.
Carafa's exploration addresses the question of Air Conditioning basing on tales she collected on the internet and the streets of New York City:
A New Migration
Here in New York where closet space is limited, or non-existent, and the entrepreneurial spirit is always at work, companies have begun to spring up that offer winter storage for window air conditioning units. Now, along with the return of greenery and birds, we can list another indicator of spring's arrival: the return of air conditioners from their long winter hibernation. For an average price of $200, a group of movers will show up at your door, remove your AC unit, bring it to their storage facility, professionally clean it, and store it. The removal of a unit not only allows for more efficient heating of the home, but also lets residents reclaim, if only for a few months, a forgotten view out of a newly-cleared window. Then, when the temperatures begin their steady rise, the service returns and reinstalls the AC unit. But be aware: the longer you wait to call, the longer it will take for its return. Like everything else in New York, there is always a line.
Images: left 'Pigeon Nest on my Air Conditioner" by Timothy Chang; Right "Wild Quaker Parrot Nest on the Upper West Side" by Steve Baldwin / Brooklyn Parrots.
Originally appeared on Urban Omnibus.

Among many others, one more:
Bird Hotels
Every New Yorker knows the pain that is the New York City real estate market. But have you ever considered the market for a good place to build a nest? Many factors we consider when moving are the same for our avian friends. The higher the better — everyone likes a good view —as long as proper safety rails are installed to keep the kids from falling. And although Manhattan is appealing, it just might be safer to move to more suburban areas so that there is plenty of sky for the kids to play in. Make sure to look out for potential neighborhood dangers like feral pigeons or human children with slingshots before you even begin to look at locations. And most importantly, a good set of neighbors is essential — if they don't want you there, you may just come home one night to find your house broken or gone altogether.

I warmly recommend to read her essay.

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