The MIT Energy Research Council

Hold the AC

Operating commercial buildings consumes a sixth of all the energy used in the western world. Getting rid of air conditioning could cut that consumption by as much as a third—but people can’t work in sweltering heat.

Researchers at MIT are making computer-based tools that will help architects design commercial buildings that cool their occupants using natural breezes.

“That approach improves air quality, ensures good ventilation, and saves both energy and money,” said Professor Leon R. Glicksman, director of MIT’s Building Technology Program. Indeed, studies have shown that people generally feel more comfortable in a naturally ventilated building than in an air-conditioned one.

Yet few commercial buildings now use natural ventilation. “The approach is new, and architects worry it won’t work in the buildings they’re designing,” said Glicksman. He and his collaborators at MIT and Cambridge University in England are developing new computer tools and scale-model experiments that will help to alleviate those worries.

Their studies focus on an office building in Luton, England, that was designed for natural ventilation. The building features multiple floors opening onto a large central atrium, operable windows on each floor, and five large vents at the top of the atrium with fans that provide added ventilation when necessary.

Research Spotlight


Non-AC building

Researchers from MIT and Cambridge University are collaborating on in-depth studies of this building in Luton, England, which is cooled by natural ventilation. Their work includes on-site measurements, computer simulations, and experiments with scale models.