Mashrabiyas are wooden lattices or screens that are placed on windows, balconies and other openings. Image Credit: Shutterstock

You’re not imagining it – it’s been hotter than usual, this summer.

Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we find ways to ‘allay’ the extreme heat.

July 2023 was the hottest month ever recorded, and likely the hottest in 120,000 years, according to a July 2023 report in the US-based magazine, Scientific American. With temperatures climbing to more than 50 degrees Celsius in places around the Middle East, it’s logical for people to crank up the air conditioner and stay indoors. But, in reality, air conditioners might be adding to the climate crisis by increasing emissions and adding to the heat outdoors.

So, what can be done?

According to an August 2023 report by the World Economic Forum, there are several effective ways in which, people around the world stayed cool, long before they even invented air conditioners and fans. Here are some worth mentioning:

1. Mashrabiyas

A traditional architectural element you can find in buildings around the Middle East and North Africa, mashrabiyas are wooden lattices or screens that are placed on windows, balconies and other openings. They are beautiful to look at, often involving decorative elements or complex geometric patterns. But adding to the aesthetics is just a bonus. A mashrabiya’s main purpose is to cool down spaces and provide privacy. In the olden days, people would fill clay pots with water, sand or damp straw and place them by mashrabiyas. When air flowed in, it would pass through the perforations in the lattice, and over the porous clay pots, allowing the moisture inside to evaporate, and causing the air to cool down.

Without the need for electricity, it’s a low-cost, sustainable way to cool interior spaces, and some architecture – like the Al Bahar Towers in Abu Dhabi – is using it as inspiration in the modern age.

2. Wind catchers

Wind towers or wind catchers, known as ‘badgir’ in Persian or ‘barajeel’ in Arabic, are traditional cooling architectural elements that can be found all over the Arab world and Iran. These towers have been in existence since the 14th century, and are made of clay, wood or bricks. They were constructed on rooftops to ‘catch’ cool air as it descends, allowing the warm, rising air to escape upwards. According to a September 2015 study in the journal Building Services Engineering Research & Technology, houses with wind towers are nearly 15 degrees Celsius cooler thanks to the ingenious architectural element. These towers regulate the internal temperature of a building constantly, without the use of any electricity.

3. Stepwells

Small reservoirs surrounded by a descending set of steps, stepwells or ‘baoli’ in Hindi, were part of ancient Indian architectural traditions. While some went many stories below ground level, others just dropped down to four metres – but all of them provided their own microclimate, by cooling down the surrounding area significantly. For instance, one of the largest and oldest stepwells in the world, Chand Baori in Rajasthan, India, has over 3,500 steps and is 13 stories deep. At the bottom of the well, the temperature is about six degrees cooler than at the top – it's a huge draw for locals, who experience dry, blistering heat in summer days, and often lounge on the steps with friends and family in order to cool off.

Which other ancient cooling technique impresses you? Play today’s Spell It and tell us at