Comfort at the Extremes - Conference Review

Runa Hellwig (Aalborg), Ulrike Passe (Iowa State), and Katy Janda (UCL), pose in front of an old Dubai wind catcher.

Comfort at the Extremes, Dubai, UAE, Apr 10–11, 2019

Sue Roaf and Fergus Nichols have been part of the organizing team for the Windsor Conference on Thermal Comfort in the UK for many years. Last year, the group, gathering on the grounds of Windsor Castle, decided to launch a new conference addressing comfort at the extremes.

As they wrote in the opening invitation statement, “In the face of an ever more extreme climate the world is calling urgently for answers to questions of how people can stay not only comfortable but also thermally safe and healthy in a warming world. Current and future temperature trends and events threaten not only buildings, settlements, and cities, but also the temporary settlements built to cope with transient populations.”

They promised to gather international figures in Dubai from architecture, planning, engineering, health sciences and more to discuss how to best provide Comfort at the Extremes in the complex political and economic environments we occupy. What better place to enable sustainable architecture researchers from Brazil and Mexico to meet with health science experts from the Netherlands and Australia than in Dubai? Dubai, which appears like a mirage in the desert sand of the Persian Gulf, felt quite pleasant in April. The event took place in Dubai International Academic City, slightly outside of downtown, at the UAE Campus of Heriot Watt University.

The format of the conference was half panels with full attendance and invited speakers, such as Mat Santamouris and Pablo La Roche and many others who provided the overall background and challenges, while the other half of the time was dedicated to workshops on specific topics such as ‘natural ventilation.’ I was fortunate to have been invited to co-lead this workshop in order to discuss how to push the limits of comfort in a warming world without the feared increase in energy-heavy air-conditioning. Long and frequent breaks left ample time for in-depth conversations and enabled potential new collaborations, and of course, everyone had to go out one evening to admire the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. [Did Sue Roaf approve? See page 4.–ed.]

A field trip to the Bastakia windcatcher settlement concluded a very packed agenda. This visit enabled insights into habits and customs of Dubai as well as a glimpse into the history of this fascinating place through the reconstructed and well-maintained historic neighborhood, where wind catchers were built by Persian merchants. While the building we visited was air-conditioned, the burlap windcatcher in the Dubai History Museum actually worked.

I would like to thank the Cook Charitable Trust for providing the funds to enable my travel from Ames, IA, to Dubai. 

—Ulrike Passe