Aquatic Air Conditioning at Japan's Canal City Hakata

Canal City Hakata

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I don’t know what the weather’s like where you live, but temperatures have been unbearably high here in the States. I saw a news story the other day about how power supply companies are raking in record profits because so many people are running their air conditioners at full blast. But with the thermometer breaking into the 100s and regularly hovering in the high 90s, can you really blame people for burning a little bit of extra electricity in order to stay cool?

I definitely sympathize with them (sweating as I type this), but it’s depressing to think that so many people are throwing away money on electricity bills when aquatic architecture can offer a greener and cheaper solution. Architects have been experimenting with aquatic air conditioning a lot recently, because water can naturally soak up heat without requiring a lot of electricity or money. The only real problem with this solution is that there aren’t many architectural spaces that have adopted water air conditioning systems.

Canal City Shopping Mall in Japan

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Canal City Hakata in Fukata, Japan is one exception. Called a “city within a city” by the locals, Canal City Hakata is an enormous outdoor shopping area with restaurants, movie theaters, hotels, game centers, over 250 stores, and (as you might expect from the name) a canal.

The canal isn’t just a marketing gimmick to make the place look pretty — it’s a critical aspect of the design that can keep the outdoor shopping area naturally cool. Tall, vertical buildings on both sides of the canal create a canyon-like passageway. Not only does this shape block off a lot of direct sunlight that would otherwise pour down over the heads of shoppers, but it also promotes wind flow. The canyon layout pulls air in from one side of the shopping area, and the air gradually cools down as it skims across the surface of the water. That gives shoppers a near-constant, refreshing breeze.

Canal City Hakata

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The other advantage of the canal is that it naturally beautifies the space. The plant-rich gardens that flank the river borrow a bit from the oh-so-popular Japanese water gardens, except that the focus is more on fun and excitement rather than calm serenity. The architecture matches the cheerful mood with colorful paint schemes and curving edges. To be honest, it kind of looks like something that Dr. Seuss would create. Oh, the places you’ll shop!

Visitors can also look forward to hourly choreographed water fountain shows. They may not be as massive or elaborate as the Bellagio’s fountains, but they do offer a brief reprieve for exhausted shoppers. I normally try to avoid shopping as though my life depends on it, but I probably wouldn’t mind sitting back on a bench, munching on some local Japanese cuisine, and watching the water show while my girlfriend spends a thousand dollars on fancy shoes.


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