Fast Company's Ben Schiller looks at a potentially revolutionary approach to air conditioning--turning a building itself into its own air conditioner.

Sounds like the stuff of science fiction, right? Well, a Dutch architect, Ben Bronsema, grew frustrated with how much space AC ducts take up in the buildings he designed, so he thought to himself 'maybe there's a natural way to do this, without electric fans.'

"People in America don't believe in air conditioning without fans. 'Well that's crazy, that can never work,' they say. But it will work, and we have to show it will work," says Bronsema, who completed a PhD on the design with Delft Institute of Technology in 2013.

An Amsterdam developer, the Dutch Green Company, plans to use Bronsema's concept in a new hotel opening in that city in 2017. If the project goes ahead, it could become one of the world's most energy-efficient buildings, the "first (nearly) zero-energy hotel," the company says.

The system is based on the principle of a climate cascade. At the top, wind turbines bring air into a chute that runs right down through the building. As it enters, it's sprayed by streams of water. At the foot of the cascade, the building distributes cooled air to the rooms. Then on the other side is a solar chimney, which, as it's warmed by the sun, lifts heated air up and out of the building again.

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