The Untold Stories of the AC Unit
April 11, 2012
The air conditioning unit. Despite its bulky, bland and ubiquitous presence, the AC unit is an oft-ignored element of the urban landscape, something most choose to overlook, like scaffolding that engulfs the first floor of a building. In New York City alone, there are an estimated 4 million units installed, puncturing holes in apartment facades, draining excessive amounts of water and energy, and emitting chemical refrigerants every summer. First year Columbia GSAPP student Alison Carafa took a closer look at this essential building block of the city, which seems to have curiously escaped formal evolution. As she explained on Urban Omnibus, the basic design of the window air conditioner has remained largely unchanged since its first appearance on the market in 1935: “Instead of designing a more elegant object, we have allowed AC units to become visual background noise. For an object that most people would say they cannot live without, an object that much of our modern world was built upon…this lack of attention seems odd.”
She goes on to describe how the window AC unit was designed to adapt to the city’s architecture, a far-reaching resolution that allowed existing buildings to remain unchanged, despite the growing need for controlled climates. But as an unintended consequence, the contemporary city has evolved to adapt to the AC unit and its strangely stagnant design. Carafa’s ‘Field Guide to the AC Unit’ explores this unexpected turn, unveiling facts about falling units, environmental consequences, and improvised tactics to alter the archaic object and make it safer, more personal, and more efficient. More than just a compilation of anecdotes and advice, Carafa’s field guide makes visible a design trajectory that has tapered off, calling upon fellow architects and city dwellers to imagine a better solution to some serious and enduring problems. Take a look at the entire article on Urban Omnibus here.
[All images via Urban Omnibus]