In Singapore, a sweltering swamp of a city, temporarily disguised as an international financial capital, there is a main boulevard lined on either sides by shopping malls. Fashionably dressed men and woman and bubble gum colored teens walk past, in and out. To enter and exit you never open a door. They are always open. Why? Because the air conditioning blasting from the stores and onto the street is a seduction, beckoning to passersby with the promise of artificially cool comfort while giving those of us who are not interested in shopping (at the moment anyway) the illusion that not too long ago, mosquitos, lizards and colorful plants were not actually the real occupants of this sticky consumer paradise.
In another city is a hot summer night. We can barely stand the clothes on our body. “Let’s go to a movie!”, someone suggests. Do we have keys? “Yes!” Do we have money? “Yes”…Do we have a sweater?…Whoops. Not until we are inside the theater do we realize that, no, we don’t have one and we spend the entire evening feeling as cold as the icy soda we’ve bought in our prior heat-induced delusion.
One summer, my wife and I rented a small apartment in Astoria, NY as she did an internship at MoMA. Astoria is a glorious mix of folks from all over the world and the apartment was right in the center of it all. We were ecstatic. The bedroom looked out into what you might called a ‘courtyard’ if you were a real estate agent but in actuality it was a small, enclosed outdoor space for garbage cans. There was no air circulation! I lay awake at night breathing the same air that I had taken in and expelled each night. I lay there unable to move without working up a sweat, unable to sleep in this blanket of staleness. A few days later, I put an air conditioner in and presto, my version of heaven appeared.
Yes, we all have different, complex and contradictory feelings about air conditioners…about what they provide, what they cost, what they permit and what they disguise. But summer is here and the heat is, once again, creeping up on us. For this reason, I’ve decided to focus on the invention of the air conditioner as an under-appreciated date in history by showcasing this wonderful article, “How to live without air conditioning“ by Leon Nefakh in the Boston Globe.
In 1902, of the first modern electrical air conditioning unit was invented by Willis Carrier of Buffalo, NY to cool printing machinery as they ran. By 1945, the process of temperature control and cooling had been mass produced into portable air conditioning window units. Think of all that has come about as the result of this now universally deemed, at least in the United States, necessity. It opened up new regions to live, architects no longer had to consider wind flow, landscape architects no longer had to consider tree placement. And how about the disappearance of the porch? All cool? Well, maybe not…
- Marc Levitt, Host & Co-Executive Producer of Action Speaks Radio