When we need the most innovative solutions for structural issues, designers often turn to nature and its creatures for inspiration. The latest example of biomimicry comes from Mick Pearce, a Zimbabwean architect, who recently designed and constructed a self-cooling building modeled on the mounds termites build.
Termites might not be the most majestic creatures, but they build impressively tall skyscrapers — towers of dirt that can top 30 feet. If humans built a tower the same number of times our height, it would top out around 3,600 feet. The world’s current tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, is around 3,000 feet tall.
Pearce suspected the chimneys found in the top of the mounds circulate hot air through its top, while cool air remains in the bottom of the mound, where the queen hangs out. Subsequent studies confirmed this hunch, and now a building, modeled on termite mounds, exists in Harare, Zimbabwe, that uses little energy to keep itself cool.
Another practitioner of biomimicry is Pravin Bhiwapurkar, a professor of architecture at the University of Cincinnati, who was inspired by the African reed frog and the Hercules beetle. These creatures are able to modulate their skin layers in response to temperature or humidity changes. Based on these creatures, Bhiwapurkar is creating materials that can serve as the exterior of buildings and help regulate heat. According to his models, a 3-story office building could reduce its air-conditioning energy use by 66 percent with his modifications.
The two designs mentioned above are yet another example of how nature itself holds many of the solutions we are looking for every day.