How Does Nature Inspire Architecture?
"Nothing is new under the Sun," as the famous saying goes.
When it comes to human ingenuity, this is especially the case.
Despite our technological prowess and imagination, it cannot, at times, surpass nature's creative "genius." Take tall buildings, for example.
From the ancient pyramids of Egypt or South America to modern architectural wonders like the Burj Khalifa, humans have been attempting to build vertically for millennia. These structures have stretched their respective civilizations' intellectual and technical abilities and are, undoubtedly, incredible engineering feats.
But the animal kingdom has been at it for longer and on a much grander scale. One of nature's master architects and builders, the humble termite, is not bigger than your fingernail yet can build structures comparable to even our tallest structures with relative ease.
These little insects can construct towers that would be some of the tallest synthetic structures on Earth if they were to be scaled up. What's more, they achieve all this using little more than Earth and saliva.
But these towers are not just shelters, they also double as vertical farms for the countless critters that inhabit them.
Imagine the reaction an engineering firm or architect would receive if they proposed such a thing today! Yet one architect, Mick Pearce from Zimbabwe, has taken the plunge and suggested making termite-mound-inspired towers.
Pearce doesn't suggest building the next Burj Khalifa using only soil and spit, but he has noticed the potential for using termite mound architecture to produce more energy-efficient tall buildings.
He noted that the funnel-like structures associated with termite mounds are superbly efficient and straightforward, providing "free" cooling for the colony. If this could be replicated in human buildings, it would drastically reduce the need to cool the building during summer height artificially.
To date, Pearce and his team have designed a series of towers around the world that integrate fans at the base to provide a high-energy--efficient method of sucking in cool air at the base to ventilate the upper levels.
Fascinating, but there are other ways that nature has inspired human architects to improve building energy consumption. One example comes from the University of Cincinnati. By studying the African reed frog and the Hercules beetle, they believe they've hit on some interesting methods for reducing building energy use.
The former can change the color of its skin to reflect sunlight in order to stay cool. The latter can absorb moisture when the air is humid to help regulate its body temperature. By combining these ideas with modern materials like heat-reflecting cladding and hydrogel insulation, the team showed that a typical Chicago office building could reduce its air-conditioning costs by up to 66%!
This not only impacts the building's occupants' running costs but also does its part to reduce wasted electricity.
And it's all because nature shapes creatures to help them survive on Earth!