What Can Termites Teach Architects?
Mound Termites are professionals when it comes to building self-regulating structures that maintain oxygen levels, temperatures and humidity. Architects and engineers want to adapt and incorporate this creativity in their own designs.
Some termite mounds can be taller than 30 feet, with an outer wall peppered with holes that lead to a maze of tunnels. Below the mound there is a large, oval nest where the queen resides.
This leads us to our next point/question… how does the queen breathe under this huge mound? As Wired puts it; “as the sun moves through the sky during the day, the air in the thinner chimneys on the outer edges of the mound heat up quickly, while the air in the mound’s big, central chimney stays relatively cool. Hot air rises up through the outer chimneys and cool air in the central chimney sinks, circulating air continuously—injecting oxygen and flushing out carbon dioxide. At night, the flow reverses as the outer chimney air cools down quicker than the inner chimney air.”
“If we buried ourselves a meter underground we wouldn’t last very long if we didn’t have some way of getting oxygen from the atmosphere down to us,” says Scott Turner, a biologist at the State University of New York, Syracuse. “It’s the same logic in the termite mounds.”
If architects and engineers can mimic the termites strategy, this can drastically improve energy efficiency in buildings. Mick Pearce, a Zimbabwean architect mimicked this activity in an award-winning Eastgate Center in Harare, Zimbabwe, and cut energy use by nearly 10% of a normal building size.
They already have scientists working on programming computer termites to design complex structures that allow buildings to breathe freely. However, actively building these structures is more complex than the designs themselves. Rupert Soar, a biomimetic expert at Nottingham Trent University, says the bottleneck is 3-D prints and once there is large-scale printing technology within the construction industry, you may be living in your own termite mound.