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Architects Look to Termite Mounds to Improve Building Ventilation

Posted on September 2023

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Nature has always been an incredible source of inspiration for human innovation. From the streamlined design of high-speed trains, modeled after the kingfisher’s beak, to the invention of Velcro inspired by burdock burrs, biomimicry – the design and production of materials, structures, and systems modeled on biological entities and processes – has significantly impacted the way we create and innovate.

One of the most fascinating examples of this is the study of termite mounds by architects and scientists. Believe it or not, these seemingly insignificant structures have been a goldmine of insights for sustainable and efficient building design, particularly when it comes to ventilation.

The Wonder of Termite Mounds

To the untrained eye, termite mounds might just appear as large piles of dirt. But inside, they are marvels of architectural design. Termites, despite being blind, manage to build towering mounds that maintain a remarkably stable internal environment. Regardless of the outside temperature, whether it's sweltering hot or chillingly cold, the inside of a termite mound remains stable, hovering around 30°C (86°F).

The Secret: Natural Air Conditioning

The key to this impressive thermal regulation is ventilation. Termites have designed their mounds with a complex network of tunnels and chambers that facilitate airflow. The outer wall of the mound is thick and effectively absorbs heat during the day, while the inner wall is thinner and releases heat during the night.

Furthermore, the mound is constructed in such a way that when hot air rises (as it naturally does), it gets expelled from the top, drawing in cooler air from the base and surrounding areas. This continuous circulation of air ensures that the temperature remains constant and that the termites, as well as their fungus gardens (their primary food source), thrive.

Lessons for Human Architecture

The principles demonstrated by termite mounds have been eyed by architects and builders as a potential blueprint for designing buildings that require less energy for cooling and heating.

  1. Passive Cooling and Heating: By incorporating design principles from termite mounds, it's possible to reduce our dependence on artificial heating and cooling. This means a significant reduction in energy consumption and associated costs.

  2. Natural Airflow: Buildings designed with termite-inspired ventilation can benefit from enhanced airflow, minimizing the need for fans or air conditioning.

  3. Sustainability: Leveraging natural systems for building regulation reduces its carbon footprint, making the construction process more sustainable and eco-friendly.

One notable example is the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe. This building, designed by architect Mick Pearce in collaboration with engineers at Arup Associates, draws inspiration from termite mounds. By using a passive cooling system inspired by the termites, the Eastgate Centre uses 90% less energy for ventilation than conventional buildings of its size.

The Way Forward

As the world grapples with the challenges of climate change, energy consumption, and sustainability, looking to nature for solutions has never been more pertinent. The study of termite mounds by architects offers a tangible reminder that sometimes, the best answers to modern challenges have already been worked out by nature over millions of years.

For hiring managers who recognize the value of innovative thinking and are in search of architectural skill and expertise that champions sustainable design, LVI Associates is here to help. Our consultants understand the nuances of the architectural world and have a keen eye for talent that understands and appreciates the delicate intricacies of design.

Request a call back from one of our consultants at LVI Associates to ensure that your next architectural hire can support your journey towards the future of sustainable design.

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