Biomimicry - Moving Towards A Sustainable Future

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change," said Charles Darwin. From the Galapagos islands came the idea of natural selection, the process through which populations of living organisms adapt and change and only the fittest survive. And from this hypothesis came the idea of biomimicry. Biomimicry is the science of applying nature-inspired designs in human engineering and invention to solve human problems. From pigeons inspiring the Wright brothers to create the airplane to the Kingfisher’s beak inspiring the design of the world’s fastest bullet train, biomimicry is responsible for many marvelous inventions in the history of our planet. However, there is something which fascinates me even more.

In the capital of Zimbabwe, a building called Eastgate center holds nearly 350,000 square-feet of office space and shops. It uses 90 percent less energy than a similar sized building next door. Something like this has surely come out of a movie or a TV show right? Well, the answer is no. The Eastgate center has been inspired by termite mounds. Termites are criticized and known for their ability to just infect structures and destroy them. But the truth is, only 24 out of the 2600 species of termites are responsible for the infestation of buildings. The others are creative architects and build structures like mounds to protect and comfort their queen.

The termites achieve this remarkable feat by constantly opening and closing a series of heating and cooling vents throughout the mound over the course of the day. With a system of carefully adjusted convection currents. Air is sucked in at the lower part of the mound, down into enclosures with muddy walls, and up through a channel to the peak of the termite mound. The industrious termites constantly dig new vents and plug up old ones in order to regulate the temperature.

The Eastgate Centre, largely made of concrete, has a ventilation system which operates in a similar way. Outside air that is drawn in is either warmed or cooled by the building mass depending on which is hotter, the building concrete or the air. Air is continuously drawn from this open space by fans on the first floor. It is then pushed up vertical supply sections of ducts that are located in the central spine of each of the two buildings of the center. The fresh air replaces stale air that rises and exits through exhaust ports in the ceilings of each floor. Ultimately it enters the exhaust section of the vertical ducts before it is flushed out of the building through chimneys. All this has contributed to a drastic 90% decrease in usage of electricity and has saved over 3.5 million dollars, leading to less consumption of fossil fuels and moving towards a better and more sustainable future. 


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