Lessons from Nature: Designing Buildings

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Throughout history, we have achieved many impressive feats in engineering and architecture that have stood the test of time. For centuries, we have relied on our resourcefulness and ingenuity to keep pushing civilization forward. Despite our ability to develop new technologies to improve our lifestyles, there is no denying that our means of attaining modern advancements continue to wreak havoc on the environment. Perhaps we have to rethink our ways with the aid of the most excellent teacher of all: nature.

1. Honeycombs for Increased Structural Strength

The use of honeycomb panels has given birth to structural building solutions far superior to traditional options. Bees have fine-tuned the design for many millennia, choosing the hexagon to ensure the survival of their species. Honeycombs have six sides because such elements have proven to provide female bees with a conducive environment to live and work, to keep the queen bee’s eggs safe, and to store the pollen and honey that worker bees bring into the hive. If honeycombs were made of circles, triangles, squares, or rectangles, they would not be as effective.

As humans, we did the math and found out that hexagons indeed made the perfect sense for the purpose. Geometrically, the shape is material-efficient but incredibly strong. In other words, bees create hexagons to to create wax that can hold the highest amount of weight. How did we adopt the principle in human engineering and architecture thus far? We designed metal honeycomb cores as sandwich material for wall and floor panels.

To see how they work in action, visit the British Museum. The building’s sub-basement walkways are made with aluminum honeycomb floor panels to support the enormous collective weight of ancient artifacts and regular foot traffic. Aluminum was chosen because it is lightweight, making each section easy to move for the upkeep of the plumbing and electrical systems underneath.

2. Termite Mounds for Efficient Temperature Regulation

air duct

The Eastgate Center in Zimbabwe is proof of the large brains of tiny creatures like the African termites. These insects always have one problem to solve: maintaining their towering mounds at the optimal temperature to farm the fungus that serves as their primary food source.

It needs 87°F (no more, no less) to stay alive. But since outside temperatures go as high as 104°F when the sun is up and as low as 35°F at night, the termites have to improvise. To regulate mound temperatures, they tirelessly create and close air vents 24/7.

The shopping complex borrowed this biomimicry principle to build an ultra-efficient ventilation system based on convection, which is the natural movement of air depending on its temperature. Using an intricate network of strategic air pockets throughout the building, the Eastgate Center uses 10% less energy than traditional air-conditioned structures.

3. Indoor Vegetation for Natural Air Purification

Phytoremediation is another reason to decorate rooms with ornamentals or grow an indoor garden. Research shows that plants absorb not only carbon dioxide but also many volatile organic compounds that harm human health. Considering that the quality of indoor air can be far deadlier than that of outdoor air, we ought to use these natural purifiers more.

We are far from emulating nature’s mastery of eco-friendly building techniques, but we are making progress. Hopefully, we can be 100% green before Earth hits the reset button and wipes us off the face of the planet like what it did to other previous dominant creatures.