Below the azure sky, a solitary mountain of dirt resides among the sea of yellowing grass of the African savanna. To the casual viewer, there is nothing particularly spectacular about these miniature mountains. However, a close inspection of the interior of a termite mound reveals that it is a remarkable feat of engineering that promotes highly efficient ventilation. Mick Pearce, a Zimbabwean architect, recognized the energy-efficient design of termite mounds and used it as inspiration to create the Eastgate Centre.
Unlike humans, termites do not have a tiny air conditioning system to keep their queen cool. Instead, they rely on their mounds to ventilate the air. Termite mounds are made of soil that have a high thermal mass, which allows it to absorb heat energy. Pearce mimicked this design by using concrete, a substance with high thermal mass, to build the Eastgate Centre. In addition, Pearce decided that the concrete outer walls of the Eastgate Centre would be porous, much like the termite mounds dotted with holes. Before the warm wind enters the shopping center, the concrete wall absorbs most of its heat. As a result, only cool air flows into the Eastgate Centre. The hot air in the Eastgate Centre rises and exits the building through the chimneys. In a sense, the Eastgate Centre “inhales” cool air and “exhales” hot air during the day, much like termite mounds.
The Eastgate Centre is a prime example of biomimetics (biology-inspired engineering). Although we may consider ourselves top-notch engineers, it is easy to forget that Nature has already been creating and revising its designs since Earth’s beginnings. Thus, unsurprisingly, by using Nature as a blueprint, we can devise more sustainable, efficient designs.
Brazier, David. Eastgate Centre, Harare, Zimbabwe (foreground, the building with the large number of chimneys on top). 2008. Wikipedia, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eastgate_Centre,_Harare,_Zimbabwe.jpg
Klein, JoAnna. “What Termites Can Teach Us About Cooling Our Buildings.” The New York Times, 26 Mar. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/26/science/termite-nest-ventilation.html. Accessed 14 April 2019.
Sarangi, Bishnu. Termite Mound. 2014. Pixel, https://pixabay.com/photos/termite-hill-termites-termite-mound-266587/
Tonn, Shara. “Termites Are Teaching Architects to Design Super-Efficient Skyscrapers.” Wired, 17 Nov. 2015, https://www.wired.com/2015/11/building-skyscrapers-like-termite-mounds-could-save-energy/