Joe’s research


Posted in MA research Sustainable design by joeyiu on January 20, 2009

Respect for energy and natural resources

In 1996 Janine Benyus published a book called Biomimicry that described the re-emerging science and philosophy of learning directly from nature which have three major components:

  1. Nature as model – taling inspirations from the designs of nature
  2. Nature as measure – using an ecological standard to judge the rightness of our innovations
  3. Nature as mentor – valuing what we can learn versus what we can extract

She went on to descride that all of nature’s innovations, on land, in water and in the air have nine things in common:

  • Nature runs on sunlight
  • Uses only the energy it needs
  • Fits form to function
  • Recycles everything
  • Rewards co-operation
  • Nature banks on diversity
  • Demands local expertise
  • Curbs excesses within
  • Taps the power of limits

Case Study

Learning Efficiency from Kingfishers
The Shinkansen Bullet Train of the West Japan Railway Company is the fastest train in the world, traveling 200 miles per hour. The problem? Noise. Air pressure changes produced large thunder claps every time the train emerged from a tunnel, causing residents one-quarter a mile away to complain. Eiji Nakatsu, the train’s chief engineer and an avid birdwatcher, asked himself, “Is there something in Nature that travels quickly and smoothly between two very different mediums?” Modeling the front-end of the train after the beak of kingfishers, which dive from the air into bodies of water with very little splash to catch fish, resulted not only in a quieter train, but 15% less electricity use even while the train travels 10% faster.



Learning from Termites How to Create Sustainable Buildings

We generally think of termites as destroying buildings, not helping design them. But the Eastgate Building, an office complex in Harare, Zimbabwe, has an air conditioning system modeled on the self-cooling mounds of Macrotermes michaelseni, termites that maintain the temperature inside their nest to within one degree, day and night (while the temperatures outside swing from 42 °C to 3 °C). The operation of buildings represents 40% of all the energy used by humanity, so learning how to design them to be more sustainable is vitally important. Architect Mick Pearce collaborated with engineers at Arup Associates to design Eastgate, which uses 90% percent less energy for ventilation than conventional buildings its size, and has already saved the building owners over $3.5 million dollars in air conditioning costs.

The Eastgate building, Harare, Zimbabwe: The Eastgate, also called “The Anthill”, is modeled on the self-cooling mounds of Macrotermes michaelseni termites. These termites maintain the temperature inside their nest to within one degree of 31°C, day and night. The mounds accomplish this even when the external temperature varies between 3°C and 42°C. Eastgate uses only 10 percent of the energy of a conventional building its size, saved 3.5 million in air conditioning costs in the first five years, and rents space for 20% lower than a newer building next door.

The Laggarberg School, Sundsvall, Northern Sweden: The Laggarberg School is one of the marvelous creations of the Swedish architect Anders Nyquist. Designed in 1995, it has been keeping students comfortable for over a decade, cooling air in the summer and warming it in the winter. Even the old building next door has been retrofitted using principles learned from the termites.
Bengt Warne

These principles were described early on by Bengt Warne, the pioneering eco-architect who invented the “envelop house”, inspired by the a seed husk. Here are a few of the simple drawings that explain the principles as Bengt observed them in the 1950s when in Zimbabwe. Bengt Warne's drawings

Tropical Hospital Las Gaviotas in the Vichada: This hospital uses the same principles demonstrated in Harare and Sundsvall with the added benefit that the air rising from the tunnels contains a mere 17% humidity, thanks to the condensing effect of aluminum rods installed in the underground tunnels.


Janine Benyus on Youtube

Biomimicry Institute




Nature’s 100 best innovations

Biomimicry Guild




Biomimicry bibliography

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