“ You could look at nature as being like a catalog of products, and all of those have benefited from a 3.8 billion year research and development period. And given that level on investment, it makes sense to use it” – Michael Pawlyn
A while ago I wrote about the wonder of owls and how their evolution of silent flight has lead to some incredible innovations in the field of design. I also promised follow up blogs exploring this fascinating field of bio-mimicry.
There is a keystone species that lives here at Londolozi and although it is a tiny creature, it has a huge impact. Macrotermes termites, with their colossal mounds and architectural expertise completely transform the landscape. Sometimes, on early morning winter game drives, we see where a bird has broken open the top of a termite mound chimney and not only enjoying the heat that rises out, but also a good morning snack of the termite soldiers coming to investigate the disturbance. It is always fascinating to be able to hold your hand over an exposed chimney and feel the actual heat surging out. Crucial in nutrient recycling and debris matter breakdown, termite’s ecological importance is paramount to the lowveld ecosystem. However, taking a closer look at this intriguing species we see that their value expands even further than this. The reason these termites are so successful is because they have developed one of the most intricate relationships we see in the natural world. The key to this species of termite survival is the ‘farming’ of a very particular type of fungus. This fungus, via hydrolytic enzymes, digests the cellulose material, which the termites cannot digest for themselves. So while the fungus is busy with this process, the termites are busy ensuring the best possible environment for the fungi’s success; thus the termite mound is born. An astonishing structure in size and complexity, through a network of tunnels and shafts the termites are able to maintain the core temperature inside the mound at a constant 32º C. An organic temperature control system.
Once again, nature has already done the design for us! Architect Mick Pierce integrated the Marcotermes termite mound structure and cooling system into the building of the Eastgate Centre in Harare. Abigail Doan, journalist for web blog inhabitat explains Pierce’s incredible design:
“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. It is then vented into the building’s floors and offices before exiting via chimneys at the top. The complex also consists of two buildings side by side that are separated by an open space that is covered by glass and open to the local breezes.
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. 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.”
At Londolozi we believe in a blend of modern technology, ancient wisdom and inspiration from nature, check out Ryan’s blog on three ‘Ecolutionary’ Innovations that are taking place at our home in the bush.
By using this passive cooling system, the Eastgate Building uses less than 10% of what an equivalent building using normal air-conditioning would use and thus saving huge amounts of money. It is so exciting to see an innovation like this happening in Southern Africa. As developing countries, we are in a position where the building of infrastructure is essential to our community development. What better way to do this than by taking inspiration from nature to create sustainable solutions?
Written by: Andrea Campbell, LandCare Assistant