10 Green Structural Engineering Marvels

Eastgate Building (Harare, Zimbabwe)
The Eastgate building (left) took its design cues from termites. Photo courtesy Damien Farrell used under Creative Commons CC By 2.0 license.

Termites need not number among a building's worst enemies -- they can also inspire a remarkable rethinking of heating, refrigeration and air conditioning. Take the Eastgate Building, which trades traditional AC in favor of a buggier blower: a ventilation system incorporating the heat-regulating tricks found in towering termite mounds throughout southern Africa. These conical mounds, which can grow to several meters high, maintain a nearly constant internal temperature while exterior conditions swing from 108 to 37 F (42 to 3 C) [sources: Biomimicry Institute; Griggs; Tuhus-Dubrow; Turner].

Architect Mick Pearce and engineers at Arup Associates dreamed up the design, which imitates a termite mound's constantly changing arrangement of breeze-catching holes through a system of fans, vents and funnels. The office complex, which uses 10 percent as much energy as other similarly sized buildings, represents but one brainchild of the small but growing subindustry known as biomimetic architecture [sources: Biomimicry Institute; Tuhus-Dubrow].

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