Architects Could Learn A Lot From Termites

termite mounds section image

Termite Mounds and Colonies

If only human architects could build so well. Philip Ball in the New Scientist describes how green and sophisticated it is:

Its buttressed towers are built entirely from natural, biodegradable materials. Its inhabitants live and work in quarters that are air-conditioned and humidity-regulated, without consuming a single watt of electricity. Water comes from wells that dip deep into the earth, and food is cultivated self-sufficiently in gardens within its walls. This metropolis is not just eco-friendly: with its curved walls and graceful arches, it is rather beautiful too.

Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa thinks human architects have it easy. "We can develop absurd architectural ideas without the punishment of natural selection."

But termites, they have to struggle. They chew up wood, but cannot actually digest it, so they have carefully tended gardens of fungus, which convert the wood into a form they can digest. The fungi are very particular about temperature and humidity, and the termite tower is designed to keep them comfortable with natural convection and lots of fresh air.

biometric building image

People have tried it; four years ago we wrote about this Biomimetic Building Uses Termite Mound As Model. Justin wrote:

Long before the building was created, passive cooling was being used by the local termites. Termite mounds include flues which vent through the top and sides, and the mound itself is designed to catch the breeze. As the wind blows, hot air from the main chambers below ground is drawn out of the structure, helped by termites opening or blocking tunnels to control air flow.

It gets even more sophisticated; termites appear to understand Passivhaus design.


Neils Photography via

The Amitermes meridionalis detects the earth's magnetic field and aligns its mounds on a north-south axis. New Scientist writes:

The broad eastern and western faces soak up the weaker rays of the morning and evening sun, while a relatively narrow surface is subjected to the fierce glare of the midday sun - helping to keep the temperature relatively constant.

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