Architects always take inspiration from anything or everything around them to develop a design concept for their proposal. Solving a design problem is often inspired mainly by nature. Since a similar prototype has already been solved by nature, mimicking the same in architecture is an easy resolution. An impressive biomimetic theory that could be applied in architecture is the termite mounds built by termites with the help of soil, water, and saliva. Research is carried out to analyze termite mounds which could provide innovative solutions to complex challenges in architecture. Skyscraper Designs are one of the best examples of biomimicry of termites in Architecture.

What Termites can teach architects about Skyscraper Design - Sheet1
What Termites can teach architects about Skyscraper Design_©

The architecture of Termite Mounds

The cone-like termite mounds are incapable of being tampered with, and the fact that they are also very porous is astounding. They are built by termites by reaping mud from the ground and mixing it with saliva to form a cement lump called boluses. These boluses are placed by hundreds of termites together guided by environmental conditions forming a sustainable termite mound. The porosity nature of these mounds helps in ventilation, keeping the internal temperature and humidity constant even if the external requirements vary. The solidness and porous nature of mounds can be explained by the double-layered mound. One layer is dense, and the other is flimsy and porous, allowing ventilation. A similar Bi-layered strategy is found in skyscraper designs with a dense core and a façade shell providing ventilation. The saliva of termites helps in causing the mounds to be weatherproof and thus avoiding soil erosion. These earthen mounds built by termites are very intricate and have lasted longer than most man-made buildings for centuries.

What Termites can teach architects about Skyscraper Design - Sheet2
Architecture of Termite Mounds_©

Strength of Mounds

The boluses of these termite mounds provide immense strength and weathering resistance. Investigating these mounds further has helped in finding the actual reason behind its strength. Termites can make boluses out of any element, but they incline more towards mud since it’s coarse-grained and wet. These cement lumps are made of soil and water in the ratio of 70:30, favouring plasticity. A hypothesis of the strength of mounds coming from the termite’s saliva was proved to be wrong. A similar mound block was developed in a laboratory achieving the same strength. The ratio in which soil and water were mixed provided extreme solidness properties to the mounds. In that particular ratio, the soil particles settle due to their weight, and smaller particles fall into a stable position between the larger particles forming a closely packed mound. This theory can be immaterial to skyscraper designs but could help use adobe as a building material.

Termite architecture in Skyscrapers

The bi-layered building style can be replicated in skyscraper design to maintain temperature and humidity levels in the interiors. Allowing the building to breathe similar to the mounds can bring down energy use and operate more sustainably than regular buildings. Imitating the complexity of mounds in a building’s façade with the use of computer software for real behaviour to create a man-made mound is another approach in skyscrapers. Building them to possess actual behaviour gets more complicated than designing them. This introduces us to large-scale 3-D printing in construction. The termite mounds also influence architecture with the dissipation of air inside them in terms of the stack effect. The network of holes is also employed in the layouts of buildings to mimic the same. More termite mounds are yet to be explored and can be mimed in architecture.

What Termites can teach architects about Skyscraper Design - Sheet3
Termite tower – Vertical Termite Farm_©

Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe

A large office and shopping complex in Zimbabwe designed by architect Mick Pearce is the best and most common example of biomimicry from termite mounds. The building’s inner temperature is engaged by its biomimetic design of a passive cooling system and doesn’t employ any sort of conventional air-conditioning or heating. The concrete façade of the center is made porous and sucks the hot air that gushes through it and cools the wind. The fans enhance storing heat during the day and rinse out the heat from the façade during the nights. The construction materials used in the building have a high thermal capacity. This helps in storing and releasing heat to the environment. The facade also included jagged stone details emulating cactus prickles to absorb less heat since pointy surfaces have greater surface areas. This system helped in cutting down the energy costs by 10%. Eastgate attains a controlled temperature in the interiors by being cost and energy effective.

What Termites can teach architects about Skyscraper Design - Sheet4
 Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe_©

Architects are trying creative ways to control temperatures without the use of conventional mechanisms, and the inspiration of termite mounds was one of them. The buildings imitate how a living organism reacts to the environment in the case of the termite mounds. There is more potential to learn from nature. The practice of emulating biological forms or processes in human design and engineering in Biomimetic architecture paves the way for a greener future.


Rohini M is an Assistant Architect in Atkins, Bangalore. She is also certified LEED Green Associate and COA registered Architect. Moreover, she also contributes articles to Building Design Journal in Atkins UK. She is a go-to person for hand made cards for any event or wall arts in the firm.