Design thinking in the field of architecture has witnessed several changes due to climate change as well as its relation to energy consumption. Several measures have been taken to combat the issue of climate change and its direct impact on the built environment. Climate responsive architecture is one such measure that reflects the weather conditions of the site it is built-in and aims to create comfortable spaces while reducing the reliance on artificial energy. 

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Biomimicry, i.e., the study of principles in nature to combat human problems often acts as a source of inspiration for the ideologies behind climate-responsive structures. From innovative facades to cooling systems, the imitation of functions of various ecosystems and living organisms has paved the way for sustainable and efficient design. 

Keeping that notion in mind here is a list of examples of designs that have used biomimicry for climate-responsive architecture.

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1. Eastgate Centre, Harare

Designed by Mick Pearce, the East Gate Centre is a multi-function structure (shopping center and office) that optimizes ventilation by drawing inspiration from the cooling systems of termite mounds. Rather than using a fuel-based air conditioner to regulate temperature, the structure makes use of passive cooling and energy-efficient measures to attain optimal conditions. 

The ventilation system of the structure is derived from the technique of circulating hot and cool air subsequently in the mound of fungus-farming termites. The air drawn from outside is either heated or cooled depending on the thermal state of the mass of the structure or the air. It is then flushed into building floors and offices before it exits through the chimney. The high thermal capacity of the building fabric also enables it to release as well as store heat gained from its surrounding environment. The various openings in the building also contribute to passive airflow in the interior spaces. The center only makes use of 10% of the energy required by a conventionally cooled building. 

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2. The Gherkin, London 

30 St. Mary Axe, popularly known as the Gherkin is a commercial skyscraper designed by Norman Foster. The structure was inspired by the Venus flower basket sponge. The lattice exoskeleton and shape of the plant helps it disperse strong currents in the water. The skeleton creates a hollow basket which absorbs nutrients when water moves through it. 

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The Gherkin mimics the form and lattice structure of the plant to reduce wind deflection, attain efficient vertical support, and a mixed-mode ventilation system. Air drawn from the opening panels in the facade is circulated to different floors through pressure differentials. Each floor has gaps that create 6 shafts extending between several floors to allow natural ventilation. The air in the shafts creates a double glazing effect and insulates the inner spaces. The innovative mixed-mode ventilation and insulation of the structure enable it to consume less power when compared to other structures of similar size.

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3. Esplanade Theater, Singapore

The Esplanade Theatre designed by DP Architects and Michael Wilford mimics the thorn-covered skin of the durian fruit as its facade, in response to the tropical climate of Singapore. Similar to how the skin of the fruit protects the seed—the cladding system of the structure acts as sun shields and protects the inner glass facade.

The triangular louvers are responsive to the sun and adjust based on its angle or position to control the entry of light into the structure. The dynamic skin is made of steel space frames with aluminium sunshades. 

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4. Water Cube, Beijing 

The Beijing National Aquatics Centre, more commonly known as the Water Cube takes inspiration from the natural pattern and structure of soap bubbles. The facade mimics the ability of soap films to reduce large surface area and surface energy. 

The bubble cladding is made up of ETFE (Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene) and allows the entry of more light and heat when compared to glass. It also acts as storage units for warm air that can be pumped into the structure later and used for heating, depending on the need. The facade has led to the reduction of energy costs by 30% and artificial lighting by 55%. The structure also has filtration systems to capture and recycle rainwater or the water lost from pools. 

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5. BIQ Building, Hamburg

The BIQ building or the Algae House is a cubic structure that incorporates microalgae into its second facade. The tower consists of large transparent shells that contain algae in the water. The algae are sensitive to the sun and react to it. As a result, it acts as a shade in summer and hardly cultivates in winter, thus causing the screens to become transparent to allow the entry of light. Once the algae have overgrown, it can be converted into biogas and be used as a clean fuel to supply energy to the entire building. The facade also absorbs the sunlight that is not used by the algae and stores it in borewells under the building. It is the world’s first example of a bioreactor facade. 

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Author

With a notebook and pen in her bag and an arsenal of questions in her mind, Arathi Biju has always had a keen interest in telling a story. Currently pursuing her degree in architecture, she has always been a strong advocate of expression be it through art, architecture or words.

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