Abigail Doan

BIOMIMETIC ARCHITECTURE: Green Building in Zimbabwe Modeled After Termite Mounds

by , 11/29/12

Eastgate Centre, Biomimetic Architecture, Biomimicry, Biomimetic Design, Biomimicry of Termite Mounds, Green Building With Termites, Eco Building, Sustainable Design, Harare, Zimbabwe, Africa, sustainable architecture, biomimicry, termite mound, construction, natural cooling, natural ventilation

Biomimicry’s Cool Alternative: Eastgate Centre in Zimbabwe
The Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, typifies the best of green architecture and ecologically sensitive adaptation. The country’s largest office and shopping complex is an architectural marvel in its use of biomimicry principles. The mid-rise building, designed by architect Mick Pearce in conjunction with engineers at Arup Associates, has no conventional air-conditioning or heating, yet stays regulated year round with dramatically less energy consumption using design methods inspired by indigenous Zimbabwean masonry and the self-cooling mounds of African termites!


Eastgate Centre, Biomimetic Architecture, Biomimicry, Biomimetic Design, Biomimicry of Termite Mounds, Green Building With Termites, Eco Building, Sustainable Design, Harare, Zimbabwe, Africa, sustainable architecture, biomimicry, termite mound, construction, natural cooling, natural ventilation

Termites in Zimbabwe build gigantic mounds inside of which they farm a fungus that is their primary food source. The fungus must be kept at exactly 87 degrees F, while the temperatures outside range from 35 degrees F at night to 104 degrees F during the day. The termites achieve this remarkable feat by constantly opening and closing a series of heating and cooling vents throughout the mound over the course of the day. With a system of carefully adjusted convection currents, air is sucked in at the lower part of the mound, down into enclosures with muddy walls, and up through a channel to the peak of the termite mound. The industrious termites constantly dig new vents and plug up old ones in order to regulate the temperature.

Eastgate Centre, Harare, Zimbabwe, Africa, sustainable architecture, biomimicry, termite mound, construction, natural cooling, natural ventilation, termitemound_cross3.jpg

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.

Termite Mound

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.

The Eastgate Centre uses less than 10% of the energy of a conventional building its size. These efficiencies translate directly to the bottom line: Eastgate’s owners have saved $3.5 million alone because of an air-conditioning system that did not have to be implemented. Outside of being eco-efficient and better for the environment, these savings also trickle down to the tenants whose rents are 20 percent lower than those of occupants in the surrounding buildings.

Who would have guessed that the replication of designs created by termites would not only provide for a sound climate control solution but also be the most cost-effective way for humans to function in an otherwise challenging context?

+ Eastgate Centre, Harare, Zimbabwe
+ Architect Michael Pearce’s biography on Architects for Peace
+ The Biomimicry Institute
+ TED Talks: Janine Benyus: 12 Sustainable Design Ideas from Nature

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24 Comments

  1. dr.a.jagadeesh February 12, 2013 at 6:28 am

    The natural cooling architecture like this needs to be adopted in tropical countries to reduce power consumption in cooling.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
    E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

  2. DETDA January 25, 2013 at 4:59 am

    As a Newbie, I am permanently exploring online for articles that can be of assistance to me. Thank you
    DETDA http://www.changyuex.com/

  3. maha dieb October 7, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    such an innovative idea applied in a great design. i think people should take this building as a guide to more sustainable buildings.

  4. Tindo October 2, 2011 at 8:14 am

    I am a student in the built environment field and i am impressed by the Eastgate green building plan.It however seems most buildings didnt adopt this plan in Zimbabwe.

  5. dr.a.jagadeesh September 1, 2011 at 9:51 am

    Good design. But there were other designs in the world which does not require air conditioning.

    Termite-Inspired Air Conditioning:

    Termite mound. Architect Mick Pearce collaborated with engineers at Arup Associates to build a mid-rise building in Harare, Zimbabwe that has no air-conditioning, yet stays cool thanks to a termite-inspired ventilation system. The Eastgate building is modeled on the self-cooling mounds of Macrotermes michaelseni, termites that maintain the temperature inside their nest to within one degree of 31 °C, day and night, – while the external temperature varies between 3 °C and 42 °C. Eastgate uses only 10 percent of the energy of a conventional building its size, saved 3.5 million in air conditioning costs in the first five years, and has rents that are 20% lower than a newer building next door.

    In India( and in many Sunbelt Developing countries) Traditional mud houses are best examples of energy conservation. There is a saying,” Well water, Brick house and Banyan Tree shade are warmer in winter and cooler in summer.

    Recently a complete mud house was built near Nellore at Pallipadu,Andhra Pradesh,India which uses mud and only columns concrete and steel. In some places people use Bamboo screens instead of metal mesh for building Almairahs. The tensile strength of bamboo is equal to that of steel.

    There is so much wisdom in traditional building construction which when blended with modern techniques will pave the way for energy efficient buildings. Our approach should be, MODERNISE THE TRADITIONAL – TRADITIONALISE THE MODERN.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore (AP), India
    E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

  6. pro zimbabwean October 31, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    This is a positive from zimbabwes highly developed education system which ironically mainly developed thanks to Mugabe(thats besides the point anywhere)

    The literacy rates in Zimbabwe compare with those of developed countries i.e they are over90%. Maybe thats what most europeans dont like about Mugabe sorry to wander off topic but its a great design ipso facto no need to digress

  7. Finding Inspiration in ... July 16, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    [...] Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe is one of the largest and most elaborate examples of biomimicry around. This building, designed by architect Mick Pearce in conjunction with engineers at Arup Associates, does not require conventional heating or air-conditioning. The building’s design utilizes principles found in African termite mounds to regulate its interior temperature while dramatically reducing energy consumption. [...]

  8. Lou Asheby July 6, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    Does anyone know the normal temperature during the day inside of an office within the building? Hopefully it is not the 87 degrees needed for the fungus growth right?

  9. ebonyunkle March 26, 2010 at 10:49 am

    To add on the above post, Mick Pearce took a couple of my students under his tutorship, in his well established practice for their internship in the .year out, and they are established archittects themselves today – unlike some european led practces, I wont mention by names @ the moment who would’nt even offer opportunities to the likes of myself with years of vast architectural experience in the UK, both academic and works. I qualified in 1987 from one of the best schools Oxford Brookes in both Architecture & Urban Design. For those out there who still hold this backward myopic views that nothing good can come out of Africa, I urge you to take the blinkers off and be more progressive. Its the same with Renweables, Africa offers the most resourceful natural ingredients SUN, Wind, Water – name it, but what do you offer as Professionals??? If its politics you are interested in this is not the appropriate FORUM for it. Let progressive and innovatives have a chance to share.

  10. ebonyunkle March 25, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    To those who have been humble enough to leave positive comments about such an innovative biomimicry green design I say thank you and good for you. I was in Zim from 1998 where I ended up helping pioneer the 1st School of Architecture with a contingent of 14 students (13m + 1f). The school organised study visit of around 6 magnificently designed ‘GREEN’ bldngs in the capital of Harare and Mick Pearce’s was top of the list. My students learnt more about ‘Sustainable’ Design compared to some, on that day. Mick conducted the tour himself complete with slide show…Dont denigrate progress for the sake ‘politics’. Reminicent of the same old ‘eurocentric’ attitude towards ‘Great Zimbabwe’ (couldnt have been biult by Africans??????

  11. Nick.Blankevoort February 24, 2010 at 12:36 am

    I m surprised nobody mentiones natural ventilation as used in the Middle East. Many trditional buildings are provided with a central ventilation shaft allowing hot air to rise.

  12. Inhabitat » BIOWA... May 15, 2008 at 10:30 am

    [...] Biomimicry – or designs based on natural systems – is one of the most intriguing methods for designers and engineers to create innovative and efficient solutions to problems. Inspired by forms and functions found in nature, this approach to sustainable design allows for environmentally friendly solutions for energy, waste reduction and a bevy of other design challenges. Using biomimicry as the guiding design principle, the Australian firm BioPower Systems has developed Biowave: an ocean power system that harnesses energy by mimicking the motion of underwater plants in the ocean currents to generate electricity. [...]

  13. Khadija January 27, 2008 at 7:16 am

    is it possible to get permission to use the above images in a related article i’m writing?

  14. Eno January 23, 2008 at 7:15 am

    I am glad that architects are looking to alternative solutions to design problems that can save the earth for disaster, and I am glad the alternative methods are functional and cheaper. With many more projects like this, maybe we just might survive…

  15. Norbert December 18, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    The Biomimicry Institute link after the article duplicates the link for the TED talk. The correct link is http://biomimicryinstitute.org.

  16. Patrick Schofield December 18, 2007 at 6:06 am

    I’ve spent time in this building (I’m from Zimbabwe) – it is quite beautiful and I recall being very excited when it was built. It’s true that Mugabe has lead Zim to the edge of the abyss, but pls remember that Zimbabwe was in a period of economic growth & prosperity when this building was constructed. It was a real celebration of innovative design and reflected the extraordinary intellectual capital that had grown in Zimbabwe – hence the location is neither ironic or ‘disgusting’ within the context of the era in which it was completed.
    Now the once bustling shopping mall is largely empty – the ‘ants’ have left for greener pastures !
    Anyone interested in termites & their extraordinary social structure should read a wonderful book by the South African Naturalist, Eugene Marais, titled, ‘The Soul of the White Ant’.

  17. SC December 17, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    Heartbreakingly ironic location for such forward-thinking ideas as even now, prime minister Mugabe purposefully drives his own people into starvation and trains children to kill (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/panorama/3479353.stm)

    If you follow the money, you find the client that commissioned this amazing building is City Centre Properties (Pvt) Ltd, which is owned by Old Main. Old Main, a financial company, is named along with Barclays and others as having provided loans to keep Mugabe’s regime alive, e.g. http://observer.guardian.co.uk/world/story/0,,2000349,00.html#article_continue.

    Even the architect of this brilliant project (who has designed many buildings in Zimbabwe) has to work outside of Zimbabe because of the political climate: http://www.corenetglobalausnz.com/Text/1176773185461-3916/pC/1141013992186-5167/ (interview with architect)

  18. Biomimicry Guild December 14, 2007 at 6:35 pm

    In addition to the Biomimicry Institute, you can find more information about biomimicry and biomimetic ideation at the Biomimicry Guild.

  19. Matt December 13, 2007 at 11:37 pm

    Termites are amazing and very successfull at living lightly in large communities. Not sure but their maybe more termites/ant on the earth than humans in biomass! This principle of biomimicry was also used in the design for CH2 in Melbourne – check it out – Also the principle architect was South African?

  20. C December 11, 2007 at 6:51 am

    I am NOT surprised that this ingenious knowledge could and does come from African countries like Zimbabwe, there are some incredibly talented people in Africa. And yes they are STARVING AND DYING in Zimbabwe… so hearing about a brilliantly designed SHOPPING MALL, is really ironic and disgusting.

  21. AlienFarmer December 11, 2007 at 5:25 am

    Really cool idea! Who knew termites were such ingenious little buggers. I think the idea of cooling tubes has been used before, but I have never seen it used to this degree. Simply amazing!

    AlienFarmer
    http://www.SolarCoupons.com

  22. Eileen December 10, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    Eastgate was built sometime in the early 1990s. When I lived in Harare (in the late 90s) it was full of offices and shops, and did indeed stay quite cool. Also, it had a killer deli on the second floor with really great salads.

  23. Brian December 10, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    Based on the description – Wicked cool! Cooling tubes and other ideas like this have been around for a long time, but it seems like this is a project that actually managed to make it functional and practical for its locale. Nice!

  24. Will December 10, 2007 at 8:32 am

    I’m not at all surprised that we can learn from the Termites, though of course there is a wild beauty to their own brainless skills.
    I am very surprised that the first place to utilize this knowledge is Zimbabwe, most of whose inhabitants are, from what I hear, on the brink of starvation.

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