Termite mound (left) and Eastgate Center (right)

Macrotermes sp. is a tropical species of termite that build mounds with a “natural air conditioning” system.  Their main food source is a fungus they cultivate inside the mound, so a constant internal temperature is needed for that fungus to grow.  But under the hot tropical sun, that can be difficult to achieve.

Don’t worry.  The termites have it all figured out.  They employ a process called convection – this is where heat is transferred from one place to another.  Hot air is less dense than cool air, so warmer air moves to the top of a space, while cooler air tends to sink.  In the case of Macrotermes mounds, as the air warms inside the mound, it rises and is released through the tall chimneys.  By doing this, it creates a vacuum in the tunnels.  This allows cool air to be sucked in their little microhabitat by creating air currents.  Voila!  Nature’s A/C. 

For this podcast, world renowned architect Mick Pearce joins us from Zimbabwe to talk about the design of the Eastgate Center in Harare.  There are no electrical AC units in the building – instead, Pearce used termite mound structure as inspiration for the ventilation system!



Originally posted Monday, July 26, 2010 on Bug Bytes.  This post can also be found on Science Friday.