Learning From Bug Cities

As architects and planners seek to create sustainable buildings and cities, some scientists suggest looking at the intricate home-building of insects.
February 23, 2010, 8am PST | Nate Berg
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Termite mounds, for example, are almost like tiny, self-contained cities.

"Unlike termites and other nest-building insects, we humans pay little attention to making buildings fit for their environments. 'We can develop absurd architectural ideas without the punishment of natural selection,' says architect Juhani Pallasmaa of the Helsinki University of Technology in Finland. As we wake up to climate change and resource depletion, though, interest in how insects manage their built environments is reawakening. It appears we have a lot to learn.

'The building mechanisms and the design principles that make the properties of insect nests possible aren't well understood,' says Guy Théraulaz of the CNRS Research Centre on Animal Cognition in Toulouse, France. That's not for want of trying. Research into termite mounds kicked off in the 1960s, when Swiss entomologist Martin Lüscher made trailblazing studies of nests created by termites of the genus Macrotermes on the plains of southern Africa. It was he who suggested the chaotic-looking mounds were in fact exquisitely engineered eco-constructions."

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Published on Monday, February 22, 2010 in New Scientist
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