Thursday, January 9, 2014

... the reality of the world consists almost entirely of a hybridity within which it is impossible to disaggregate that which is natural and law like and unchangeable and that which is human, interpretive, and at times capricious.                          

Daniel Milller

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Architecture of tiny creatures

Architecture of ant hills and their subterranean colonies are eye opening examples of the amazing world of brainless creature’s  design excellence. (See:   , )  They seem to be great city planners and architects of underground cities of up to a million inhabitants.  Different researchers have studied them by pouring molten aluminium, plastics, or by pumping liquid concrete into mouths of the subterranean ant colonies ( cruel way , one could say) to study the complexity and design of these underground cities.  The results show that ant colonies go as deep as 3 M  and have corridors connecting bulbous spaces in several layers below earth. Taken out of earth carefully, the hardened aluminium mould looks a chandelier like structure.  Or like a Calderian sculpture. Some ants   also build structures up to sixty feet above the earth’s surface, using saliva and mud particles. They are inspiring as sustainable creations  as they  are zero carbon zero waste  systems, amazingly resource efficient, and  energy efficient as well in creating  thermal environment. They show  great efficiency in structure,  material manufacture, in water use  as well as  energy generation and management .  A social haemostasis of self regulation is achieved it, is said. 
(for more details see

Researcher Prof. Tshinkel with aluminum cast of ant colones.
Similarly there are efficient hanging and aerial cities of bees and wasps produced with saliva and pulp.  Some hive walls of one millimetre thickness has a thermal insulation quality equivalent to a nine inch thick brick wall!  One can wonder endlessly on natures marvels.
Great designs as we, the designers  of human habitat see it;  innovative in their own right, sustainable in an anthropo-centric way. Are we studying, marvelling and evaluating their architecture as a future to get out of our own environmental predicaments? Certainly there may be many things we can learn from them. But are they really adaptable to our needs and do they really hold ways to achieve sustainable future?
Biomimicry or biomimetics is about mimicking nature for human tooling. Velcro is an adaptation of the way certain insects hang on to goat skin intvented by  a Swedish scientist. Architecture has been mimicking nature in building and making tools for long in form making. We copied forms and shapes of nature; shells, skeletons leaves and flowers and animal shapes, in different materials for its aesthetic appeal.   Modular by Le Corbusier was adapted  the proportions found in nature. Innovative adaptations  they are. But  larger system like ant colonies is more complex than just amazing forms. The crux of the matter is actually in knowing the way these systems came about in nature and the process of getting there. All this with out a hierarchical command structure or a Central Processing Unit. Understanding iterating algorithms and devising codes which dumb robots can perform repeatedly and which become parts of a grand design is being explored for long time. That of course with the help of a speed computer these days. Much community traditional architecture of the past were by evolving simple codes woven into a grand pattern without self-conscious effort. The complexity of woven textiles of Patola , handloom designs of many places in India, the carpets of Kashmir, architecture of Kerala and Kathmandu valley are examples such designs evolution.  So are many organic settlements. which are just accretions of individual efforts.
Ants and bees achieve all this without any formal schooling, no long hours of slogging in studios, no parametric design iteration,  no low paid internship ; they are efficient in that way too.  Their efficiency lies in their political and labour management system; a Queendom  of labourers with a busy queen (or queens, there are some ant varieties with oligarchic and multi queen colonies) producing and laying eggs and reproducing labourers, who untiringly keep working on an assigned repetitive task that they are programmed to do efficiently. Like robots. They are also ruthlessly controlled by natural selection of their efficiency and perhaps the total population as well to suit the locations, resources and natural features of their habitat.  This may include succumbing totally or partially to natural catastrophes. Sometimes manmade or other animal made too. Even the organic settlements of humans are no more tenable with ever changing economic systems modifying the politics and societal structure; globally and locally.

In second thinking these amazing world of tiny no brain creatures is to see not as great store house of ideas for sustainable design, but as a design of a habitat system that suits and evolves out of a unique political and social organisation. Environmental adaptation seems the only aim in their production systems and habitat systems. Limited or no innovation is high priority, sensuous sensibility is not a design aim at all; it is all utilitarian dictated by the societal structure. Above all there is no private property and no desire to excel or show off wealth or intelligence more than the other.  Snobbery is design force, for humans. No fast movement, pace is same as always has been, no new acquired abilities over centuries.   A total antithesis to cultural world of humans and their evolution. Amazing as they are, will these habitat systems give any clue to organise our world? Who wants to live like an ant or a bee even if as a queen  of a kingdom or queendom?