Thursday, July 17, 2008

Termite nests offer new inspiration to architects

ABC News Online, Posted 1 hour 25 minutes ago 

Updated 12 minutes ago

Australia's top architects have gathered at a conference in Melbourne on the state of design, with some predicting a better future for our cities as they adapt to climate change.

Mulling over the current state of design, some predicted a future where designers would stop making useless "stuff", turning their minds instead to creating practical systems that help people function in a drastically altered environment.

Architects will look to the natural world for inspiration, with accomplished Australian architect Lindsay Johnston saying climate change means "game over" for design as we known it.

"I think that the design industry that's based on the production of unnecessary stuff is going to be in threat. We're in for a massive change," he said.

As the convenor of the Architecture Foundation Australia and former dean of Architecture and Design at the University of Newcastle, Mr Johnston says the developed world is on a binge-buying spree driven by the design industry, and it has to stop.

"The whole design industry is largely designing and promoting stuff that we don't need, stackable chairs and tables that turn into a piece of sculpture, exotic cars, sunglasses and fashion gear," he has told ABC's AM program.

"We don't need designer plastic bottles, what we need is a solution.

"We need a system that will solve the problem of plastic bottles, or how do we find systems to grow food in urban apartments."

Another bold thinker is Mick Pearce, the architect who designed the greenest building in Australia, Melbourne's CH2 building.

He is more excited than perturbed by the opportunity climate change offers to designers.

"We're at the beginning of a biological age," he said.

Green inspiration

Mr Pearce favours buildings that mimic designs seen in nature and these days reads scientific journals for inspiration.

He says buildings covered in plants can photosynthesise carbon out of the air while floating cities like those already springing up in Holland can preserve as much productive land as possible.

"Building on, for instance, the bay in front of Melbourne is certainly a possibility," Mr Pearce said.

He says office blocks of the future could be modelled on termite nests, which have vertical tunnels that ventilate the nests using a natural updraft of air.

"You don't have to make them look like termites nests. You understand how these creates control the internal environment to a very fine degree without added power," Mr Pearce said.

Another optimistic designer is Rob Adams, the man responsible for drawing residents back to Melbourne's central business district and taking cars off the main street.

Now the head of City Design and Urban Environment at the Melbourne City Council, Mr Adams says climate change will necessitate cities that are more densely populated, but also suburbs that are much greener.

"You'll see solar voltaics, solar hot water going on the roofs, input tariffs will increase so that people actually generate a revenue off their own roof and put it back into the grid and you'll get a subtle repositioning of suburbia as this very green, not only in plant life, environmental area," he said.

Mr Adams says he is absolutely convinced that the pressures of climate change serve to make our cities and suburbs more livable.

"If we take on this challenge it might be the single best thing that's happened to us in terms of our cities," he said.

Based on a report by Jane Cowan for AM

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