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Designer Profile

Drawing on elephants for cooler buildings

5 min read

Why biomimicry principles for buildings are good for the environment, and good for you. 

Architects and designers in Singapore have long designed with plants and foliage as inspiration as seen from the city’s lush green environment.  

What is newer is designing façade walls with patterns of bumps and crevices that mimic the fractal-like bumps and cracks of elephant skins. This natural feature helps the animal stay cool through shading, trapping cool air and increasing the surface area for water to evaporate. 

Elephant-skin inspired tiles for buildings could help them manage heat gain and improve ventilation.  
Photos by: bioSEA and Jennife Latuperisa Andresen, Unsplash. 

Such biomimicry – learning from and mimicking strategies found in nature – is fundamental to the work that ecological firm bioSEA is doing for the past year. 

The firm started in 2017 to provide ecological design services such as biodiversity surveys and conservation planning. But its founder Dr. Anuj Jain felt more can be done to bolster Singapore’s connections with nature. 

Biomimicry, as its name suggests, is about mimicking strategies found in nature, as seen in this prototype resembling a termite mound. Photo by: bioSEA

In 2021, bioSEA embarked on their Good Design Research (GDR) project to explore how biomimicry can design “building skins” that perform better in the tropics as temperature rises and Asia rapidly urbanises. The team surveyed over 40 local building professionals to identify key functions for the tropical building skin, including improving ventilation, heat dissipation, humidity control and limiting heat gain.  

Emulating nature and understanding how to be well adapted in this climate could in turn allow buildings to be more energy efficient. The process has helped them to select three natural phenomena to base their designs on. “Biomimicry is about designing with nature and is very engineering focused,” explains Dr. Anuj, who has a professional certification in biomimicry from Arizona. He adds that nature offers a wealth of solutions having adapted and evolved to different environments and climate.  “We are learning from other species and trying to do better design.” 

Besides developing and field testing the elephant inspired walls, bioSEA is prototyping two other façades – one based on the Namib Desert Beetle’s ability to condense water using bumps on its back, and another on the web of air channels that ventilate termite mounds. 

The range of prototypes developed by bioSEA. Photo by: bioSEA. 

Dr. Anuj also developed a tool kit to raise awareness of biomimicry design among building professionals in Singapore. It introduces the design methodology and showcases over 50 such designs that have been realised around the world. 

“Now that we understand the best practices from around the world, challenges faced in Singapore and have some innovative designs under our belt, we can fast track projects in the industry.” says Dr. Anuj.  

To start, he formed a multi-disciplinary network of biologists, architects, material scientists and engineers in Singapore and overseas which he can tap on in the future to develop, test and implement designs. 

He is optimistic about the prospects for this GDR research project to open up new opportunities “for the practice to carry out biomimicry in a more tangible way.” 

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VISIT
Singapore’s highest honour for designers and designs across all disciplines
One of Asia’s premier design festivals that champions design thought leadership
National Design Centre