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How the complexity of termite nests impressed the design of a Swedish college

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In cities around the world, architects are constantly trying to design and develop buildings that are visually appealing, energy efficient, and durable. Your ideas are influenced by a nearly limitless number of factors, from budget and technical constraints to historical and aesthetic concerns.

Perhaps surprisingly, the natural world can also be a direct source of inspiration.

Anders Nyquist's redesign of a school in Timrå, Sweden, for example, was inspired by termites.

"It's an idea of ​​biomimicry," Nyquist, who has worked as an architect since 1962, told CNBC's Sustainable Energy.

"The termite nest is a solar collector … When the sun shines on the tower, the nest, you heat up the whole nest."

Nyquist also explained these termites dug networks of underground canals into their nests, which cooled the incoming air. This inspired his 1995 design for the Laggarberg School in Sweden.

An air intake was built away from the main part of the building, with the school basement acting as the "supply air duct".

Above ground are brick walls that can absorb heat, plants that purify the air, and windows that provide ventilation in warm weather.

"When the sun shines on the roof, the air slowly goes to the chimneys on top of the building, and those chimneys are connected to the ventilation system from the classroom," said Nyquist.

"It means that in winter, when it's minus 20 (degrees Celsius or minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit), we can warm the air to plus two (degrees Celsius) … and it means we're saving energy," he said added. "This is part of the cooling system even in summer."

The school wasn't the first time Nyquist had designed a project based on sustainable principles.

In the 1960s he began work on a development near the Swedish city of Sundsvall.

"We bought 18 acres of land and planned a village," he told CNBC. The focus of the program was on sustainability, self-sufficiency and the environment. Features include the village with its own water supply as well as a small sewage treatment system.

"You can't get a change until you have good examples," Nyquist continued. "My little village here is just a good example and Laggarberg School is also a good example of being inspired. "

The power of biomimicry

Alessandro Bianciardi is an environmental engineer and co-founder of a start-up called Planet that focuses on "biologically inspired design for sustainable innovation".

Speaking to CNBC, he said that biomimicry could help us develop products that are more efficient.

"Not just the products themselves, but the way we make them and how we dispose of them or reuse or upcycle them," he said.

"For example, we have intelligent systems for managing factories that have (copied) algorithms from swarm intelligence, the same intelligence that ants and bees use."

Bianciardi went on to say that biomimicry could also help improve renewable energy technologies, such as a more efficient wind turbine that emulates the fins of whales.

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Katherine Clark