If you think plants and animals have a lot to teach us, consider their next field: real estate development.
A small but growing number of architects, building engineers and scientists who design building products are looking to animals and plants for inspiration to address the challenge of being kind to the Earth while retooling the manmade environment.
Wild creatures have been adapting to their natural worlds longer than us and may have answers to the riddle of building shelter while conserving resources. And avoiding pollution. And slowing down the burning of coal and oil for electricity and so many modern comforts.
An Oregon State University chemist studied mussels clinging to rocks at a Newport-area beach and found a naturally occurring chemical model for a new adhesive to replace the formaldehyde that commonly emits toxic fumes in kitchen cabinets.
Farther afield, in Zimbabwe, where searing summers boost sky-high air-conditioning costs, architects looked to termites. They found that the tall dirt termite mounds we see only on the Discovery channel may well be situated in 100-plus-degree environments but have interior tunnels, top to bottom, averaging 87 degrees Fahrenheit.
That would be called passive air conditioning, in which hot air is naturally expelled, trapping cool air within. Buildings can do that, the architects figured, so they designed and built a shopping mall/office center that cools itself, mimicking the mound.
Result: $3.5 million saved, 75 percent less energy needed for cooling, and no A/C as we know it. Yet everyone’s comfy.