08
May
08

Termite Tower Ultimately Sustainable

Termite Tower

What’s two miles high, a mile wide, and holds a million inhabitants? A termite tower reconceptualized for people. In gizmag, Loz Blain explores the implications of Eugene Tsui’s visionary approach to life on earth as it would be lived by upright bipeds in a group home designed by insects. Of course, termites don’t pay 150 billion dollars for their towers. Or maybe, in termite terms, they do? But here’s Blain, on why it’s so exciting anyway:

Designed to be virtually impervious to wind, water and earthquakes, the massive tower is conceived less as an architecture project but as a series of mini-ecosystems within which other architectural projects can be developed. And it offers some ingenious ideas on energy production, water use and intra-colony transport.

Of course, for now, the Ultima Tower remains in the realm of imagination. Lately, it no longer means anything to say a building looks science-fictional, because many now do. But this one really does. It belongs to a class of phenomena known as massive vertical solutions: huge megabuildings that actually contain whole towns, cities, or even countries. Eugene Tsui presents the tower as a framework in which many other smaller architectures can exist – including twelve large bodies of water. Plus, it sits in a lake, and the pedestrian bridges across the lake are curved, not straight. 120 levels are called for, each one of them as much as 50 meters high.

Tsui is famous for drawing inspiration from nature, though in a big-picture kind of way, it’s astonishing that looking to nature for workable, proven solutions should be considered unusual in any way. The idea for the tower came to him when engaged in a study of San Francisco, which clearly is in need of help if it is to remain livable. The architect says the whole area now has an “offensive countenance” – the best description of urban sprawl that’s been heard in a while.

The tower’s structural, water, energy, transport and safety issues are seen by the architect as the main challenges. That’s putting it mildly! Those categories cover just about everything.

So… how about those structural challenges? To distribute stress, you’ve got your double-helix cable network all around. Elsewhere, the tower described as a suspension cable bridge, only vertical. The aerodynamically valid shape resists earthquakes, and the whole thing is made from steel, concrete, stainless steel cable, anodized aluminum, ceramic, and glass.

Water? Tsui took a clue from how trees manage their hydraulics, and envisions a system of capillary action based on transpiration and cohesion to move water up. The cooling system imitates that of a termite mound, depending on water, though vegetation and windows also come into play. Also in the plans are natural water-cleansing systems and composting toilets.

Energy? The whole structure is covered with wind turbines and photovoltaic cells on walls of structural glass, and there will be a process called Atmospheric Energy Conversion. Energy comes from electricity, water or hydrogen gas, with nary a combustion engine to be found anywhere in the tower. One light source is the hollow, mirrored core and allowance is made for the need of plants to maintain tropism.

On the Ultima’s own site, we learn such interesting statistics as the amount of time an elevator takes to get to the top: about ten minutes. Of course, termites don’t have elevators. But, leaving that aside, should humanity emulate termites? Is this project feasible in the real world?

SOURCE: “Two-mile high termite nest proposed to counter the population challenge”05/05/08
photo courtesy of jonrawlinson , used under this Creative Commons license

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1 Response to “Termite Tower Ultimately Sustainable”


  1. 1 Jerry Catt
    June 13, 2008 at 11:26 pm

    I have a very small dirt tower built in my flower garden (I have a picture). It is between 5 and 8 inches tall, and only about 1/2 thick at the bottom and smaller at the top with a small hole. Could it be termites?


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