Model Team



Team Profile

My team is formed of myself (Richard). I am the Director of Wild Awake, one of the partners behind the Natural Entrepreneurs programme. I've worked in nature-based learning for over 20 years and think I have a good understanding of how we can learn from nature. I think my key skills are in blue-sky thinking and making connections between seemingly different ideas and bringing them together. I'm definitely not a technical scientist but am adventerous in testing out new ideas.


  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Business
  • Computing

Topic and Challenge selected

Topic: Sustainable Cities and Communities


How can we stop buildings over-heating on a hot day?


Shrewsbury is a small town where I live. It has a population of around 85,000 people. Some of the buildings people live in are 500 years old, and there are lots of houses built before the 1950's. These are really hard to make more energy efficient. But, lots of new houses are being built and these should be easier to design differently and better.<br><br>Given the context of mixed housing stock, solutions might need to be adaptable to the type of house: new build, newer brick buildings, and older stone or timber framed buildings.<br><br>Why is this important? Apart from the obvious reason of climate change, we are getting hotter summers and warmer winters. Traditionally houses are built to protect from cold not deal with heat. We need to think more about how new houses can be better at dealing with hotter temperatures without uses lots of energy (remember climate change).

Research Questions

RESEARCH QUESTION: How does nature regulate temperatures?
STRATEGY: Termite Mounds - termites are able to regulate the temperature inside their mounds. Termites construct a chimney above their nest with smaller tunnels radiating outwards to the outer walls. During the daytime the outer walls of the mound warm up and air inside the mound near to the surface also warms up. The process of convection draws the warm air into the mound where it can then escape through the central chimney, and in the process warming the nest. At night time as the outside of the mound cools, the flow of air reverses.
DESIGN PRINCIPLE: Use form and structure to allow warm air to rise through convection.
STRATEGY: Hornet and wasp cuticle - research shows that hornets and wasps regulate temperature using their cuticle as an electrical heat pump. The cuticle acts as a stack of thermocouples which in effect transfer heat from one part of the cuticle to another. Using small electrical charges, this could help transfer heat from the within the body to the outer layers where it can disperse. It could also work in the opposite direction in cold weather.
DESIGN PRINCIPLE: Use electric voltage to transfer heat from one material to another via an electrical conductor.
STRATEGY: Dromedary camel - these desert animals use a combination of fur and sweat to stay cool. Sweat glands distributed throughout the skin allow heat to evaporate through water, similar to humans. The camel also has thick fur which does not impede evaporation, and also insulated the camel from incoming heat. The insulating properties of the fur reduce the heat transferred to the camel's body in three ways: it is light in colour to reflect light energy, trapped air within the fur creates space which minimises heat transfer by conduction, and individual hairs reduce the movement of air which reduces heat transfer by convection.
DESIGN PRINCIPLE: Use a light coloured insulating layer to reflect light energy created from material which includes multiple air spaces to reduce conduction and material to impede air flow and heat transfer by convection.
RESEARCH QUESTION: How does nature reflect heat/solar energy?
STRATEGY: Saharan silver ant (world's fastest ant) - hairs on the ant are formed in such a way to reduce heat absorption by reflecting sunlight. The hairs are able to reflect light across a wide range of the electro-magnetic spectrum. The shape of the hairs is really important. The are aligned paralell to the skin and a triange shaped in cross-section. This makes them highly reflective under visible and near-visible infrared light. This enhanced reflectivity is one element in the ant's ability to reduce body temperature by 5-10 degrees compared with other ants. Reference:
DESIGN PRINCIPLE: Use triangle shaped structures arranged in a planar array to create highly reflective surfaces.
STRATEGY: Longhorn beetle (Neocerambyx gigas) - this beetle has a super reflective pair of forewings. The wings are covered with microscopic fluffs (they look like tiny hairs) which have a clever structure and shape to reflect light and increase heat emissivity. Each fluff is triangular in cross-section with two smooth sides and one corrugated. The corrugations help reflect near infrared light more easily, due to the angles created by the corrugations. The triangular shape encourages high internal reflectivity and helps to emitt mid-infrared light more easily.
DESIGN PRINCIPLE: Triangular shapes increase emissivity of infrared light, and corrugation patterns increase reflectivity of near infrared light.
RESEARCH QUESTION: How does nature protect from high temperatures?
STRATEGY: Cacti - cacti create their own shade using a pattern of ridges and troughs. The ridges create shade for the troughs. The ridges (or ribs) create shade for the trough which also means the air next to them is cooler and can absorb more heat from the cactus which then rises and disipates on the wind. The ridges and troughs also create a bumpy surface which disturbs airflow, meaning there is more airflow to take away more heat from the cactus.
DESIGN PRINCIPLE: Use shape to create shade and surface structure to disrupt airflow.



YouTube Video


Describe how/if your final Design Solution has met your Statement of Intent, and which Nature's Unifying Patterns have helped you

So far I have investigated six natural solutions, so I should go back and explore other lessons from nature to see if there are more ways I can improve my solution.

The main NUP used is 'nature optimizes rather than maximises.' I have used this NUP in thinking how the strucutre of the building can both reduce heat absorption and expell excess heat without the need for external power for things like fans and air conditioning. I think the design is also 'locally attuned and responsive.' It does not try to use external resources to solve the challenge. Finally, it 'uses shape to determine functionality' by creating external surfaces which reflect light and a building shape which encourages warm air to escape.

To improve on the design, I need to ensure that the building materials are safe for living beings. I could also think about using solar energy for all the power needs the building might have.

Thought - am I creating a whole building or should I focus on a single element e.g. creating light reflecting surfaces?


Not yet uploaded.

Pitch Video