A biomimetic building: The walls have eyes


The current issue of The Economist has an intersting article about biologically-inspired architecture:

So far, the use of biomimetic features in buildings has been driven as much by aesthetics as by function, and has been limited to relatively simple, passive systems. The Arab World Institute in Paris, for example, has an array of mechanical, eye-like irises on its south-facing facade. These open and close to control the amount of light entering the building, thereby regulating the internal temperature.

A quick search led me to this fantastic photograph of said mechanical irises, taken by  Carlos E. Restrepo


3 thoughts on “A biomimetic building: The walls have eyes

  1. This is really cool. Great day for picking up the architecture Mo, thanks. I am a huge architecture buff – which when combined with my love of books, such as your beautiful libraries, is great. But new and exciting ideas, such as this one really make me giddy.
    My last major architectural excitement, was a building in France, that took green architecture to a whole new level with living siding. It was a number of flowers, interspersed with a lot of green, growing on a felt based medium.
    I actually had the opportunity to help install a sod roof, on a building that houses an ISP. We created what amounts to a huge aluminum basin, layered with gravel then peat as a growth medium. There are also several solar panels to power the heating and cooling – both of which are minimal, due to the design. In winter, the servers themselves provide a lot of heat – their fans run into ducts that can either vent outside in the summer, or into the offices in the winter. The roof drops the temperature by about fifteen degrees on average. A heat pump and geo-thermal pit do the rest. I am proud to say that I helped design the roof, drainage and catch basin system – which provides water for the “lawn” during dry spells, essential to help keep the cooling effect from the roof.
    In the whole biomimetic theme, would a smart-house module then be considered the “brain” of the building?

  2. uurrr, that’s a horrible idea. what drives all those irises? how do you get power to them? how do you easily detect one getting stuck or breaking down? how do you maintain them and fix breakage? what’s your lubrication oil bill going to look like, never mind the power bill for driving the things? nasty, nasty building maintenance proposition.
    fancy roof construction and geothermal heating, now, there are good ideas. nice thick walls of heat-retaining materials (dirt, stone, concrete) can also work well if designed and architected right.

  3. Nomen Nescio –
    You’re right, it would be a maintenance nightmare – but not necessarily as bad as one would think. I was unable to find out more about the actual mechanism they used, but I can make a pretty good guess as to how the system works. I did find another picture on wiki though.
    First, it would appear that they are sandwiched between panes of glass. This would seriously reduce problems with mechanical failure, which is most often caused by junk gumming up the works. If sealed properly, which I am assuming they are, there would be very minimal lubricant loss. Evaporants would be condensed within the structure, likely on the metal frame to be redistributed on the moving parts. The actual degradation of the lubricant would bve negligible.
    The second is much more of an assumption on my part. I would assume that the irises are solar powered. It would make a lot of sense – the irises close when the sun is beating on them. Figure they don’t actually burn much juice, they aren’t any different than the irises on a camera. Even if they aren’t solar powered, they probably use less power than traditional cooling systems. It is also possible that it is an entirely mechanical mechanism. As for individual irises breaking down, it probably wouldn’t be noticeable. Unless an entire panel failed, or the larger irises, it wouldn’t be seen except upon close inspection.

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