Thermo-Bio-Architectural Framework (ThBA)


Biomimetic Energy Efficient Building Design

Design inspired by nature has been known as biomimicry or biomimetic design that is believed to transform human technologies into a sustainable status through translation of biological models, systems, and processes.

Considering energy efficiency as one of the aspects of sustainability in the concept of bio-inspired building design, the problem is how to access the solutions best matched to the design problem.

There is no existing tool allowing building designers to access the efficient ways found in nature for producing energy, using energy, and recycling resources.

What the research investigated was to find if it is possible to develop a generalised thermo-bio-architectural (ThBA) framework by use of which architects would be able to improve the energy performance of buildings in a wide range of climates, by following a systematic process that methodically connects design thermal challenges to thermal adaptation principles used in nature.

The ThBA was developed by studying biology to find how thermal regulation strategies used by living organisms can be classified and generalised. The proposed ThBA was confirmed and evaluated before it was used for the rest of the research. The biological part of the ThBA was assessed by biological experts within a focus group session. Having the ThBA confirmed, the research also investigated how the heat transfer principles in buildings can be articulated to be linked to the generalised thermal adaptation strategies in nature. For this, a series of case studies were selected and for each an energy simulation was run to analyse its thermal performance and identify its thermal challenges.

Then, the ThBA was used to introduce innovative solutions for improving the thermal performance of the case studies with big energy use to reveal unexpected techniques or technologies. This, however, necessitated its reconfiguration so as to be useful for architects.

Testing the ThBA for two extreme climates in New Zealand, highlighted the fact that the simple translation of the majority of biological thermal adaptation principles are being used by architects, although for some, the architectural equivalents did not function in exactly in the same way as biological thermoregulation strategies.

The differences were seen either in the central thermoregulatory principles or the broader properties within which the key principles fitted. Apart from that, for both architectural and biological thermoregulatory strategies the heat transfer parameter and methods were the same.

Given that, in a context where biomimicry is understood as the imitation of complicated thermoregulatory solutions in nature for which innovation is evolutionarily achieved, the term biomimetics seems to not have a place in the context of bio-inspired energy-efficient design considering the current state of technology.

The ThBA suggests innovative strategies that address opportunities for designing a new generation of buildings in the future.

This research was conducted at Victoria University of Wellington, School of Architecture and Design Innovation, Centre of Building Performance. Research: