Horizon Scan

This section features a range of existing biomimetic projects that utilize natural organisms to solve the primary function of thermoregulation, e.g., heat dissipation, or tackle secondary functions such as water harvesting and carbon capture. The examples are collated from around the world but are relevant to the tropics and its hot, and humid climate. They are classified by themes and their stage of development.

There are several key functions that are scaled under the overarching function of thermoregulation of building skins. The secondary functions cover a larger scope of building skins applications. For each example featured in the horizon scan the corresponding functions are provided.

Media-ICT Building 


Location: Barcelona, Spain

Creator:  Cloud 9

Status: Built

Inspiration: Phototropic Plants, Jellyfish


Organism strategy: Phototropic plants direct their leaves to catch as much direct sun as possible. These plants move their leaves through the day to maintain the optimal angle of sun.

Jellyfish emit bioluminescence in the darkness. Emitting light can serve a variety of purposes, including putting on a visually appealing show.


Design strategy: Responding to the strength of the sun, the cushion-like elements will inflate or deflate. The cushions are made of ETFE membrane, as seen at the EDEN project, and are computer controlled. This means the membranes allow only the desired amount of light and heat into the building. During the night, the building emits light in a luminous fashion reminiscent of jellyfish.


Keywords:  Limiting solar heat gain, Phototropic


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Visual by ​​José Miguel Hernandez

Water Reacting Panels


Location: London, UK

Creator:  Royal College of Art

Status: Prototyped

Inspiration: Pine Cone


Organism strategy: Pine cones have slender scales that open up in dry conditions to disperse seeds via the wind. When humidity rises, the scales curl up to prevent ineffective seed dispersal.


Design strategy: Veneer combined with nylon or polyester creates a bilayer material that mimics the outer- and inner layers of pine cones. This material detects humidity levels and changes its shape automatically.


Keywords:  Humidity Control 


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water reacting

Visual by Chao Chen

Votu Hotel


Location: Bahia, Brazil

Creator:  GCP Arquitectura and Urbanismo

Status: Built

Inspiration: Prairie dogs, Saguaro Cactus


Organism strategy: Prairie dogs design their burrows in such a way that a continuous air circulation is established. By creating a system of passages that generates low- and high pressure areas, they keep a cooling air flow through their burrows during summer. 


The Saguaro cactus grows with long spines and accordion-like folds. These folds offer partial shade and cool the air on the shaded side. This form creates a circulation around the cactus that minimizes heat absorption.


Design strategy: The bungalows at Votu have a design similar to that of the prairie dog burrows. Using computer modelling, each bungalow is strategically placed at its location to allow for optimal natural ventilation. This effect is enhanced by the shape of the roof. In addition, the bungalows have many self-shading slats inspired by the cactus. 


Keywords:  Heat dissipation, Ventilation 


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 Visual by GCP Arquitectura and Urbanismo

Warka Tower


Location: Cameroon 

Creator:  Arturo Vittori

Status: Built

Inspiration: Namib desert Beetle


Organism strategy: Micro-sized grooves or bumps on the beetle’s hardened forewings help accumulate and direct water toward the beetle’s mouth. To enhance this process, hydrophilic and hydrophobic areas are present on its forewings, ensuring great water-harvesting efficiency. 


Design strategy: Warka Tower was designed to harvest water from the atmosphere, providing an alternative water source for rural populations that face challenges accessing drinkable water.

The passive structure functions solely by the presence of natural phenomena such as gravity, condensation & evaporation. 


Keywords:  Water harvesting


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Warka Water

Visual by Arturo Vittori

Al Bahr Tower 


Location: Abu Dhabi, UAE

Creator: Aedas Architects 

Status: Built

Inspiration: Adaptive flowers 


Organism strategy: In nature, many flowers open and close their petals according to the circadian clock. More specifically, plants precisely time the onset of flowering to ensure reproductive success. 


Design strategy: The principle of adaptive flowers was translated to the Al bahar towers to reduce glare and solar gain entering the building. The shading screens fold and unfold in response to the movement of the sun, reducing solar gain by up to 50%. 


Keywords:  Thermoregulation


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Visual by Aedas Architects

Institut du monde Arabe


Location: Paris, France 

Creator: Architecture Studio  

Status: Built 

Inspiration: Human eye


Organism strategy: The colored part of the eye, the iris, helps regulate the amount of light entering the eye. When there is bright light, the iris contracts the pupil to let in less light. When there is little light available, the iris will dilate the pupil so more light can enter the eye, enabling better vision. 


Design strategy: The facade of the Institute du Monde consists of several hundred light-sensitive elements called mashrabiyas. The photoelectric cells and mobile parts open and close based on the amount of sunlight. This helps regulate the amount of light and heat entering the building. 


Keywords:  Thermoregulation, Light regulation


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Visual by Fabrice Cateloy

The Eden Project


Location: Cornwall, UK

Creator:  Grimshaw Architects

Status: Built

Inspiration: Honeycombs & soap bubble


Organism strategy: Hexagons and pentagons  (among others) are mathematical shapes that find their origin in nature. This is referred to as the Fibonacci sequence and is demonstrated by many organisms, such as sunflowers, nautilus shells, and pine cones. In nature, these shapes provide several benefits, including optimal sunlight exposure, spatial distribution and structural strength.


Design strategy: The Eden project is the world’s largest greenhouse, located in Cornwall, England. The series of bubble-shaped domes, inspired by spherical pollen structures, are quite an eye-catcher in the English landscape. The dome elements are made of a light, transparent polymer, enabling sunlight to enter the space and reducing heating costs in winter. Using natural geometry such as hexagons and pentagons, the developers were able to create the spherical surface. 


Keywords:  Thermoregulation, Structural Support, and Material Usage Optimization


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Eden project
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