This spring I’m researching termite architecture. I became fascinated because termites have been cited as the inspiration for the first “passive” temperature controlled building—the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, which was designed by Mick Pearson and constructed in 1996. Pearson laid the groundwork for temperature control that uses larger ventilation shafts, fans, and a lot of concrete. The concrete warms up in the daytime and holds some of it’s heat at night. It can also stay cooler in the day. While termites don’t use fans, and their version of concrete actually traps CO2 instead of adding to air pollution, the design has been referenced countless times as an example of more sustainable architecture and of biomimicry. 

Meanwhile, termites are public enemy #1 for architecture in the collective imagination. So I grew interested in learning more about how they construct their living structures, and why there is a disconnect between their contribution to the ecosystem and their reputation.

This led me to look at their communication strategy. Termites knock their heads against their tunnels, passing a vibration that gets passed down the line in order to quickly spread a signal throughout hundreds of thousands of colony members, much like a viral tweet or the “People’s Microphone” (MIC CHECK!) used in protests without a P.A. system. 

I’m continuing my research with an upcoming project publication in Art Journal, though I’ve had some setbacks—it turns out no one wants termites near their structures, surprise, surprise. I’m continually adapting the work to the lived circumstances of people and animal companions, so it’s just another step in the process.