Office blocks modeled on termite nests and buildings that can resist climate change have been the focus at a conference by some of Australia's most influential designers in Melbourne. They are calling for radical changes to the way that buildings are constructed. Architects have said that the natural world should be a great source of inspiration. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.
Australian designers have said this is the beginning of the "biological age." A conference in Melbourne has heard that their professional attention needs to be diverted from creating items society really does not need - such as stackable chairs that turn into a piece of sculpture, fancy sunglasses and exotic cars.
What they want to see are designs that harness the forces of nature, through buildings covered in plants that can draw carbon dioxide out of the air, and floating cities that preserve fertile land for farming.
Mick Pearce, a Zimbabwean architect living in Melbourne, has been inspired by the humble termite.
"Rather like blood circulating in our veins, inside the termites nest it is air that is moved by external temperature and pressures," Pearce explained. "The termites nest is a system like our bodies. It's self regulating temperature-wise and that, in a way, is an excellent model for a building. It's an extension to our metabolism, if you like, and this means you can build a building and use far less energy."
In Zimbabwe, Mick Pearce has constructed offices built on such principles that have employed vertical tunnels for ventilation and consume about 10 percent of the electricity of a normal air-conditioned building. He has also designed a similar structure - called Council House Two - which has become one of Melbourne's most energy efficient buildings, using the sun and the wind for heat and cooling.
The environmentally friendly building in the heart of Australia's second biggest city consumes only 15 percent of the energy of a regular office tower and about 30 percent of the water.
Lindsay Johnson, governor of Architecture Australia, a body representing the profession, was a keynote speaker at the design conference. He says taking inspiration from the natural world has become imperative.
"This is the way to go and basically we all have to really think about how we're going to live without depending on oil or coal," Johnson said. "The really badly designed buildings of the recent past which have depended on fossil fuels to make them habitable will become a thing of the past. I think everybody will have to adapt to this."
Climate change and Australia's response to it have become major points of discussion. The driest inhabited continent is one of the world's worst per capita emitters of greenhouse gases. Some scientists have warned that Australia was facing a ten-fold increase in heat waves as a shifting climate increases temperatures.