Eco-friendly structures don't have to look like ugly gray boxes. In fact, saving the enviromment can inspire some of the best design out there. Here are five ways biomimetics takes the elegance of nature, and makes it work for us.

1. Termite mounds as buildings


Termite mounds are gigantic heaps of mud, out in the sun all day in the desert. We have a word for what they should be like: ovens. Instead, they're cooled by a complicated system of passageways and materials designed to funnel hot air out, and let cool air in.

Already, there are buildings based on this concept. During the day, they store hot air in certain areas and save it up in materials that absorb a lot of heat. At night, vents open at the top of the building and the hot air shoots out. This creates a minor vacuum that sucks in cool, dense, night air from vents at the bottom of the building.

As you can see, these buildings look good on the inside. On the outside, so far, they look like regular buildings. Some day, with luck, the designers will get over their human hang-ups and design them to look like termite mounds. That will be a fun day.


2. Windmills of whale flukes.

You know what's huge and heavy, but gets around the ocean efficiently? A whale.


The folks at Whale Power noticed this, as well as the bumps on the front of whale's flukes. The tubercles reduce drag, allowing the whale to move more efficiently through the ocean. Whale Power wants to use that to make fans use less energy, and help windmills provide more energy. By cutting out the waste, they can make everything more efficient and beautiful, from wind turbines to the little fan cooling your computer.

3. Giant metal seaweed and fishtails that harvest energy


A new way to solve the energy crisis will liven up the scuba-diving experience. Metal structures placed on the sea floor will use the motion of the waves to harvest energy from the ocean. As they get pushed back and forward, they will drive generators. This particular model uses the shape and bouyancy of seaweed. As an added bonus, it will, like kelp, lie flat against the ocean floor when the seas get too rough, minimizing damage.

Another design by the same company, BioPower, doesn't have the advantage of laying low.


It will, however, gain extra energy from the motion of any shark that chooses to attack it.

4. Batplane


This solar powered spy robot would fly over combat zones, taking pictures and getting back information. And it . . . okay. It's a solar-powered, bat-shaped spy plane. Yes, it's only six inches long, but do I really have to explain why it's cool?

5. Helios car

I know that cars are supposed to be like cheetahs and mustangs and thundercougarfalconbirds, but aren't those concepts a bit tired at this point? I know that, when I fantasize about driving along the coastline of Monaco, perhaps so I can get to my massive airship which will take me to my quaint hideway palace sunken under the waters of the Philipines, I don't want my car to look like this:


I want it to look like this:

Or, more specifically, like this:


The Helios car uses solar energy. I think you can spot the panels. They fold down into the car, but who would ever want them to? If these things were tooling around, I think we'd finally get an end to all those road trip movies that have teenagers going across country in VW vans and 60's convertibles. At long last, we would have invented something cooler.

Top image: Termite mounds by Sebastian Burel/Shutterstock. Whale image by ECOSTOCK/Shutterstock.

[Via BioPower, athousandgreatideas, Now Toronto, Design World, and]