Green Highlight

Learning from Social Insect Engineering


Based in Mumbai, India, Nuru Karim is the Founder and Design Principal of Nudes, a practice that “…operates within the realms of cross-disciplinary cultures of public art, architecture-urbanism.”

Nuru gave a TEDx Talk, The Humble Termite, and Other Stories, and spoke to the collective intelligence of termites during their construction engineering and building.

With a brain the size of a grain of sand, termites engineered millions of mounds, 60′ apart, geographically as vast as Britain, and equal to the material volume of 400 pyramids in Giza. These mounds age back to 4,000 years ago and were built in the northeast of Brazil.

Termites used simple materials: soil, dung, and saliva. It takes four or five years to construct the mounds, which are constantly evolving and are subject to natural disasters. They repair and rebuild their “evolving cities.”

These mounds are also temperature-controlled systems, with efficient heating and cooling systems. Individually, a termite doesn’t have the intellect to build, but collectively they get the job done. Principles drive them. They construct social conventions and follow the same set of rules.

The construction industry is a billion-dollar industry and hasn’t collectively functioned. What can we learn from social insect engineering? Watch Nuru Karim’s TEDx Talk to learn more.


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