The Breathing Building
The Israeli pavilion, LifeObject
The 15th international Architecture Biennale
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Arch.Farah Farah, Arch. Moti Bodek, Prof. David Elad
Bio-inspired building ventilation is a new biomimetic concept that mimics the process of nasal air-conditioning of the inspired environmental air. The proposed project of a dynamic structure which is anchored in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of the city Ashdod is the outcome of a joint collaboration between architects and bioengineers. It is designed to fulfill the challenging function of optimal HVAC system by using natural resources in a sustainable and ecological manner.
The transition from building structures characterized by small windows and thick insulating walls that preserve a constant temperature in the building space to the mass production of structures constructed from rolled steel with many windows necessitated the development of mechanical HVAC system to improve climate comfort within the built structure. These systems are essentially static, wasteful, lacking in environmental consideration and do not relate to existing ways of thinking sustainably.
In recent years considerable efforts have been made in the field of biomimetic architecture to create ventilation systems that preserve environmental balance and reduce the building’s carbon imprint. Many of these new ideas are based on treating the architectural structure as a living body that synergizes with the surrounding ecosystem through mechanisms which mediate movement of air. Notable research has been developed by Michelle Addington of Yale University, who proposed systems for controlled ventilation based on dynamic plumes of heating and cooling air that enclose building surfaces convection patterns similar to those that occur around human bodies. The architect Doris Sung  proposed to condition the interior environments by using architectural surfaces made of smart metals that respond to external stimuli without consuming external energy resources. While most of the published attempts to create biomimetic ventilation systems were motivated by the large external surfaces of mammalians, we have chosen to base our new concept on the functionality of the mammalian nose, a small interior air-conditioning organ, and scaled up the dimensions to create a dynamic breathing building.
About the project
The new concept for a breathing building was bioinspired from the sophisticated performance of the human nose. The nasal cavity is a complex three-dimensional structure with narrow passageways for the respired air which are lined by mucus-secreting cells on top of a rich blood vasculature. It communicates between the environmental air and the interior lungs, and thus, it is the front line defender of the internal respiratory organs. The defense duties include alert of hazardous environments and adjustment of the inspired air to the internal lungs conditions. Accordingly, the functional roles of the nasal cavity are: (i) to filter particles greater than 5 micrometers by trapping them in the ciliated mucosa and removal towards the nasopharynx; (ii) to condition the inspired air via warming and moistening by the nasal mucosa and underlining blood vasculature; and (iii) to smell with the olfactory sensors at the ceiling of the nasal cavity. Thus, healthy humans normally breathe through their nose. The research group of David Elad 3 and Michael Wolf 4 at Tel Aviv University demonstrated via comprehensive studies the efficacy of the human nose to condition the inspired air at different extreme environments.
The project site is located at the estuary of the Lachish river to the Mediterranean shore. It enjoys a rich landscape between the city of Ashdod in the south and its port in the north. The proposed structure merges with the local port environment. The main building structure is erected above sea level and supported by ‘legs’ which are anchored in the seafloor. These legs have three functional roles: (i) provide the building foundation; (ii) enables delivery of fresh environmental air into the building interior; and (iii) pump deep earth water of constant temperature similar to mammalian blood. The water is part of the geothermic system, so that much like the blood in our respiratory system, it stays at a constant temperature throughout the year.
The new concept of bioinspired ventilation mimics the self-regulated physical mechanisms within the nasal cavity which are based on heat and water vapor exchange by inducing close contact between air and water. Similarly, the new concept for building HVAC system will be implemented by forcing environmental air into the building interior via a series of heat exchangers made of pipelines and folds which are supplied with deep earth geothermic water of constant temperature. In the proposed project, environmental air will be forced via the legs of the structure by flapping wall units that mimic the flapping of bird wings. The inspired environmental air will be transferred via the heat exchangers with constant temperature based on geothermic water, and thus, the air will be cooled or warmed according to the seasons of the year. The flapping walls will be activated by motor units made of smart materials that will be powered by solar energy. The proposed air conditioning process is based on the integration of the properties of environmental air and geothermic water which will lead to self-regulation throughout the seasons similar to nasal breathing.
Once the conditioned environmental air is introduced into the main building space it will be transported upward via the central atrium and a peripheral gap surrounding the working space of the building. The external envelope will include rigid flapping screens that will increase the pressure gradients required to move the air upward. Pumping the air through the building legs and sucking the polluted air through the building skin will ensure a constant flow of fresh and conditioned air during all seasons, The flapping openings of the external skin are activated by the same motor units as the flapping units around the legs. Protected openings in the building ceiling will allow for efficient ventilation of the building, as in the respiratory system of mammals. The system of double screen walls will also supply thermal insulation to the inner working space.
Once the conditioned environmental air is introduced into the interior space it will be transported upward via the central atrium and a peripheral gap surrounding the working space of the building. The external envelope will include rigid flapping screens that will increase the pressure gradients required to move the air upward as well delivery of fresh air into the working space of each floor. These screens will be activated by the same motor units as the flapping units around the legs. Protected openings in the building ceiling will allow for efficient ventilation of the building, as in the respiratory system of mammals. The system of double screen walls will also supply thermal insulation to the inner working space.
Enlarging the scale of the nose’s structure, and architectonically adapting it through biomimetic processes constitutes a conceptual breakthrough in the innovation of air conditioning and ventilation systems for buildings (See Figures 1,2.) In the same way that our body exploits the resources at hand in an optimal fashion, carrying out processes of heating and cooling of air while maintaining a constant temperature within the blood, we are proposing a superior HVAC system that is far more sustainable than those currently in use. It seems likely that integration of existing technologies adapted to this model will enable its application in the foreseeable future in an economic and efficient manner which will be able to function independently, without the external interventions that characterize conventional air conditioning systems. [Farah9]
The new concept for bioinspired building ventilation stems from the biology of nasal breathing and was implemented in the design of the proposed project by merging architecture innovation and advanced bioengineering research. The outcome is a sophisticated functional architectural structure which is environmentally friendly and merges well with the local landscape. It is an excellent example how biomimetic ideas can advance urban structure and maintain ecological principles.
Modu Studio is an architecture and urban planning practice founded by architect Farah Farah, senior lecturer at the NB Haifa School of Design. The studio merges between theoretical and practical approach. Nowadays it focuses on a different type of projects including residential, mixed-use projects, public buildings, commercial centers, and urban planning.
Special thanks to M.Des Jonathan Lazovski, 3d artist Uri Kita - Bonsai Studio, Eng. Uri Mash - Stratasys, Mr. Phillip Lev - Synergy 3d printing.
Bodek Architects is an Israeli firm based in Tel Aviv. It was founded by Moti Bodek, Senior Lecturer In Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. The office is engaged in the research, design, and construction of buildings and projects based on high skills techniques of manufacturing and construction, inspired by natural systems.
Special thanks to Dan Shapira, Eyal Fourmansky, Alon Bodek.
Professor David Elad Prof. David Elad, Department of Biomedical Engineering
The Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel
Special thanks to Dr. Eduard Moses and Dr. Shmuel Olek from J-Rom Ltd. for conducting the computer simulations of the Flapping windows.
Ashdod Municipality, Bonsai Studio, Stratasys
 Naftali S, Rosenfeld M, Wolf M, Elad D. The air-conditioning capacity of the human nose. Annals of Biomedical Engineering, 33: 545-553, 2005.
 Wolf M, Naftali S, Schroter RC, Elad D. Air-conditioning characteristics of the human nose. The Journal of Laryngology & Otology, 118: 87-92, 2004.