Opening Trombe Wall

This project is a study of biomimetic architecture. It is a renovation project for a temperature controlling wall addition in the Bennington College’s Dance studio E320.

This skin adapts three important thermoregulatory strategies from the fennec fox. The fox’s desert habitat is characterised by extreme temperature variations. During hot days, the fennec fox cools itself by radiating heat to the environment by dilating blood vessels in its disproportionately large ears. During cold nights, these vessels constrict, shunting blood to the fox’s warmer core. At the same time, the fox’s fur helps trap an insulating layer of warm air near its skin.

This dynamic Trombe wall is an example of biomimicry at the behaviour level, in that it mimics strategies the fox uses to interact with its environment. Dark-coloured south-facing walls made of a high heat capacity material absorb solar energy, which can be radiated as heat—modifying the fox’s radiative heat exchange strategy by reversing it in order to warm an interior space. The glass overlaying these dark walls copies the insulation of the fox’s fur: ultraviolet radiation from the sun passes through the glass to warm the dark wall, which releases this energy as thermal radiation, warming the air inside the glass. The glass acts a thermal insulator, keeping this warm air close to the skin of the building. The wall also mimics the fox’s strategy of vasodilation by including a number of lightweight apertures which can be opened during hot months, breaking the glass “seal” of the trombe wall, increasing air circulation as well as the surface area available for heat transfer.