Termintes, Zimbabwean architecture and creativity: Mel Lester’s E-Quip blog

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Mel Lester's blog
Mel Lester
Mel Lester

I’ve always enjoyed Mel Lester’s E-Quip Blog, both for its diversity and for its thoughtfulness. However, in evaluating his blog as a (nominated by me) contestant in the 2013 Best Construction Blog competition, I didn’t expect to learn in Cultivating Creativity in Your Firm about an office building in Harare, Zimbabwe, built on biometric principles — achieving incredible energy efficiency through a design that followed the African termite’s habitat.

He wrote:

Mix different disciplines and perspectives. Innovation usually results from linking pre-existing ideas in different combinations. New ways of doing things are rarely new; they are simply reconstituted. How does this happen? By bringing fresh perspectives to the problem, often from outside the disciplines you would expect to be best suited for the task.

The design of the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, for example, involved the unusual combination of architecture and biomimicry—one of the first of its kind in 1996. The unique ventilation system, which requires 10% of the energy use of a building with a conventional HVAC in that climate, was derived from the natural design of termite mounds. Turns out the architect had a passion for ecology.

eastgate centre harare
Eastgate Centre in Harare (from Inhabitant: Design that will save the world)

You can promote better innovation simply by combining different disciplines in atypical ways. Bring in construction experts during the planning stages. Engage nonengineers—even people without a technical background—to help with engineering design. Exchange ideas with professionals in unrelated businesses.

These kinds of cross-disciplinary collaborative actions contribute to what is called associative or inter-sectional thinking. This involves connecting seemingly unrelated ideas in ways that often lead to creative breakthroughs. For more on this approach, check out this summary of the popular book The Medici Effect by Frans Johannson.

This is just one of several creativity-inducing concepts Lester advocates in his blog post.  Others include (he provides detailed explanations of why these are important):

  • Set aside time for creative reflection;
  • Place constraints on the brainstorming process;
  • But don’t rely too much on group think; and
  • Break the routine.

You’ll learn something new in every post your read.  I’m probably more knowledgeable and interested in Zimbabwean affairs than anyone reading this blog, but I didn’t know about Eastgate and the building’s termite-mound concept ventilation system.  Lester’s blog (if I could) would be worth my vote.  Maybe it can be yours as well.

Voting for the 2003 bBest Construction Blog competition continues until April 1. You can vote (and see the results-to-date) here.

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