The bower of the vogelkop gardener bowerbird is a complex architectural masterpiece, built to attract mates. The tower, called the maypole, is set around a thin trunk. Anything with striking colors is used to decorate it: blossoms, fruits, leaves, mushrooms, mosses, and even trash left behind by humans in the Arfak mountains of Indonesia.

With great skill, baya weavers in Namibia construct their nests from thin blades of grass. The stalks are bitten off and then used for weaving while still fresh. After a short time, the tropical sun dries the green blades and the nest hardens and changes color.

A European red wood ant nests in Hessen, Germany. In comparison to their body size of just one centimeter, red wood ants build true skyscrapers. Structures made of plant material and earth can reach more than six feet high. Inside the tower, there is a complex system of paths so that no water can penetrate. They often transport materials that weigh 40 times their body weight.

Australian weaver ants building their nest by pulling on leaves and working in chains, in Northern Territory, Australia. The adult builders pull leaves together with their pincers then interweave them with silk threads produced by their larvae. They can build an entire nest in 24 hours.

Huge fields littered with the towers of the compass termite, averaging almost ten feet tall. The flat-sided constructions are arranged in a precise north-south orientation with an ingenious ventilation system that ensures a consistent internal temperature within the structures.

The towers of Australian spinifex termites in Northern Territory, Australia often reach more than 20 feet high, and are some of the most spectacular animal constructions in the world. A single structure can accommodate 2-3 million termites. The workers bring small balls made of earth and saliva to build up the mound. Soldier ants with gigantic heads and strong pincers watch over the workers.

Co.Design

See The Homes Of The World’s Best Architects: Animals

Amazing animal architecture, from beaver dams to 19-foot-high cathedral termite mounds.

Long before Frank Gehry and Anton Gaudi, the world’s most masterful architects included termites, beavers, wasps, and bowerbirds. In Animal Architecture, a new book from Abrams, German photographer Ingo Arndt captures the stunningly intricate structures that animals around the world create using nothing but nature’s raw materials and their beaks, claws, paws, and teeth.

The book’s 120 photographs reveal that an eye for design is native to a wider variety of species than anthropocentric sorts might think. Many of the boxy houses in which we humans live pale in comparison to these animal-designed dwellings.

Vogelkop gardener bowerbirds, for example, have keen eyes for color—in the Arfak mountains of Indonesia, they adorn their bowers, like teepees made of woven sticks, with color-coded piles of blossoms, leaves, mushrooms, and moss. Like decked-out bachelor pads, the flashiest bowers have the highest chance of attracting mates.

Read this book and marvel at the fact that Australian weaver ants tend to be more efficient and industrious than teams of human builders—they can build an entire massive nest within 24 hours—think of the months it takes for teams of (hopefully agreeable) human architects to build houses. And thousands of years ago, it appears, the inventors of paper in China drew inspiration from wasps, which create delicate, sculptural nests from a paper-like material made of masticated wood.

Born in 1968, Arndt, who regularly photographs for National Geographic and BBC Wildlife, has been obsessed with nature since childhood, and aims to use his photography as a tool for environmental protection. In the introduction, he notes that human architects could take a hint from animals' sustainable designs:

"It is rarely the animal architects alone that benefit from their constructions; there are also many other users, whether they serve as roommates during the builders‘ lifetime or take over their structures long after the builders are gone. Mites inhabit beehives, hermit crabs move into empty snail shells, a large number of living creatures benefit from the hydro-architecture of beavers, and coral reefs are used as building materials by humans. The principle of sustainability applies to animal constructions. They are usually used over many generations, are always environmentally friendly, and are even biodegradable."

So far, humans are still the only animals who feel the need to build hideous McMansions, but hopefully someday we'll build our homes with as much class and practicality as beavers and termites.

Animal Architecture is available here for $20.

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