A Self-Cooling Desert Dwelling, Inspired By The Lowly Snail

The winner of a biomimicry design challenge solves the problem of keeping houses cool in the desert by looking to the animal that already has a house that’s been working perfectly for millennia.

The desert: It’s a hot and unpleasant place, but people keep insisting on living there (just ask the Phoenicians; those are people from Phoenix). Because people aren’t willing to live only in places where the Earth makes it a pleasant temperature naturally, architects and engineers are going to need to come up with ways to make it okay to live in the desert without using tons of energy to keep those houses cool. One way to do that is to look to the plants and animals that live in the desert and which manage to survive without any air conditioning.


That was the theme of the winners of this year’s Biomimicry Institute’s student design challenge, which asks student designers to use the lessons of nature to improve our world. The winners, Elnaz Amiri, Hesam Andalib, Roza Atarod, and M-amin Mohamadi from Art University of Isfahan designed a building inspired by the lowly snail, an animal which manages to keep cool and moist despite the hot desert sun.

Most animals in the desert have biological enhancements that allow them to live, but, says Hesam Andalib, the snail is already basically a natural building that keeps its inhabitants cool and protected. “We focused on the snail because of its amazing form and mechanism, which make its life possible in a quite architectural way.”

“The most important aspects inspired by the snail,” says Andalib, “are its unique form, its material, and its cooling strategies.” To mimic these, the building has an overlapping and curvy shell to minimize the amount of sunlight that hits any part of the roof. The building itself is an off-white color, to reflect more of the sun’s light (though whether this works is subject to debate). When a snail gets hot, it retreats deep into its shell. The building uses this as a model for a series of deeper and deeper areas that allow for rooms of various temperatures: the farther back you go, the cooler it gets.

The students tested their building designs using Autodesk’s Ecotect Building Analysis, which found that it achieved its goals in terms of temperature management. Whether that means that deserts of the world will soon be dotted with snail shell buildings instead of regular, stifling houses remains to be seen. But that’s certainly not a stranger vision of the architectural future than some of the skyscrapers we’ve seen recently.

About the author

Morgan is a senior editor at Fast Company. He edits the Ideas section, formerly