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The buildings that we live and work in can waste vast amount of energy on heating and cooling. Could they control their temperature themselves with a “skin” modelled on nature?

One of architecture’s great challenges is building structures that have the ability to adapt.

Our buildings consume huge amounts of energy – both to heat them when it’s cold outside, and to cool them when it’s sunny. But what if these static structures were able to transform themselves so that they retain heat in winter and stay cool when it’s hot?

Architect Doris Sung, an assistant professor of architecture at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, says the buildings we live and work in should mimic lifeforms much more. Walls should emulate skin, protecting and regulating the building. Sung says building exteriors should be like envelopes with a mind of their own, responding to changes in the weather conditions around them.

Her work on “thermobimetal” has created what she calls a third skin – a moving, adaptive coat around buildings that is closer to clothing or human skin than traditional building materials. Called Bloom, the 7m-long prototype structure, resembling a flower made of 14,000 moving panels, could herald a new way to cool and heat our cities.