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Sustainable Shelter: Dwelling in the natural world

Shelter is an essential aspect to both human and animal life. Throughout time we have evolved and created building innovations and technologies to improve shelters. This summer at the Bell Museum of Natural History, the Sustainable Shelter exhibit provides a window through which visitors can see the many characteristics of shelter in both the human and natural world. The installations range from sustainable construction options to the intricate and remarkable engineering of a termite mound.

An anthill removed from the the earthWalking into the exhibit visitors find themselves in a house frame that has windows looking into animal living spaces. Don Luce, the curator of exhibits at the Bell, explained that “Buildings are an adaptation to the environment we need to recognize, so we tried to compare human structures to animal structures.” Throughout the installation you can see the comparisons between the natural and human world. For example, a harvester ant colony nest poured in aluminum takes up most of a wall in the exhibit that showcases the amazing and beautiful world ants call home.

In addition to seeing the many structures and shelters of the natural world, visitors can learn a little bit about the resources and energy that go into human homes. Interactive installations answer the questions, “What’s the big deal with carbon?” and “How is your home part of the Earth’s energy system?” Most of the displays are kid-friendly and accessible to curious young minds. Popular items include the “build your own sustainable home” feature, as well as the thermal glass display, where visitors can stick their hand under heat lamps to compare the effectiveness of different glazed glass used in many homes.

One of the most fascinating layouts is the showcase and comparison of the environmental impact that American homes have had over time. In the mid-1800s homes were less than 400 square feet, whereas today they can exceed 2,500. Square footage isn’t the only increase; pounds of CO2 emissions have almost quadrupled from a little more than a century ago. It’s eye-opening to realize the impact that our homes can have on the natural world around us. “People should think about their house as being part of a larger system,” Luce explained. “Once they think from that point of view, they can see the bigger picture and learn to appreciate the impact more.”

Come see the functions of shelter and the effects our homes can have on the world, and pick up advice on how we can make our homes more ecologically sustainable and efficient at this limited time exhibit.

Sustainable Shelter is open through August 21 at the Bell Museum of Natural History.


Photos courtesy of Don Luce and Lauren Schultz

Communications Assistant


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