Keeping Cool with Wrinkles and Folds

Elephants are huge animals, naturally occuring in some warm places of our world where they sometimes take long walks through very arid environments. The extraordinary conditions embedded in their habitat calls upon the question of how to cool down in an effective manner. As the animals vast volume-to-surface ratio doesn’t really help them in this, simply because there is little space where heat can be dispersed, evolution has had to find a way to change the quality of this aspect to deal with the problem of over-heating. Their skin is wrinkled! And because of this, the elephants achieve a much larger surface area where heat can go away.


Krishnappa, Yatin S. Old bull elephant in the Ngorogoro crater. (2009)

Already have inventors adopted this technique and put it to good use in our computers and other technological devices in need of cooling down. The sometimes branch-like structure that go under name of ‘finned element’ extends the surface of the specific piece of hot component to help it cool down more effectively by allowing more heat to leave the object over a given time.

As human beings, inhabiters of space, we have also applied the same technique to cool down our dwellings and living spaces. Several buildings of the former medieval trading center of Jaisalmer in India for example, have chiseled and ornate facades to obtain a larger surface area where the heat can be disposed of.


Elaine, Katherine. Stone-carved haveli facade in Jaisalmer. (2011)

However, it is not enough only to have a large surface area to achieve coolness in the mid-day sun. It also helps to not getting hit by the sun by possessing a basic geometrical shape avoiding the solar rays as much as possible. The 3D form most effective in achieving this is the sphere. It also happens to be the form with the largest volume-to-surface area out of all the basic geometric shapes. And much like the elephant, who has a huge volume-to-surface ratio but is using wrinkles to extend its surface area, would it be possible to create a cool tent-like structure with an extended surface area using folds and wrinkles?


Sok Ling, Chia. Ahmad, Mohd Hamdan. Ossen, Dilshan Remaz. The Effect of Geometric Shape […]. (2007)

Tent structures play an important role in the history of Moroccan vernacular architecture. Some nomadic tribes of Turkey and Morocco traditionally have black tents. This feels wrong somehow: why are, in a place where the sun hits the earth with such terrible impact, the tents black – the color which we probably all know absorbs heat the most? Well! One theory is that the blackness of the fabric absorbs close to the whole spectrum of energy from the sun so that no solar rays carrying heat are able to pass the tent’s canvas and travel into the living space below. It is only the black fabric (and the air a few centimeters above and below it) that gets hot to later rise and disperse through the quite large fibers of the textile.

Sektionstält med pilar.jpg

Diagrammatic section of the black tent canvas’ thermo regulating abilities.

If you combine the idea of the wrinkled and extended surface, with the inherent powers of vernacular tent architecture of Moroccan nomad tribes, the result might be an interesting one! To determine the most effective way of the wrinkles and folds one has however to step into the computer world and study solar irradiance diagrams of various parametric sphere-designs. What is the ultimate size and look of the folds, wrinkles and tent-structure overall to achieve a large surface area with as little solar irradiance as possible?


Slow Furl. Ramsgaard Thomsen, Mette. Bech, Karin. Sandahl, Sofie. (2008)

One quite fitting example of how this could look, and how a specific fabric (namely spacer fabric) behaves when being folded in a particular way is found in an installation by CITA called Slow Furl from 2008. The fabric is lying on top of a wooden armament, much like some of the tent canvases of some nomadic tribes’ architecture that I have studied. To also work with this underlying structure somehow to see how the shape of this is influencing the canvas on top of it, could also be interesting to continue working with. One other thing that I found interesting in relation to african nomadic architecture and this example, is that the whole canvas in Slow Furl consists of several sewn together panels (as seen below). Some nomadic tent structures that I have looked into are also consisting of sewn together panels of fabric – maybe this could be a way of producing the tent structure? The shape of the panels could in that case, when assembled, help in achieving the desired final form of the tent.


Slow Furl. Ramsagaard Thomsen, Mette. Bech, Karin. Sandahl, Sofie. (2008)


Langley, Liz. (Feb. 2015). Why Are Elephants and Other Animals So Wrinkly? National Geographic. Retrieved 7 Sep. 2016 from

Pfeifer, Kristina. The Yöruk Black Tent: Adaption in Design in the Course of Changes in Production. PhD diss., Technische Universität Wien, 2015.

Gupta, Vinod. (Sep. 1985). Natural Cooling Systems of Jaisalmer. Architectural Science Review. Retrieved 8 Sep. 2016 from

Sok Ling, Chia. Ahmad, Mohd Hamdan. Ossen, Dilshan Remaz. The Effect of Geometric Shape and Building Orientation on Minimising Solar Insolation on High-Rise Buildings in Hot Humid Climate. Journal of Construction in Developing Countries, Vol. 12, Nr. 1, 2007. Retrieved 10 Sep. 2016 from htps://

Ramsgaard Thomsen, Mette. Bech, Karin. Sandahl, Sofie. (Feb. 2008). Slow Furl. Centre for IT and Architecture with School of Art and Design, University of Brighton. Retrieved 10 Sep. 2016 from

Krishnappa, Yatin S. Old bull elephant in the Ngorogoro crater [Photography]. 2009.,_2009).jpg (Accessed 2016-09-13)

Elaine, Katherine. Stone-carved haveli facade in Jaisalmer [Photography]. 2011. (Accessed 2016-09-18)


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