Nature offers the best design with work typically unseen or noticed on a daily basis. Despite all of the differences between organisms and the complexity of ecosystems, in nature every factor is planned and executed in perfection with all resources maximized. In the human world, we are constantly trying to solve problems in all fields, such as medicine, engineering, psychology, and, of course, architectural and interior design. Our solutions, though, are not always clear or the most efficient. But what would happen if we looked to nature as our inspiration to more sustainable and efficient problem solving?
The Biomimicry Institute explains this concept as “an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies. In brief, it is the study of mimicking nature and asking ourselves ‘How would Nature do it?’
Many disciplines are lately looking into biomimicry for more efficient solutions to human needs, but Leonardo Da Vinci was one of the first scientist/designers to work with it in the modern world
with his flying machine. Another well-known biomimicry example is Velcro, which was designed by George de Mestral. George was on a hunting trip in the Swiss Alps with his dog and noticed they were both covered in burrs. A curious engineer, George studied the burrs from the burdock plant and noticed they had very tiny hooks allowing them to catch on things with tiny loops, like fabric.
In the design field, biomimicry is a tool allowing the designer to develop a more sustainable project truly in tune with nature that is not only environmentally friendly, but also maximizes resources, saves money, and can even improve the productivity of workers, the educational impact on students, and patient’s health in clinics and hospitals. Biomimicry is only a tool to develop our designs, it is not a style and it’s not necessarily linked to appearance. However, sustainable architecture incorporates diverse principles to be environmentally friendly, as economical as possible and giving a good quality of life to its inhabitants while remaining independent of particular organisms, processes and ecosystems.
There are complex examples of how architecture has been inspired by natural processes to achieve a more sustainable building, but designers and clients have the option to start small.
Two simple but effective examples of biomimicry in design involve flooring. Using carpet tiles in a random, non-directional pattern mimics a forest floor and instead of having to replace the entire floor the individual tiles can be replaced resulting in lower maintenance costs and less waste.
Lotus plants’ soluble lipids repel water (along with the bodies of large-winged insects) and have inspired the creation of textiles, glass and paints that are easier to clean and maintain, and also reduce the need for labor and chemical detergents.
Another example and passive design strategy could be developing a double faced system inspired by the cactus shape and spines where the elements would protect the façade from direct sun exposure while allowing air flow between the shading system and the envelope of the building to reduce the energy require for cooling. It could also become a rainwater harvesting system to reduce water use in water closets or landscape irrigation during rainy seasons if the building is located in a tropical climate.
Researchers have been recommending the exploration of Biomimicry as both a concept and application since it seems to be clear it is the best way to develop more sustainable architecture that will not only reshape future human habits, but will also be harmoniously integrated with natural ecosystems. The options are endless, we just need to observe how nature does it.
To learn more about biomimicry, explore the following websites and videos:
TED Talk: Biomimicry in action