Nature and natural processes are the guiding principles or the main metaphors of the design approach. – Frank Lloyd Wright
Biomimicry or biomimetics is the adoption of strategies, processes, or models in nature to solve complex design challenges. Biomimicry in Architecture is the designing of buildings or systems which stimulate the cycles occurring in nature. A lead engineering professor at Princeton, Sigrid Adriaenssens talks about the ability of nature to convert waste to food – a cycle that has been ignored in Architecture.
Biomimicry has been studied only for the past half-century, but the incorporation of nature into buildings had begun much before…The Golden Ratio. The Golden ratio reflects the pattern of growing spirals in nature. The golden ratio can be seen all around us – in flower petals, shells, pinecones, pineapple spires, DNA molecules, and even in hurricanes. The golden ratio was used to design the Parthenon, a temple to worship Athena in the Acropolis of Greece. The golden ratio is also known as the Fibonacci sequence, which is the mathematical equation wherein the longer part divided by the smaller part, equals to the sum part both parts divided by longer part, both of which equals 1.618. The golden ratio is seen all around us and is considered the beauty enhancing factor, hence the use of golden ratio often results in a perfectly proportioned design.
Ornamentation was predominantly inspired by nature. The use of organic elements adds a graceful component to the design. The addition of organic components can be seen from the Greek Ionic column to Art Deco. Nature was always worshipped through the course of mankind. The idea of ornamentation complementing nature symbolized respect towards Mother Earth and nature. The element of nature also created contrast in this man-made world. The organic forms were also used to bring in a layer of complexity to the plain surfaces and straight lines.
In the 14th century, Vitruvius man was drawn by Leonardo Da Vinci based on the works of the Roman architect, Vitruvius. Vitruvian man is the study of ideal proportions of the human form. The idea of proportions from the Vitruvian man was implemented in the designs by Da Vinci and Andrea Palladio.
In recent times, Biomimicry has been thoroughly studied and implemented by architects and designers across the globe. Biomimicry can be seen adapted in three levels:
1. Organism Level
30 St. Mary Axe, London also known as the Gherkin would be the example for Biomimicry at an organism level. The building has an air ventilation system similar to the sea sponges and anemones. The sponges have evolved a system of directing fluids directly through their body. The ventilation system involves open green pockets which also provide for as a break space for the people working inside the building.
2. Behaviour Level
The East gate Centre designed by architect Mick Pearce in conjunction with engineers at Arup Associates showcases the behavioral level of biomimicry. Biomimicry practices Critical Regionalism, a system evolved to withstand the geographical and climatic conditions of its location. The building works with Passive Ventilation. The exterior skin has multiple minute openings which reduce heat gain and allows the building to breathe. The high thermal mass of the concrete and earth construction absorbs heat during the day, keeping the interiors cool. At night this heat is radiated into the building to warm the night air. This enables a drastic reduction in energy consumption.
3. Ecosystem Level
The ecosystem-level showcases systems involved in the circular economy and a circular consumption cycle. The Cardboard to Caviar Project founded by Graham Wiles in Wakefield, UK has successfully converted waste to food. The cardboard disposal was causing a problem for the community of Wakefield. The hunting of caviar in the Caspian Sea has led to the commercial extinction of caviar. The cardboard to caviar project was developed to solve both the problems using a circular consumption cycle. The cardboard is sold to equestrian centers as horse bedding. The waste is fed to the microorganisms in the compost. The plumped worms are fed to the sturgeon to produce caviar.
The development of technology has enabled new ways of incorporating biomimicry into architecture. The ‘algae house’ in Hamburg incorporates live algal matter in their walls to produce a bioreactor façade. The algal mass filters the light entering the building providing shade within. During winters the algal growth does not propagate excessively due to reduced intensity of the winter sun. This causes the façade screens to be transformed into transparent screens that allow maximum light into the building. The biomass is fed with nutrients to trap CO2 to produce biogas to supply renewable energy for the building.
Biomimicry is the future of design. Biomimicry, a concept of the 20th century has an R&D of over 3.8 billion years. Nature has sustainable ideas to tackle all the complex man-made problems. Biomimicry helps us design generously and with a circular cycle of life.