“If you want to make a living flower you do not build it physically with tweezers, cell by cell; you grow it from seed. If you want to design a new flower, you will design the seed and let it grow. The seeds of the environment are pattern languages.” – Christopher Alexander
Biomimetic architecture is a subset of biomimetics which seeks solutions to human-world problems using inspiration from nature. It goes beyond just using nature as inspiration for aesthetic design. Architects are increasingly engaging with biomimetics in design due to both the fact that it is an inspirational source of possible innovation and because of the potential it offers to create a more sustainable built environment.
Biomimicry means to imitate life and originates from the Greek word bios (Life) and mimesis (imitate). The movement was popularized by Janine Benyus (American science writer, Co-Founder of Biomimicry Institute) in her book Biomimicry: Innovation inspired by nature.
Here is a Video of Janine Benyus talking about the bio-inspired designs in nature and their potential to change the way we view and value non-human nature.
Biomimetic Architecture – The Past
Architecture has been borrowing from nature’s creativity for centuries. The ancient Greeks and Romans incorporated natural motifs and columns into a design inspired by tree branches and flowers. The ancient temples, The Pyramids, and the classical orders of architecture, all have used nature’s intelligence for construction and sustenance.
The Sagrada Familia, Spain
The Sagrada Família church by Antoni Gaudi is a well-known example of using nature’s functional forms to address a structural problem. He used the structure of branching canopies of trees as inspiration to solve statics problems in columns. Gaudi took guidance for design from natural forms and believed that the best way to honor God was through design derived from nature.
Biomimetic Design – The Present
The last 50 years have seen a rise in biomimetic architecture around the world. The idea of looking to plants and animals to improve the functionality and sustainability of humanity’s creations are gaining momentum in today’s architecture, design, and engineering industries. Remarkable projects like The Eden Project (inspired by Fibonacci spiral pattern) and Michael Pawlyn’s Sahara Forest Project (takes inspiration from Namibian fog basking beetle: Stenocara) or Mick Pearce’s Eastgate Development (inspired by termites) demonstrate how biomimetic solutions can improve the efficiency and sustainability of buildings, which is the need of the hour.
Standing 508 meters tall, this 101-story skyscraper was the tallest building in the world from 2004-2010. Designed by renowned architect C.Y. Lee, it is modeled after a bamboo stalk, and its repetitive sections are full of symbolism. There are a total of eight segments consists of eight floors each—representing the lucky number in Chinese culture. It has 101 floors above ground and 5 below, along with a multi-level mall and multiple restaurants and clubs. The skyscraper has been awarded a LEED platinum certification in 2011.
A Wind damper (the giant golden ball) is suspended beneath the observatory of the skyscraper. It generates reaction force to negate shock or vibrations caused by outside forces, so people inside the skyscraper can be saved from earthquakes and cyclones.
Biomimetic design- The future
The earth is facing one of its biggest challenges today Climate change. The adverse impacts include sea-level rise, water scarcity, increased heat, rainfall, droughts and wildfires, and many more. Despite numerous conferences and sustainability goal missions geared towards tackling climate change, little success has been achieved. Learning from plants and animals that survive in extreme climates and adapt through climate change, may provide insights on how a building could or should function in a particular climate zone. The following research paper evaluates and presents the potential of Biomimicry for climate change mitigation in the built environment. The result traverses various Biomimetic innovations and applications and their potential to sustainably mitigate the hazard of climate change if adopted.
You can read the research paper by clicking on the link below:
Michael Pawlyn is a Regenerative architect, Ted speaker, writer, and is known for his work in the field of biomimetic architecture. He is the founder of Exploration architecture and was part of the principal team of architects that conceptualized and designed The Eden Project. In the video interview below, Pawlyn talks about several conceptual projects that demonstrate how Exploration Architecture combines technology and Biomimetics to imagine structures that can integrate with natural systems in the future.