Michael Pawlyn On Sustainability

‘Sustainable Design’ is more than just a trending buzzword to Michael Pawlyn. In his presentation, ‘Biomimicry In Architecture’ at Velux Daylight Symposium, he approaches the idea of re-imagining buildings to evolve beyond the mere benchmark of passable efficiency. He probes the big questions of what it means to elevate lifestyle rather than just focusing on sustaining it, the challenges of growing into a solar economy and ultimately bypassing the linear system dependent on finite resources, and what it would take to close the proverbial loop. In short, Pawlyn believes that utilizing existing resources at maximum efficiency calls for (at the risk of sounding cliche) backtracking to the source and turning to nature for inspiration.

Youtube for architects: Michael Pawlyn - Biomimicry in architectural design - Sheet1
Michael Pawlyn_ ©Alchetron

Introduction To Biomimicry 

Nature is the ideal self-contained model of efficiency and a ready-made example of integrating complex systems with the greatest possible resource efficiency. The first step to generate innovative solutions towards a regenerative paradigm as opposed to a sustainable paradigm is lining up existing design utilities and considerations such as light, temperature, ventilation, materiality, etc, and drawing linkages to similar natural systems. Pawlyn’s videos detail the design and inspiration process clearly and comprehensively in such a way that even the most biology illiterate person can follow design conceptualization to practical implementation with ease.

Youtube for architects: Michael Pawlyn - Biomimicry in architectural design - Sheet2
Biomimicry Concept Sketch_ ©ExplorationArchitecture

Design Development

He explains using the simple cause and effect examples; for example, he points out that the current CO^2 production during the manufacture of concrete accounts for 8% of global emissions, the solution would be to find and analyze a natural system that mimics large scale concrete structures and analyze how natural growth patterns are best evolved to suit its existing environment. Pushing for concrete solutions prompts him to investigate interlocking coral reef structures whose strength coupled with their staggering intake of carbon dioxide during the growth and expansion of the colony ties in to give a neat solution to our construction crisis. He elaborates upon the need for greater interdisciplinary collaboration between engineers, consultants, and biologists to provide viable regenerative models of space.

Using this approach, Pawlyn’s architectural firm, ‘Exploration Architecture’ develops creative solutions to using radically less concrete in traditional buildings by studying bird skulls, a glazing system inspired by curved leaf and shell forms that use 50% less glass and 75% less aluminum and develop a shading system with capacity for internal electrical generation by studying folding beetle wings. He introduces a fresh and invigorating approach to traditional standards of construction and design that is inspirational; the biomimetic office is the perfect example of such a regenerative transformation of a mundane function-taking inspiration from the spoon fish eye to utilize reflective surfaces to draw light into the interior, maximizing light reach to the lower recesses of the building by playing with a concave shape and developing fiber optic cables on the model of the rainforest plant to collectively design an office with low net energy consumption. Pawlyn believes that by giving due importance to natural elements, you elevate the daily user experience and create a healthier environment.

Youtube for architects: Michael Pawlyn - Biomimicry in architectural design - Sheet3
Biomimetic Office_ ©ExplorationArchitecture

Pawlyn’s Niche Edge

Pawlyn sets himself apart from other architects advocating for biomimicry by arguing for tangibility in solutions provided. Instead of painting castles in the air and lamenting about failure to progress at the rate required to match the pace of technological innovation with the expertise required (such as the production of glass using light alone as observed in sea sponges i.e., photoelectric manipulation), he provides examples in the here and now and strives to implement his suggestions to full effect. Having worked as one of the lead architects in the critically acclaimed EDEN project, he is among the few professionals questioning the relevance of scampering after meeting the mere benchmark of LEED requirements and instead proposes an altogether different track towards complete regenerative self-sufficiency in buildings. 

Youtube for architects: Michael Pawlyn - Biomimicry in architectural design - Sheet4
Eden Project_ ©Michael-Pawlyn

Regenerative Paradigm

According to Pawlyn, we have far surpassed the stage where minimization of negative impacts of the global climate emergency is enough to be our salvation and must look towards more ambitious game plans that seek to create a positive impact that gives back to the environment. This philosophy is a core fundamental of Exploration Architecture’s design process and is seen time and time again: from the proposal of integrating thin steel rods immersed in saline solution to expand the Biorock pavilion through natural processes of electrically induced calcification and the ingenious suggestion of growing low light intensive plants under curved solar panels to utilize space more efficiently and draw in local fauna to contribute towards desert reforestation initiatives in the Sahara Forest Project.

Youtube for architects: Michael Pawlyn - Biomimicry in architectural design - Sheet5
Sahara Forest Project_ ©ExplorationArchitecture

Biomimicry Today

Modern problems require modern solutions and Palwyn suggests utilizing 3d printing and modeling to full effect to mimic the accuracy of natural algorithms and growth patterns in structures bringing us a step closer to the harmonious integration of spaces. 3D printing remains an invaluable tool for Exploration Architecture’s design process; in 2014 they developed a 3d printed table model that used a 1000th of the material that a table of that volume would normally occupy by following bone and tree growth algorithms to optimize material efficiency. Similarly, 3d printed mockup models of the base structure of the bio rock pavilion help to mathematically fine tune the shell-inspired amphitheatre design and help to predict growth modules and adjust to respond efficiently according to site need.

3d printed table 2014_ ©ExplorationArchitecture
3d printed table 2014_ ©ExplorationArchitecture

Pawlyn’s Philosophical Problem

For someone who believes in critically analyzing existing solutions, Pawlyn tends to oversimplify existing problems in his videos to the point where they appear slightly detached from reality. A common statistic in most of his discussions involves base analysis of rising carbon dioxide emissions and posing that as the most pressing opening problem statement. Reality is far more complicated, with the truth being that simple reduction of carbon dioxide emissions are not a viable solution to counter all the effects of climate change alone and solutions such as adapting agricultural practice and mass movement of cities to higher ground considering rising water levels are likely to yield more immediate results. Such a flaw in his reasoning could be attributed to time constraints within each video. The most pressing concern he glosses over in his videos is the lack of organized managerial practices and solutions to manage existing technologies and resources. Mismanagement of resources and materials far eclipses the need for creative technological solutions in the existing practice-lack of training being the weakest link of the system.

Abalone House with Carbon dioxide absorbent roof tiles_ ©ExplorationArchitecture
Abalone House with Carbon dioxide absorbent roof tiles_ ©ExplorationArchitecture

New Horizons For Biomimicry -Pawlyn’s Unique Perspective

Pawlyn’s videos are well worth the watch for all those looking for a fresh and innovative spin on the typical jargon that surfaces when discussing biomimicry. He provides valuable insights into the design approach and the need to develop regenerative buildings that evolve to give back to the environment rather than reduce losses alone. Architectural Exploration’s projects are an excellent study in implementing conceptualized natural phenomena. Despite glossing over managerial theory, he manages to provide an intensive introduction to his approach to biomimicry in each video. Guaranteed to inspire, inform, and push you out of your designers’ slump, Pawlyn’s lectures on biomimicry are relevant for both students and practicing professionals alike.


Disrupters, E., 2021. Biomimicry-A regenerative Paradigm by Michael Pawlyn. [online] Youtube.com. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZbv9tc3Prc> [Accessed 9 November 2021].

Lindsay, C., 2021. Biomimicry has positive impact on planet says architect Michael Pawlyn. [online] Dezeen. Available at: <https://www.dezeen.com/2020/10/22/michael-pawlyn-exploration-architecture-dassault-systemes-video/> [Accessed 9 November 2021].

Pawlyn, M., 2021. BIOMIMICRY IN ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN – The Daylight Site | Daylighting research, architecture, practice and education. [online] The Daylight Site | Daylighting research, architecture, practice and education. Available at: <http://thedaylightsite.com/biomimicry-in-architectural-design/> [Accessed 9 November 2021].

Pawlyn, M., 2021. Biomimicry in Architecture. [online] Routledge & CRC Press. Available at: <https://www.routledge.com/Biomimicry-in-Architecture/Pawlyn/p/book/9781859466285> [Accessed 9 November 2021].

Velux Group, T., 2021. Michael Pawlyn-Biomimicry In Architecture. [online] Youtube.com. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdoriWPaaDI> [Accessed 9 November 2021].


A self proclaimed literary geek, Aiman Shahid has a soft spot for all things archeological. Born in Lahore, Pakistan, she is currently surviving her third year as a student of architecture at N.C.A. She hopes to make her fellow architects feel less at sea ,one article at a time.