Biomimetics Architecture

The term biomimetics or biomimicry originates from the Greek words bios, meaning life and mimesis, meaning imitate. Biomimetics refers to imitating natural strategies (not forms) to devise new sustainable solutions.

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Exterior view of Gardens by the Bay, Singapore(source:-thrillophilia.com)

Biomimetic applications produce innovative and impressive architectural systems. The following are a few examples:-

1. Responsive Facade

Yes, the concept of the responsive facade is biomimetic too. It stems from the concept of spiky or fibrous husks that protect the fruit or the seeds inside. The facade of Esplanade Theatre, for example, mimics the semi-rigid skin of the durian plant which is covered in thorns to protect its inner content. The building’s exterior adjusts throughout the day to allow sunlight in without overheating the space.

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Exterior view of Esplanade Theatre (source:-dp architects)

2.Termite Mound’s Ventilation Structure

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(source:-Mickpearce.com)

Minuscule termites build giant mounds to grow and house fungus (their main food). The amazement kicks in with the complex ventilation system of this structure…The Fungus must be kept at 87 F while the outside temperature ranges between 35 F (night) – 104 F (day). Termites achieve this by constantly opening and closing thousands of heating and cooling vents at the surface of the mound. Air is sucked in the lower part of the mound, moving down into the mud enclosures and up through the channels at the peak. The termites continuously dig new vents and plug up the old ones to fine-tune the system.

Eastgate Center in Zimbabwe mimics a similar concept. The concrete building mass warms or cools the winds entering the building depending on which is hotter, the concrete or the air.

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Exterior view of  EastgateCenter(source:-cadevangelist.com)

As in the termite mounds, the air enters the building into the lower floors and offices before escaping through the chimneys at the top. This system reduces the building’s energy consumption to less than 10% of a conventional building.

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(source:-livinspace.net)

3. The Gherkin

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Sea sponge(source:-Pinterest)

The UK’s most iconic skyscraper ‘30 St Mary Axe’, more commonly known as ”The Gherkin” was one of the first environmentally progressive buildings in the city of London.

It was completed in 2004, the 180m tower has an air ventilation system similar to sea sponges and anemones.

These creatures feed themselves by directing the flow of seawater through their bodies.

And similarly, The Gherkin is supported by an exoskeleton structure and is designed so ventilation flows through the entire building.

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The Gherkin building (source:-londontopia.net)

4. Eden Project

The Eden Project, nestled in a clay pit near the hamlet of Bodelva in Cornwall, UK, houses an extraordinary collection of plant species from tropical rainforest and the Mediterranean.

The dome building is a spectacular view especially its “curvilinear” shape is an example of “softer edge” geometrics which is a point of fascination for architects today.

Architect Nicholas Grimshaw’s huge transparent semi-spherical creations were inspired by the shape of soap bubbles and the building’s “core” education center mimics the Fibonacci spiral pattern found in many natural objects such as pinecones, pineapples, sunflowers and snail shells.

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The Eden Project (source:-WikiArquitectura)

5. The “Algae House”.

Germany’s extraordinary “algae house” or BIQ building in Hamburg actually incorporates living matter ‘microalgae’ into its design.

One side of green-hued tower’s largely transparent surface contains tiny, growing algae that can control the light entering the building and provide shade when needed.

It’s the world’s first example of a “bioreactor façade”.

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The algae house building (source:-Pinterest)

Algae produced within the transparent shell are continuously supplied with nutrients and carbon dioxide by a water circuit that runs through the building’s surface.

The algae create a sun filter, In winter for instance, when there’s hardly any light and Hamburg is pretty grey for a long period, then the algae will not propagate and the façade screens will be very transparent, and so light comes through.

When enough algae have grown they can be harvested and used to make biogas(a renewable energy source made from raw materials) to supply the building.

The ingenious design was completed as a prototype for the International Building Exhibition in Hamburg in 2013.

6. Spiraling Chicago Tower

The Chicago Spire has been called the world’s most significant residential building, featuring 150 floors and 1,194 residences. The slender structure rotates each floor an average of 2.44 degrees to total 360 degrees from top to bottom, guaranteeing that no two views are the same.

It is the second tallest building in the world after Burj Khalifa.

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Spiraling Chicago tower(source:-Pinterest)(source:-Wikipedia)

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the structure is replete with biomorphic elements. Its helical form incorporates the golden mean and the Fibonacci sequence to closely mirror the spiraling growth of the nautilus shell.

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Nautilus shell (source:-goldennumber.net)

The sparkling super-structure incorporates a variety of sustainable elements, including a fluid facade shrouded in high-performance glass that has been designed to protect migratory birds. All landscaping is maintained via a rainwater recycling system, and a geothermal system draws river water to cool the building. The entire interior is outfitted with an Intelligent Building & Energy Management System, and it bests energy efficiency standards by 15 percent.

Since the advent of the 19th century, the midst of all industrialization and rapid urbanization the standard of sustainability of cities got compromised.

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(source:-Bagchi law)

“ For the first time in history, more than 55% of World’s population lives in an urban area, By 2050 it is expected to increase to 68%.”

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(source:-Deccan Herald)(source:-New York Times)

Air pollution, road traffic congestion and lack of safe spaces for walking, cycling and physical activity all contribute to rising deaths from stroke, heart diseases, cancer, respiratory illness, and injuries.

Poor urban sanitation and waste management perpetuate the transmission of vector-borne and infectious diseases such as diarrhea and T.B.

“With the rising demand for better sustainably designed buildings, it becomes more and more important for the young architects and the urban planners to understand the need of the hour and come up with better sustainable solutions for the future projects of development of urban infrastructure and habitat.”

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The green tapestry in Changi Airport’s Terminal 3.(source:-eco-business.com)

Biomimetic Architecture is one such branch of design, where sustainable solutions for the growing modern urban population could be found.

Biomimetic in architecture not only produces creative systems but also induces creative thinking in Architects.

The Biomimicry Design Spiral

The Biomimicry Design Spiral is a step-by-step process for turning nature’s strategies into innovative and sustainable design solutions. The Biomimicry Design Spiral was developed in 2005 by Carl Hastrich, an industrial designer who was one of a cluster of devoted individuals that we can thank for building the foundations for biomimetic as we know it today. Hastrich took a standard design process, added the unique steps needed for biomimicry, and then, emulating one of nature’s pervasive patterns, he turned the process into a spiral.

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Biomimicry Design spiral  (source:-Adopted from Carl Hastrich via the Biomimicry Institute)

The Biomimicry Design Spiral shown here is used when you know what problem you are trying to solve. To use this method, you start with the Identify step, where the objective is to identify the functions that your design needs to perform – what you want your design to be able to do. Once you have created a list of functions, you Translate those functions into words or terms that make sense in the biological world. Next, you Discover strategies that Nature uses to accomplish these functions. (This is the step most unique to biomimetic.) In the Abstract step, you “reverse engineer” the strategies you have discovered, and describe how they work in terms that make sense to your design profession. The Emulate step is where you use your professional skills to create a design solution based on emulating one or more of the strategies that you have discovered and abstracted. In the Evaluate step, you do three things.  One is to evaluate your design solution against your original design brief. Another is to evaluate your design against Nature’s Unifying Patterns (or “Life’s Principles”), nature’s rules for sustainability. The third is to reflect on the many ideas and lessons that emerged in the previous steps, and strategize how you want to use the next lap or laps around the spiral – and you will likely take many laps!

So in one ‘lap’ around the Biomimicry Design Spiral you:

  • Identify one or more functions that you want your design to perform,
  • Translate those functions into biological terms,
  • Discover strategies that nature uses to perform those functions,
  • Abstract those strategies back into technical terms,
  • Emulate those strategies in your design solution,
  • Evaluate your design against your design brief and Life’s Principles, and then decide how you want to use your next lap.

The Power of the Spiral Process

One of the most powerful aspects of the biomimicry design spiral is the spiral process itself. You will notice that the biomimicry design spiral drives outward, just as spirals in nature grow outward. When following this spiral process, you start at the center, where each ‘lap’ around the spiral is small and quick. Taking numerous quick laps at the beginning of a design process allows you to rapidly explore many potential options and opportunities, reveal hidden assumptions, generate and sift through many wildly creative ideas very quickly, and see what begins to emerge before committing to a particular solution pathway. This approach minimizes the time needed to achieve radical sustainable innovation.

The sequence of steps in the biomimetic design spiral includes divergent and convergent thinking followed by reflection and redirection. This sequencing, repeated with each lap, allows you to continually drive towards more innovative and effective design outcomes without getting stuck in “analysis paralysis.”

The spiral is a fluid process. You can dive in at any point, focusing on what’s most important to you and your project at any given time. If you’re using biomimicry for design, you start with the Identify step. If you are seeking to invent something entirely novel, you might start with the Discover step. If you are interested in expanding your pool of innovative, sustainable design strategies and solutions, you could start at the Abstract step. If your goal is to get out of a rut and spark creativity, you could jump right into the Emulate step. If you want to assess and enhance the sustainability of an existing design, you could start with the Evaluate step.

The spiral process also allows you to dynamically optimize team performance. Depending on how you and your teamwork, you could go through the spiral together, collaborating and co-creating with each step. Another option is for each of you to step through the spiral independently, convening to co-create after each of you generates his or her own bio-inspired design ideas and solutions. You may find that different people are uniquely good at specific steps. Whichever way you approach it, you’ll find that using the spiral can catalyze curiosity, creativity, co-creativity, and even trust in your design team.

To tackle the tremendous challenges that we face today, we need levels of curiosity and collaboration, creativity and co-creativity, imagination and ingenuity that are often suppressed in our working environments. It might seem like we need magic powers to achieve our goals at the speed, scope, and scale needed! It may not be magic, but you can use the power of the Biomimicry Design Spiral to generate wildly innovative and sustainable design solutions, whenever and wherever needed.

Author

An optimistic Architect, loves to understand the impact of nature on human minds and interpret it with her architectural abilities making her an avid blogger, which is  about sustainable cities, bio-philic holistic design philosophy and built environment. She is currently pursuing her diploma in Horticulture and Landscape Design.

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