For years humans have sought answers from nature, and nature being one of our planet’s oldest residents, is the most experienced species that has successfully survived for a long time. From self-healing abilities to tolerance against environmental exposure, from resistance to self-assembly, nature has helped to solve engineering problems as well as provided innovative design solutions.

With the upcoming trends in architecture and design, one of the most popular and significant trends is to develop ideas for a sustainable future. Architects and designers across the world are experimenting with materials and devising new techniques of construction. They are becoming increasingly aware of the need to adopt different methods to make the building as sustainable as possible. While some of these technologies are adaptive and responsive to the environment, Biomimetic designs or Biomimicry is becoming popular and one of the most sought-after ways to design new buildings.

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Colourful Olympic Stadium reflecting in water_©Luciano Bonomo

What is Biomimetic design?

The biomimetic design stems from the idea of imitating nature and using the understanding of natural processes, systems, and elements to solve human problems. The primary idea of the biomimetic philosophy is that nature has undergone the most evolution amongst the living species on the planet and found ways to survive against all odds. These methods can help to seek solutions for developing designs that not only replicate the forms of nature but understand the rules that govern the forms. 

Biomimetic design is a multi-disciplinary approach to sustainability that goes beyond seeking inspiration from nature only for the aesthetics of a built form and follows a certain set of principles to solve functional problems of a building and save energy. 

The Origin of the Concept 

1452-1519- The origin of this concept of being inspired by nature can be traced back to the times of Leonardo Da Vinci, who created notes and sketches by studying birds to seek methods for enabling human flight, though it wasn’t successful.

1903- Even the Wright Brothers derived inspiration from pigeons in flight to develop the first aircraft. 

1950- American biophysicist and polymath Otto Schmitt studied nerves in squid during his doctoral research and developed the Schmitt trigger, which replicated the biological system of nerve propagation.

1957- Schmitt coined the term biomimetic.

1982- Biomimicry was popularized by scientist and author Janine Benyus in her 1997 book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.

In the book, Benyus suggests seeing nature as a model, measure, and mentor while emphasizing sustainability as an objective of biomimicry

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DaVinci’s Flying machines are examples of biomimicry, due to how he copied the wings of birds_©www.tomorrowsworldtoday.com/2019/09/05/the-world-of-biomimicry

Core principles of Biomimetic architecture

  • Nature as a Model

By studying the natural processes, systems, strategies, and forms, Biomimicry seeks to find sustainable solutions in architecture and design across various scales. 

  • Nature as a measure 

Studying nature as a measure is to use an ecological standard of measuring the sustainability and efficiency of man-made innovations. 

  • Nature as a mentor

This refers to using the principles of nature and its biology as an inspirational source and learning from it. 

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Jean Nouvel and OXO Architects design a mixed-use complex inspired by the shape of a mountain_©Compagnie de Phalsbourg

Designing using Biomimicry 

Sustainable designs

Biomimicry is inspired by life’s principles that are sustainable such as using a bottom-up approach to build, enabling self-assembly, optimizing rather than maximizing, using the available source of energy, embracing diversity, learning to adapt and evolve, using eco-friendly materials and processes while designing and so on. By following these principles that nature has already experimented with, we can design products and processes that are in harmony with life on earth. 

Designs that Thrive

Just as nature has been a keen learner to make strategies to thrive, for 3.8 billion years, doing case studies of different elements of nature, and integrating the principles in design, can help our designs thrive in the marketplace too. 

Designs that Save energy

Nature learns to use energy efficiently by storing it or converting it from other sources like sunlight or optimizing its use. Similarly, by integrating energy-efficient strategies in design, one can reduce energy consumption and costs of building drastically.

Designs that lower material costs

Studying how elements of nature take different shapes according to the required surface area or underlying structural systems and analyzing how they are built can help to minimize the use of materials in design while maximizing their effectiveness to get the desired results. 

Designs that redefine and eliminate waste

Nature transitions materials and nutrients within a habitat in a certain way. By studying the process that nature uses to transition materials and nutrients within a habitat in a certain way, the project can be designed to use the available resources optimally and avoid unnecessary waste. This will help reduce the cost of construction or create new methods of profit generation focused on recycling or upcycling waste. 

Innovative designs

Biomimicry gives a new perspective to see stale or outdated products in a different light, thereby creating opportunities for innovation in design. 

Scope for Invention with Biomimicry

Biomimicry science has been studied increasingly by advanced technology fields to create robotics, nanotechnology, or industrial technology using principles of biomimicry. This can lead to a revolutionary transformation of the current trends in the industry or build entirely new industries.

Notable examples of Biomimetic Designs 

  • Eastgate Center- Harare, Zimbabwe, designed by Mick Pearce

Inspiration- Termite mounds 

Design strategy- using a passive cooling technique by carefully analyzing the functioning of a termite mound and integrating it into the building’s design, thereby keeping the building ventilated and cool entirely by natural means. 

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Eastgate centre_©David Brazier
  • Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore- Florence, designed by Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi 

Inspiration- eggshells 

Design strategy- a lighter and thinner dome for the Cathedral was designed by studying the strength of eggshells. 

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Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore_©James Taylor-Foster

 

  • Gherkin- London, designed by Foster & Partner’s

Inspiration- marine organisms called “glass sponges.”

Design strategy- The building’s ventilation system is designed like how the organisms suck in the water at the bottom and expel it at the top to filter nutrients.

  • Buga Wood Pavilion- Germany, designed ICD/ITKE University of Stuttgart

Inspiration- sea urchins 

Design strategy- the resultant form of the building uses less material and comprises lightweight elements which are connected by finger joints inspired morphologically by the anatomic features on the edge of sea urchin’s plates. 

Buga Wood Pavilion_©Roland Halbe

Santiago Calatrava, Nicholas Grimshaw, Frank Gehry, Michael Sorkin, and Renzo Piano, among others, are some of the internationally recognized architects known to rely on the zoomorphic inspiration for the designs, processes, and concepts that shape their buildings.

Biomimetic designs in relation to Sustainability 

Eric Corey Freed suggests that if architects tap into the potential of Biomimicry and biophilic design by learning how to work with nature rather than against it, then a large number of problems related to the construction process or environmental damage caused due to the carbon emissions can be solved.

By creating design strategies that echo nature’s own logic and bringing nature into the projects by studying the relative context, we can make conscious decisions during designing and hence produce truly authentic, unique, and sustainable designs. 

Considering that nature is the most experienced in creating biological structures than the technologies developed by humans, with the planet’s ongoing and growing crisis overuse of energy and resources, the need to rely on nature to innovate is further emphasized.

An important thing to keep in mind is that biomimicry being a multi-disciplinary approach, architects, engineers, biologists, and material scientists will have to come together in collaboration and strive towards working for a more sustainable future.

Biomimicry has the potential to become the future of sustainable architecture and design, as long as it is integrated into the project for functional purposes and not just mere aesthetics. 

References:

Online sources:

  1. Mortice, Z. (2016). Nature Does It Better: Biomimicry in Architecture and Engineering. [online] Redshift EN. Available at: https://redshift.autodesk.com/biomimicry-in-architecture/
  2. Wahl, D.C. (2020). Biomimetic architecture. [online] Age of Awareness. Available at: https://medium.com/age-of-awareness/biomimetic-architecture-514e72cb2c36  [Accessed 16 Feb. 2022].
  3. Arch2O.com. (2019). Arch2O. [online] Available at: https://www.arch2o.com/biomimicry-enhances-architecture/
  4. Souza, E. (2021). Materials at the Intersection of Nature, Technology, Art and Architecture. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/962156/materials-at-the-intersection-of-nature-technology-art-and-architecture?ad_source=search&ad_medium=projects_tab&ad_source=search&ad_medium=search_result_all
  5. Daudén, J. (2018). Why Nature Should be a Co-Author in Architectural Projects. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/907679/why-nature-should-be-a-co-author-in-architectural-projects?ad_source=search&ad_medium=projects_tab&ad_source=search&ad_medium=search_result_al l [Accessed 16 Feb. 2022].
  6. Wikipedia. (2022). Biomimetics. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biomimetics#Biomimetic_architecture  [Accessed 16 Feb. 2022].
  7. Wikipedia Contributors (2020). Biomimetic architecture. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biomimetic_architecture
  8. Wikipedia. (2020). Eastgate. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastgate_Centre
  9. Dezeen. (2019). University of Stuttgart creates biomimetic pavilions at Bundesgartenschau horticultural show. [online] Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2019/05/08/university-stuttgart-biomimetic-pavilion-bundesgartenschau-horticultural-show/ .
  10. BIOMIMICRYSA. (n.d.). Benefits of Biomimicry. [online] Available at: https://www.biomimicrysa.co.za/benefits-of-biomimicry#:~:text=Biomimicry%20thinking%20helps%20create%20products%20and%20processes%20that%3A&text=Are%20sustainable%3A%20Biomimicry%20follows%20Life  [Accessed 16 Feb. 2022].

Images:

  1. National Geographic Society (2014). Beijing National Stadium. [online] National Geographic Society. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/photo/tdigh-04-06-olympics/
  2. TOMORROW’S WORLD TODAY®. (2019). The World of Biomimicry. [online] Available at: https://www.tomorrowsworldtoday.com/2019/09/05/the-world-of-biomimicry/.
  3. Ghisleni, C. (2020). What is Biomimetic Architecture? [online] ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/954004/what-is-biomimetic-architecture#:~:text=Biomimetic%20architecture%20is%20a%20multi
  4. https://www.facebook.com/ianmutuli (2015). The Gherkin: Foster’s Monumental Building in the Heart of London | Archute. [online] Archute. Available at: https://www.archute.com/the-gherkin-a-monumental-building-in-the-middle-of-london-by-foster-partners/
  5. Anon, (n.d.). Buga Holzpavillon 2019 by ICD/ ITKE – Roland Halbe. [online] Available at: https://rolandhalbe.eu/portfolio/buga-holzpavillon-2019-by-icd-itke/  [Accessed 16 Feb. 2022].
Author

Shaymi Shah is a published author and an architectural content writer by profession. Through keen observation about architecture and life around her, she weaves narratives through her writing as she wants to make people, even outside the fraternity, realize the importance and fundamental need of design in our daily lives.

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