Turning to nature for innovative and long-lasting solutions.
Biomimicry is not for those who are pleased with the status quo. It’s for the industry practitioners who are searching for more efficient, more sustainable, healthier and safer solutions when it comes to constructing a building.
In Greek, bios means “life”, and mimesis means “imitate”. Thus, biomimicry in architecture means imitating life to solve design and building problems.
True, nature has had millions of years to perfect its craft. But that does not mean we should sit with folded hands.
How to turn waste into food? How to recycle and give back to nature with zero negative footprint? How to capture and store sunlight? How to cool and heat a shelter? How to ensure the safety and health of occupants? How to come up with a design that’s adaptive rather than resistant to change?
If you look closer, you will see that these questions lie at the heart of any sustainable building project.
Learning from nature’s engineering genius
On one hand, shapes and forms found in nature can hint you a specific design solution.
A case in point: Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia is a breathtaking example of how a forest can inspire a magnificent building. The 150-foot tall vault is supported by tree canopies while the huge trunks carry the load of the building. As you enter this Roman Catholic Church, an enormous forest welcomes and embraces you. A vision Gaudi intended to bring to life.
Biomimicry, thus, helped to come up with a technology that uses waste as raw material and reduces the carbon footprint in an emission-intensive process — cement production.
● Glass that integrates reflective UV component
As more and more buildings with glass facades started to rise, people were left facing a sad reality: the reflective glass has been a fatal solution for millions of birds each year. Birds are misled by the reflections of trees and landscapes in windows and are killed when they fly into the glass.
Cleaning building exteriors is a labor, water and chemically-intensive task. But what if building facades could self-clean?
This was a challenge a Japanese company LIXIL tried to fight. Snail shells readily solved the riddle. They have microscopic pools that lock in moisture making it possible for them to self-clean. The bumps are formed owing to silica, an element naturally found in soil.
The list on nature’s engineering genius can go on endlessly, but we will stop here to take you on a tour to three buildings in Singapore, USA, and the UK. These buildings are living examples of how nature can inspire unique solutions of design.
Buildings inspired by biomimicry
1. The Esplanade Theatres
Building skin becomes an efficient shading
Durian is widely known and used in Singapore. It’s a tropical fruit – a source of both income and nutrition for local people.
This fruit features a thorn-covered husk to keep the seeds safe from extreme heat — a function that inspired the design of the Esplanade Theatres.
The skin of the building has three main benefits: it adjusts to the environment by letting sunlight in, protects the interiors from overheating, and gives people an opportunity to admire the outside view.
The rooftops of the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters are all connected to one another creating a system similar to what beavers build. When it rains, water goes down. The unique construction of the landscape and a set of terraces use the force of gravity to move and capture water in a huge pond. Stormwater is then cleansed and reused to water the green roofs – 550,000 square feet in total!
The Gherkin responds not only to the air flow which increases owing to the cylinder shape of the building. It also “uses spiraling light wells and windows” which automatically respond to the flow of light by letting in fresh air to each floor. The result? Up to 40% reduction in energy costs per year.
What’s more interesting, the structure is freestanding: no columns inside. Uninterrupted office space is there to enjoy as soon as people get to work.
Now that we know biomimicry can help us solve architectural dilemmas, let’s open a toolbox to find esources for applying these techniques in your next design so that tomorrow’s buildings perform efficiently long after ribbon-cutting ceremonies.
Where to start?
Look at nature as “model, measure, and mentor” – that’s what the Biomimicry Institute is advocating.
Founded in 2006, they developed Ask Nature – an open source project to help industry practitioners to get acquainted with design systems already existing in nature. Ask Nature provides access to strategies, blueprints, products, sketches as well as opportunity to talk to and collaborate with experts.
Biomimicry 3.8 is another rich community you would like to consider. It offers consulting, professional training, and inspiration and has designed a practical tool called Biomimicry Design Spiral that uses six steps to apply biomimicry in design: Define (Identify), Biologize (Translate), Discover, Abstract, Emulate, and Evaluate.