Learning Lessons From Nature Biomimicry in Architecture

Biomimicry in Architecture: Learning Lessons from Nature

February 15, 2022 - Revolutionized Team

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There are so many examples of biomimicry in architecture.

With the exception of densely populated urban spaces, you can look out a window nearly anywhere in the world and see something created by nature. It could be towering redwoods that reach higher than a skyscraper or the delicate way a vine climbs the side of a building. You might see a spider’s web hanging from a branch, delicate enough that it’s nearly invisible but strong enough to catch the spider’s dinner. Nature has spent millions of years changing and evolving to create structures that can withstand all sorts of different situations and conditions. When something stops working, Mother Nature knows it’s time to start evolving again. 

Humans, by comparison, are fond of geometric shapes, sharp edges, and flat surfaces when it comes to architecture. While this has served us well for a long time, there are limits to the number of rectangular floors that you can stack on top of one another before things start falling apart. That is why architects have begun to look to nature for inspiration.

What is biomimicry in architecture, and how is it changing how we look at building new structures?

Defining Biomimicry in Architecture

The majority of modern architecture relies on sharp lines and straight edges. There are different styles of architecture, depending on where you look or when crews completed construction, but the majority of it is square. Nature, on the other hand, is very soft. Sharp edges in nature are rare. You’ll usually only find them in mineral or crystalline structures. Even the more robust materials, like those massive redwoods mentioned earlier, are defined by rounded sides and soft edges. 

We can learn a lot just by looking out the window. Designers and architects define biomimicry as “the design and projection of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes.” To simplify that for the average person, it’s a design trend that encourages architects to take their cues from mother nature. 

We’ve been using the concept of biomimicry in other products for decades. Have you ever used a product with Velcro connectors? That hook-and-loop style of reusable connector came about when the inventor closely looked at why burdock seed pods stuck so securely to fabric. From there, he developed an item that is nearly indispensable in modern clothing fabrication.

Benefits of Biomimicry 

What are some of the biggest benefits of biomimicry in architecture?

Better Energy Efficiency

Nature knows how to make the best use of everything it has to work with, including energy. Buildings designed using biomimicry make the most of natural light, solar energy, wind and water. Researchers are experimenting with using pinecones — precisely their tendency to naturally respond to humidity — to manage the building’s energy use. Creating wind turbines that mimic the appearance of humpback whale fins increases the angle of attack for these turbines by 42%.

Less Water Waste

Modern building techniques are often detrimental to the natural water cycle. Concrete and other non-porous surfaces prevent rainwater from seeping into the ground or evaporating naturally, causing devastating floods. This caused the floods in Houston, Texas, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Biomimicry in architecture works with the existing environment rather than against it. 

Reduced Material Costs

Building a large square building can require more materials to complete than one that follows a more natural shape. It may not appear this way initially, but as the technology continues to grow and evolve, we’ll see techniques appear that achieve the same goals without using as many materials, reducing construction costs in the long run.

Generates Less Waste

The construction industry is one of the most wasteful in the world. In 2018, more than 145 million tons of waste from construction and demolition projects ended up in landfills. Designs that use biomimicry work well with lean and modular construction techniques in mind. Lean and modular construction uses technology and techniques to reduce waste throughout the industry. 

Withstand Harsh Weather

Take a solid square building and a flexible tree that share the exact dimensions, and expose both to high winds and severe weather. Which one is going to survive unscathed? While natural construction isn’t perfect, it is much more likely to withstand extreme weather or natural disasters in an area. The latticework on The Gherkin in London, for example, is designed to help the building withstand high winds.

Changing the Way We Think

As a child to draw a picture of a building, you’ll likely get a crayon drawing of a rectangle, with a few more rectangles to represent the doors and windows. If you’re lucky, you might get a triangle to represent the roof. Adopting more natural shapes in construction will, over time, serve as a tool to change the way we think.

Examples of Biomimicry in Architecture

The application of biomimicry in architecture might seem strange or alien. Despite this outward appearance, it is beginning to appear in new structures worldwide. 

Inspired by Bubbles

Both The Eden Project, a massive greenhouse in Cornwall, and the National Aquatics Center in Beijing were inspired by the structure of soap bubbles. The unique structure of this geometry utilizes ethyl tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) instead of glass. This synthetic material weighs 99% less than glass. It also helps heat the pools by trapping 20% of solar energy and reducing energy costs by 55% by providing natural lighting.

Inspired by Birds Nests

Beijing is also home to the Beijing National Stadium. Also known as the bird’s nest, this stadium resembles an inverted nest. ETFE is also a primary component in this build, acting as acoustic insulation while improving energy efficiency and allowing for as much natural light as possible. 

Inspired by Wings

Birds have been inspiring us to reach new heights for millennia. The Milwaukee Art Museum takes that inspiration to a whole new level. The Quadracci Pavilion, a central museum feature, is equipped with two massive movable sunscreens. They resemble an enormous pair of bird’s wings as they open and close. 

Inspired by Sponges

If you’ve been to London, then you’ve probably seen The Gherkin. This massive structure might look like the tip of a rocket, but its design inspiration is a little closer to home. Designers inspired by the Venus Flower Basket Sponge created the somewhat delicate latticework that supports the building. This lattice is ideal for open floorplan structures in both the sponge and the structure. The lattice provides all the necessary vertical support without the need for columns that might obstruct the floorplan. 

Inspired by Durian

Hearing someone mention a durian might send you running in the other direction unless they’re talking about Esplanade Theater in Singapore. The exterior of the theater resembles the spiky skin of the fruit. Each triangular point can adjust in response to the position of the sun. This gives it the ability to adapt as needed, providing more natural light or shade to cool the structure. 

Inspired by Eyes

Even the eye can act as inspiration. The south-facing windows on the Institute du Monde Arabe in Paris respond to light the same way your pupils do — by dilating or constricting based on the amount of ambient light. That way, they can adjust to the rising or setting sun, maintaining a comfortable interior temperature. 

These are just a handful of examples in an industry growing more prevalent every year.

Exploring the Future of Biomimicry in Architecture

While biomimicry in architecture might not replace every stone and steel skyscraper that currently makes up our city skylines, it is having an impact. Biomimicry can change the way we think about construction as a whole while reducing the impact that we have on the planet.

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Revolutionized Team

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