Alternative Biomimicry

Biomimicry as an Alternative Approach to Sustainability

Mwila Isabel Nkandu, Halil Zafer Alibaba
Department of Architecture, Eastern Mediterranean University, Mersin, Northern Cyprus

Figure 1. Venus Basket sponge (left) Gherkin tower (right)

Nature has spent billions of years solving and refining many of the problems we as humans are facing today and so it is only logical for us to learn from nature’s existing solutions to solve our issues of sustainable design.

Although there are many studies and approaches to designing more sustainable buildings, there is limited research on ecologically sustainable design approaches that can alleviate waste of resources by understanding the adaptation methods in natural systems.

Figure 2. Diagrid structure with core in the centre (left) and Construction of core and Diagrid structure (right)

This research aims to examine biomimicry in architecture as a potential solution to sustainable building design. It analyses the basic principles and advances in biomimicry in architectural design and discusses five case studies to study how biomimicry has so far been applied in the built environment.

It is expected that this research will reveal how looking to nature for inspiration can contribute to more sustainable building design by considering the structural efficiency, water efficiency, thermal environment and energy supply.

Figure 3. Floor plan showing lightwells (left), Sketches showing movement of natural light and air through lightwells (right)

After over three billion years of research, nature has already evolved and solved many of its problems. Animals, plants and other organisms have engineered themselves to survive and thrive this far without producing any waste and being very efficient with resources.

Therefore, mimicking nature’s forms, systems and processes offers an opportunity to maximise resource efficiency while mitigating the negative impact of buildings on the environment (Benyus. 1997).

Figure 4. Section of the building (Left) and typical floor layout (Right)

Biomimicry is the emulation or imitation of nature in its many forms, systems and processes to solve the most pressing challenges faced by our world today. Biomimicry methods have so far proven to optimize in terms of sustainability and efficiency particularly in the fields of design and construction.

However, this increasingly prominent approach has also generated development in other fields as diverse as aerodynamics, robotic navigation, medicine, clothing design and the detection of water pollution (Michael Pawlyn, 2011).

Figure 9. Sahara Forest project Tunisia

Early examples of biomimicry can be seen in Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketches of a flying machine inspired by the wings of a bat. Another example comes from Fillipo Brunelleschi who studied the strength of eggshells and designed a thinner, lighter dome for the cathedral in Florence in 1436. In 1809, Naval architect Sir George Cayley designed ship hulls more streamlined by studying dolphins.

Figure 10. Eden Project

A more famous example occurred in 1948 when George De Mestral, a Swiss engineer took his dog out hunting and it emerged from the bushes covered in burrs. After examining the tiny hooks of the burrs, he discovered a hook system used by the plant to spread seeds by attachment inspired by this, De Mestral created Velcro.

Throughout history, architects have mainly taken inspiration from nature solely for building forms and aesthetics. Biomimicry in architecture, however, is an applied science that procures not only the aesthetics component of nature but also takes lessons from nature to solve issues in the building functionality.

Figure 11. The Eden project

A multi-disciplinary approach follows a set of ethics rather than taking a stylistic approach. Sustainability is advancing to a new level that accommodates the design of buildings that are essential to the natural environment and should support nature’s work rather than work against it.

It has gained a lot of popularity in the last 10 years to solve issues of sustainability while minimizing the negative impact on nature (Pedersen. 2005).

Figure 12. ETFE pillows

There are three objectives, according to Head (2008) to reaching the so-called “Ecological Age” by the year 2050, these include; “CO2 emission reduction by 80%, ecological footprint reduction to 1.44ga/person and to increase human development index improvement.”

There is a responsibility on architects to develop optimal ecological methods for design, construction and performance. This involves integrating natural ecological systems into their designs keeping in mind the human behaviour patterns.

Figure 13. Cross section of Eden project

This study will take a critical look at biomimicry in architecture. It is an investigation into its key principles and concepts. It is a framework for understanding the approaches and levels of biomimicry in design. It discusses some distinct advantages and disadvantages immanent in each biomimicry level as an approach to sustainable building design.

Figure 14. Schematic site section

The research will look at five existing projects in which the designers looked to nature for inspiration to solve issues faced in their design process to provide insight on the level of biomimicry designers have developed. The aim of this research is to shed light on biomimicry as an approach; to showcase how it can help better the issue of sustainability and regenerative design in architecture.

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