Biomimicry, efficiency and ecology
“The shell of an abalone is twice as strong as the toughest man-made ceramic.” – Michael Pawlyn
Biomimicry is the study of nature to develop sustainable solutions based off features found in natural designs. Or, simply put by biomimicry innovator Janine Benyus, it is “innovation inspired by nature.” A basic and common form of biomimicry is velcro, which was inspired in 1941, when engineer George de Mestral studied the burrs that got stuck to his dog’s fur.
Although the term ‘biomimicry’ is relatively new (1982), inventors, artists and engineers have often turned to natural solutions for human problems. Perhaps the best example of early biomimicry is Leonardo da Vinci, whose sketches for a “flying machine” were largely based off his observations of birds in flight. Centuries later, the Wright brothers also observed pigeons to help develop the first plane.
Here is a list of the most recent and innovative examples of biomimicry implementation.
Pier Luigi Nervi’s Palazzetto dello Sport, an indoor arena in Rome, was built for the 1960 Summer Olympics. According to Michael Pawlyn, “It is a masterpiece of efficiency inspired by giant Amazon water lilies.”
The Eden Project, located in Cornwall, U.K., is the world’s largest greenhouse designed by architect Nicholas Grimshaw. Several artificial biomes, including a tropical, Mediterranean, and uncovered outdoor biome, contain plants collected from all over the world. A ‘biome’ in the original sense is defined as an ecosystem or a community of plants and animals that live in similar conditions. The design was inspired by the mathematical foundation of all plant growth — phyllotaxis — with the “opposing spirals” that are found in pine cones and pineapples.
A shopping and office center called Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe became the first of its kind to revolutionize natural cooling in buildings. Architect Mick Pearce studied cooling chimneys and tunnels of termite dens, which are able to maintain a steady temperature of 87 degrees while outside the temperature ranges from low 30s to well over 100 degrees. The Eastgate Centre uses 90% less energy to heat and cool than traditional buildings do — because the building is able to draw in cool air at night to lower the temperature of floor slabs. These then retain coolness during the day and reduce the need for AC.