What We Can Learn From Biomimicry in Architecture


Architects are always looking for new sources of inspiration. Designing buildings to be strong, functional, stylish, and sustainable all at once is quite the challenge, but great ideas can come from unexpected places. The next big thing in architecture might not be new at all. It might be nature.

Many architects and designers today borrow from nature in a practice called biomimicry. Here's a closer look at this movement and how it's improving architecture around the world.

What Is Biomimicry?

What We Can Learn From Biomimicry in Architecture

Biomimicry is the practice of copying nature to improve designs, processes, and technology. For example, solar panels mimic photosynthesis, which is the way leaves harvest energy from the sun. Leonardo da Vinci sketched ideas for flying machines based on how he observed birds flying and the Wright brothers later did the same.

In architecture, biomimicry looks to nature to make buildings stronger, more sustainable, multi-functional, cheaper, or more resilient. Doing something completely new isn't always the best option. Designs in nature have stood the test of time - in some cases for millions of years - so why wouldn't architects look to them for inspiration?

Mimicking nature isn't always easy. However, when architects figure out how they can apply natural designs, it can lead to some pretty impressive results.

Examples of Biomimicry in Architecture

What We Can Learn From Biomimicry in Architecture

Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest

One of the most famous examples of biomimicry in architecture is the Bird's Nest stadium, built for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The building features a wild tangle of metal beams resembling a bird's nest. Just as real nests use random contacts to create stability without glue, the interlocking beams of the stadium help it resist earthquakes.

Another iconic East Asian building, Taipei 101, takes its inspiration from bamboo stalks. The massive skyscraper, which was the tallest in the world when it opened, looks like a stack of eight individual segments, mimicking the segmented look of bamboo. As an added touch, the glass in the building is tinted green.

Sometimes, biomimicry in architecture is more about incorporating actual nature into the design. The La Cantera shopping center in San Antonio, Texas, features mature live oaks throughout the property and moves with the hills instead of cutting through them. As a result, the center feels like it's part of the surrounding landscape.

Why Is Biomimicry Important?

What We Can Learn From Biomimicry in Architecture

30 St Mary Axe Tower also known as the Gherkin

Biomimicry does more than just help buildings look stunning. As the Bird's Nest stadium highlights, taking inspiration from nature can help architects find creative, efficient solutions to pressing challenges. Whereas some buildings need high-tech counterweights to protect against earthquakes, the stadium relies on its twisting metal beams.

Biomimicry can be a huge help in the push for sustainability. Buildings typically consume a lot of energy, but nature-inspired designs can help them run more efficiently. The Eastgate Center in Zimbabwe, for example, uses 90% natural climate control, mimicking termite mounds' absorbent, porous designs to enable natural airflow.

The Gherkin tower in London achieves a similar result. The building features curved, latticed sides that look like those of a sea sponge. This allows for wind to pass by with less resistance and funnel up through the building, cutting air conditioning requirements in half and saving energy.

Biomimicry can also find nature-based solutions to improve our quality of life. In bustling urban centers, for example, taking advantage of vegetation's sound attenuation effect allows designers to use greenery to reduce noise pollution. We don't need to reinvent the wheel to make our living spaces greener and more enjoyable for our communities.

Finally, natural structures are also great at resisting harsh weather like high winds and floods. The more architects study how plants and animals do this, the more the world's future buildings can withstand the elements. Biomimicry could help lessen the impact of natural disasters, and then reduce disasters themselves by being more eco-friendly.

The Future of Biomimicry in Architecture

What We Can Learn From Biomimicry in Architecture

Photo Credit: http://www.symbiosis.dk/en/

Biomimicry could reach new heights and bring broader benefits as more architects latch onto it. It could apply to city planning, not just a single building's design, making neighborhoods resemble natural, cohesive ecosystems.

For example, Kalundborg, the world's first zero-waste industrial complex, mimics how natural ecosystems operate in cycles instead of generating waste. It groups facilities so the byproduct of one business can easily become the raw material for another, letting resources flow through a closed loop. This nature-inspired city planning leads to considerable resource preservation and waste reduction, helping the world become more sustainable.

Looking to nature can help architects find innovative solutions to problems that traditional architecture has failed to solve. Adding lanes to highways and expanding roads is never a permanent solution to road congestion, but there are no traffic jams in nature. Cities that more closely resembled the ecosystems around them could allow seamless transport.

As biomimicry grows, it could look beyond designing buildings after natural structures. Even the materials they use could resemble natural building blocks to offer more strength or sustainability. Bone is stronger than steel, so some innovative designers are trying to recreate bone structure in novel materials, leading to lighter but more break-resistant buildings.

Nature has lasted far longer than any human-made infrastructure, so it can serve as an outstanding source of inspiration. As more architects innovate through biomimicry, entire cities and countries, not just individual buildings, will become stronger, more efficient, cleaner and more sustainable.

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