Biology is a recursive source of architectural inspiration due to the tight relationship between form and function, the natural balance of forces and the corresponding geometric solutions found in living beings. A fascination with biology has always encouraged designers to look at the natural world to draw inspiration from.
There are examples of architects who translate shapes from nature into great architectural forms, such as Antonio Gaudi, Sir Norman Foster, Joseph Paxton.
For designers, the first appeal to biology is usually related with the way living beings integrate harmonically form and function. In each life form, the way nature achieved a perfect balance between internal and actuating external forces can be observed. Another appeal to biology is related to the simplicity of some geometric canons and tools that nature uses to generate an almost infinite number of forms.
In nature – the most recognizable being the seashell. The seashell is the best representation of a math-centric natural element that shows why nature is the best designer. Encompassing the Fibonacci Sequence, or “the Golden Ratio”, a seashell shows perfection in proportion that has been the foundation for some of the greatest designs, including the Parthenon, and by some of the greatest minds, including Leonardo Da Vinci.
There is a range of expressive precedents from the early 1920s onwards, from Erich Mendelsohn’s Einsteinturm in Potsdam, Germany (1921), to Le Corbusier’s Chapel at Ronchamp (1955) and Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal in New York (1962). It is worth remembering that it was Le Corbusier’s “free plan” and “free façade” that allowed for elements of variable curvature to emerge in the modernist projects of the mid-twentieth century. Eero Saarinen attributed the reemergence of the plastic form to the advances in building technology, while acknowledging that “it is the aesthetic reasons which are the driving forces behind its use.” “Alvar Aalto broke with the pristine geometries of the International Style fairly early, applying sinuous curves to his designs from furniture and glassware to buildings. His Finnish Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, one of his best known projects, featured dramatic undulating curves in the interior of a modest, rectilinear shell.”- (Kolarevic.B, 2005)
Biomimicry (from bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate) is a design discipline that seeks sustainable solutions by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies, e.g., a solar cell inspired by a leaf. The core idea is that Nature, imaginative by necessity, has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with: energy, food production, climate control, non-toxic chemistry, transportation, packaging, and a whole lot more. Biomimicry offers solutions hidden in plain sight for many of the modern world’s environmental problems. The natural world is teeming with models for energy production and conservation. Models are there for strong, durable, flexible materials. Designs for air conditioning and recycling waste can be found. This new science, called biomimicry, studies nature’s models and then imitates or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems. It is a new way of viewing and valuing nature based on what we can learn from it rather than what we can extract from it. “Biomimicry takes advantage of nature’s wisdom gleaned from 3.8 billion years of evolution to determine what works, what is appropriate and what lasts.” (Wolf V. 2005).
In the future, the houses we live in and the offices we work in might be designed to function like living organisms, specifically adapted to place and able to draw all of their requirements for energy and water from the surrounding sun, wind, and rain.
Biomimicry in building design can help us make materials stronger, self-assembling and self-healing, like the spider’s web, Biomimicry also encourages us to use natural processes and forces for basic building functions. It allows buildings to produce resources by integrating natural systems.”(Benyus, 1998).
Instead of exploiting the resources that are so generously afforded to us we should take advantage of the wisdom that is rooted everywhere we look. If we are capable of tapping into the wealth of knowledge that surrounds us then we will be able to create a better world. A sustainable one. Working together and developing a clear dialogue between the fields of engineering, design and biology will be essential.
Biomimicry as a study dealing with nature it should be also connected with the philosophical theory or idea of what is aesthetically valid at a given time and place: the clean lines, bare surfaces, and sense of space that mark the machine-age aesthetic.
Based on Abstract Bioarchitecture. Semih Eryilddiz. Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, Tirana, Albania.