Biomimicry - The Idea

Architecture Dated:  Oct. 27, 2015
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Biomimicry in Architecture India

Humans have looked at nature for answers to problems since their time on Mother Earth. Biomimicry or biomimetics is an approach to innovation and creativity that urges to incorporate sustainable ideas using nature’s oldest mechanisms, patterns and strategies. In even simpler words, it is the imitation of the various elements of nature to solve mankind’s complex issues.

American biophysicist and polymath Otto Schmitt
American biophysicist and polymath Otto Schmitt
Figure 1, Source –
In the 1950s, American biophysicist and polymath Otto Schmitt came up with the concept of Biomimetics. It was during his doctoral research, while he was studying the nerves in a squid, that he developed the Schmitt Trigger and attempted to create a device that replicated the biological nerve system. By the end of the 1950s, he had, in his mind, a converse perception of what the general idea of Biophysics was back then. This came to be known as Biomimetics.

According to him

Biophysics is not so much a subject matter as it is a point of view. It is an approach to problems of biological science utilizing the theory and technology of the physical sciences. Conversely, biophysics is also a biologist's approach to problems of physical science and engineering, although this aspect has largely been neglected.1

- Otto Herbert Schmitt, In Appreciation, A Lifetime of Connections: Otto Herbert Schmitt, 1913 - 1998

In 1960, Jack Steele coined a similar term – Bionics, and defined it as ‘the science of systems which have some function copied from nature, or which represent characteristics of natural systems or their analogues’. This was largely abandoned later by the English speaking scientific communities due to its supernatural implications. On the other hand, the term Biomimicry appeared in the year 1982 and was popularised by the author and scientist Janine Benyus in her book – Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. Biomimicry is defined in the book as a "new science that studies nature's models and then imitates or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems". She even went on to say that:

“When we look at what is truly sustainable, the only real model that has worked over long periods of time is the natural world.”2

The earliest example of biomimicry that can be traced back, would be the study of birds to enable human flight. Although never successful in creating a flying device, Leonardo da Vinci carefully studied the anatomy and mechanism of birds. His numerous notes and sketches on observations of pigeons were used as inspiration by the Wright Brothers finally in 1903, to create the first heavier-then-air aircraft.

Figure 2, Source –

Humans, of all species, have been blessed with the most efficient brains, which also gives them the freedom and the authority to use and maybe even exploit their thinking at times. But beyond the intelligence, without intending to, we have ended up creating massive sustainability issues for ourselves and for the generations ahead. Fortunately enough, all the solutions to these issues have been around us since the inception of time. The core idea is that nature already has all the remedies hidden in its deepest sanctuaries, we just have to be insolent and find it. Nature’s consummate engineers – flora and fauna, have held in themselves the secret of survival.

Biomimicry for creative InnovationBiomimicry for creative Innovation
Figure 3, Source –

Michael Pawlyn once rightly said:

“You could look at nature as being like a catalog of products, and all of those have benefited from a 3.8 billion year research and development period. And given that level of investment, it makes sense to use it.”

Biomimicry has already made quite an impact on the architecture front. The Eastgate Centre, a mid-rise office building in Harare, Zimbabwe uses 10% of the energy used by any conventional building and still manages to stay cool without any air conditioning technique.

The Eastgate Centre, Harare, ZimbabweThe Eastgate Centre, Harare, Zimbabwe
Figure 4, Source –

One might ask how and the reason behind this is the incorporation of the termite’s ability to maintain constant humidity and temperature in their mounds in Africa when the temperature outside varies from 1.5 degrees to 40 degrees C.1

One of the most widely used articles is the Velcro strip. It might be fascinating for many to know that Velcro is one of the prime examples of biomimicry as it mimics the biological examples of multiple hooked structures. Another could be the replication of a snail’s shell in spiral staircases.

snailas shell in spiral staircases
multiple hooked structures                                                snail’s shell in spiral staircases
Figure 5, Source –                                        Figure 6, Source –

We should come into terms with the fact that a new world is beginning and anything magnanimous that has to happen beyond this point of time will be when biology and technology meet. And this intersection will in itself be creative and functional beyond the imaginations of the presently stuck cycle of growth. Basically, a sustainable world already exists, we just need to be at our best behaviour to make it an enriching experience.

2Biomimicry Institute
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