Biomimetic architecture: how to learn from nature to design sustainable buildings
If a few years ago we had said that biologists and architects would have designed the buildings of the future, probably more than one would have taken us for crazy. No one could imagine anything further from architecture than the biological and health fields. But even if it does not seem like it, they have a lot in common, since architecture has always had a close relationship with nature, and deep inside, buildings also have a life of their own.
Biomimetics or biomimicry is the science that studies nature as a source of inspiration and generates a design that imitates its models and systems to solve problems not yet solved. Biomimetic architecture is one of its branches of knowledge, which seeks sustainability in nature, not by imitating its forms, but by understanding the rules that cause them. Bearing in mind that evolution shows that the Earth takes millions of years of advantage in solving problems, imitating it does not seem like such an outlandish idea, especially when many of those problems are common to the building ecosystem.
There are clear examples of application of biomimicry to architecture, organized into three levels. On the organism level, architecture imitates an organism applying its functions or forms to a building. This is the case of The Eden Project by Nicholas Grimshaw, consisting of a series of ETFE domes inspired by soap bubbles and carbon molecules which allowed great savings in material.
On the level of behavior, the buildings mimic the interaction of the organisms with the environment and their modes of survival. This is the case of Mike Pearce‘s The Eastgate Center, which maintains comfort conditions, without any help of mechanical refrigeration, through a design inspired by the behavior of African termites and the mounds they build.
The level of environment implies a larger scale, imitating the different interactions of elements in an ecosystem. One sample is The Sahara Forest Project, a greenhouse whose components work in a cyclic way, based on solar energy to obtain a zero waste system.
Despite the apparently innovative nature of these examples, biomimetic architecture is not new. Pier Luigi Nervi was already inspired by the leaves of the Victoria Amazonica to optimize the structure of Palazzetto dello Sport in the late 50’s. And like him, architects have been inspired by nature for centuries, only now our best design tools and greater scientific knowledge helps us to understand it better in order to use it in our favour.
And how should we do it? It is not necessary to study molecular biology, it is enough to ask nature and let her respond to it. We can get inspiration for structure design, air conditioning methods or water and waste management.
These examples show us that most of the times,it is not necessary to look for the latest technology to be sustainable, but simply to observe how our environment works.
Einstein already said it: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”.