Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Biomimicry in Buildings: A Work in Progress

Missing photo credit.  File no longer found.
The integration of biomimicry into the built environment is a work in progress and I am continually looking for models that explore its potential.  Below are my thoughts as of now and I am hoping to continue this discussion for years to come.
  • Biomimicry and Living Buildings.  I have heard that the Living Building Challenge was inspired by biomimicry, but I don't know this for a fact.  Even if it weren't, many of its principles are the same: building performance tied to regional characteristics (life's principle to be locally attuned & responsive), limits to growth (integrate growth with development), zero impact (material/energy efficiency), and integrating beauty.  I can think of many building products and a few examples of partial systems integration (the living waste water treatment eco-machine at the Omega Center or various products, as quick examples), but I can think of only one building (Eastgate Center in Zimbabwe) where it has been integrated on both a metophorical as well as performance basis.  I am constantly searching for more examples of building integrated biomimicry and would welcome any suggestions that come my way.
  • Nature as Measure.  Similar to the zero impact prerequisite set by the Living Buildings Challenge, using the inherent ecosystem services of a site as a measure to benchmark the ecological performance of a particular building is very powerful.  If a site was formally prairie that absorbed and held x gallons of water, y number of species, and z tons of biomass, designers can strive to create buildings that strive to meet or exceed this threshold.  I especially like the Mannahatta Project as an example because as a virtual ecological restoration of the island of Manhattan, it holds the genius of the original place as a benchmark by which the ecological performance of a site.  Are there similar efforts in other regions of the world?
  • Biomimicry in Existing Buildings.  I've started having conversations about biomimicry in existing buildings with architects all across the country.  This is a potentially amazing solution space that is relevant to all major developed cities across the globe.  Beyond integrating biomimicry inspired products into interior fit-outs, how can we begin to emulate life in existing structures?  How does nature reuse materials?  How does nature adapt to changing conditions?  How can our buildings evolve to survive?  And what are natural models that can help guide our search?  This is usually discussed in a metaphorical sense, but I am continually looking for tangible manefestations of this on individual existing buildings. 
  • Systems Interaction.  Finally (for now), there are many parallels to how the components of an ecosystem interact and how the components of a building interact.  Systems are systems and I know there are exciting lessons to be learned in this space.  
This is just the beginning and I welcome any and all thoughts from interested parties.

Interesting References (courtesy of Dayna Baumeister)
http://www.d3space.org/competitions/ (previous competitions, natural systems)

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