Nature has a treasure of solutions to every problem faced by mankind. All that is required is to seek those answers from nature, and translate the observations and understandings to suit the task at hand. This is the essence of biomimicry. In the architectural realm, it is the process of understanding the core elements that govern certain specific aspects of biological species, and then realize a similar response at the scale of the built form. Such an approach with varied individualistic analyses and interpretations, has the scope to widen the range of architectural solutions to unexplored regions. Biomimicry is about “innovation inspired by nature” (Rao 2014, p.101). Thus, its manifestation in architecture extends beyond the commonly understood idea of being a direct imitation of what is observed in nature. It deals with a clear understanding of the interrelationship between the major aspects of aesthetics, morphology and purpose in nature, followed by a thoughtful translation into the architectural world of form, structure and function.
Biomimetic architecture is linked with its ability to create sustainable solutions which have been time-tested through the generations of living organisms. These solutions take cue from nature and its varied living forms that have, over the generations, evolved to live in sync with the environment. Thus, it inspires the development of optimized architectural systems which use resources and technology at their best. Efficiency of the features of biological organisms such as skin, skeleton, body structure, form and materiality, find their equivalent translation into building systems such as light-weight structures, large-span roofs, building envelopes, etc. which possess optimized properties in accordance with their purpose of design. Such an approach towards biomimetic architecture helps the built environment to develop efficient solutions in terms of the structure, materiality, technology, physical properties, aesthetics and the overall performance of the built form.
‘Biomimicry is a method of sustainable architecture that emulates nature’s strategies into building design’ (Verma 2016, p.4). The understanding of the form-structure-function relationship in nature is what forms the basis for biomimetic architectural applications. Understanding the essence of these three aspects and their correlation can transform the nature of solutions existing at present. Various researches have been conducted in the field, studying a multitude of paths that biomimetic architecture can take. These researches teach us that the conventional approach to the idea of biomimicry as a mere appearance-based superficial study of nature needs rectification.
How can biomimicry inspire the development of structurally efficient systems in architecture?
To understand the importance of biomimicry for the development of structurally efficient building systems. Biomimicry helps widen up the limited solution-set in architecture, leading to innovative designs predominantly based on the efficiency of the structural system, which determines the form and the function.
- To understand the methodology of biomimetic architectural study, for inspiration and translation into built form.
- To study literature pertaining to (form active & surface active) structural systems in order to understand the relationship between structure, form and function in architecture.
- To study the morphological aspects of certain biological species, which have been researched upon for biomimetic applications.
- To understand the limitations in the process of biomimetic study and how they can be resolved for further scope in the field.
- This dissertation will focus upon bio-inspired structural systems, to understand the conceptual ideas, principles of functionality and form, & the material and structural efficiency achieved through the process.
- Being a relatively new field with multiple facets, the study will be focused upon the correlation between structure, form and function in nature, which forms the basis for the biomimetic translation into efficient light-weight architectural systems.
- The scope of this study will be limited to the morphology of biological species, to understand the correlation between structure, form and function.
- This dissertation is based upon the conceptual understanding of structurally efficient biomimetic architectural applications, without much insight into the technological aspects of the same.
- Due to the vastness of the subject of biomimicry & its lab-oriented method of study, the data pertaining to the biological examples of study adopted will mainly be based on secondary sources of information.
BIOMIMICRY AND ITS METHODOLOGY OF MANIFESTATION
‘Every designer needs an inspiration for his design and the best source for this inspiration is nature’ (Khandelwal 2012, p.1). It is an agreed fact that nature houses some of the most precious solutions to problems which humans face, time and now. Natural beings and creatures have, over the years, evolved to adapt themselves to their contexts in environmentally sensitive ways. As human beings of this planet, we do not have the authority to break nature’s rules and take over the environment to suit our need and greed. We need to learn from our natural counterparts, about building in the environment in an ecologically sustainable way. ‘The characteristics displayed by natural system namely, evolving, adaptive, and sustainable, are the exact same characteristics that we strive for in architecture’ (Verma 2016, p.1). Man-made constructions can enhance the ecological systems, rather than posing threats to the same. Nature has an abundance of answers to help make this possible, leading to the concept of biomimetic architecture.
‘Biomimicry is a new science that studies nature’s models and then emulates these forms, process, systems, and strategies to solve human problems – sustainably’ (Rao 2014, p.101). The process of biomimetic study is a rigorous, iterative research-based analysis that requires simulation and computational study of specific biological features for translation into design. Depending upon the area of research, the process of study varies, leading to a complex problem-solving methodology that is solution-specific. Design is a continuous process that consists of multiple procedures that sometimes loop back into their initial stages. Thus, biomimetic design doesn’t refer to a linear progression of ideas and a direct information transfer from the role-model to the design problem. The workflow pattern consists of a detailed research & analysis of the inspiration(s). These studies are then abstracted using simulation and modelling softwares in order to clearly understand the incorporation of the required principles into design. Appropriate concepts and ideas are then formed dwelling upon the analyses and studies conducted to develop the final design. QFD (Quality Function Deployment) is a method used in Product Design, to concise the vast information resource that lies before us, into a handful of the most promising ones. (Gruber, Imhof 2017)
In biomimicry, a comparison can be drawn through this method to limit the biological role models to a select few, in order to maximize the efficiency of the design process. Researches conducted in the field thus explain, that the methodology of biomimicry goes well in-depth into the details of the inspiring features of living creatures, for a successful realization in the physical world of architecture.
NATURAL SHELTERS AND THEIR BIOMIMETIC TRANSLATION
Every author explores that aspect which has inspired his curiosity in the subject. The dissertation on ‘Nature-Inspired Architecture’ (Khandelwal 2012) focuses on a study of the shelters of a few creatures from the animal kingdom, understanding the underlying technologies and structural systems used for construction. These shelters represent environment sensitive designs that respond to the climatic conditions around, in order to create comfortable living conditions. The study performed follows a certain procedure: the typologies of species are identified according to their relevant characteristics and an understanding is made of the requirements of construction and need for building of the shelter. The issues faced while construction and its solutions are understood. These solutions, predominantly regarding the structural & technological aspects of their design are analyzed to determine their scope for architectural advancement. Inspiration is also taken for building aesthetics and form development.
The shelters have been studied according to their properties of thermoregulation (temperature control in extreme climates), water management and drainage (survival in heavy rainfall/flood prone areas), ventilation systems (in closed environments such as underground habitats) for climatically suitable designs. These shelters correspond to the nests of different bird species, termite mounds, and so on. Apart from the climatically adaptive properties, the shelters have also been studied according to their structural systems. The author (Khandelwal 2012) quotes examples of shelters which are solutions to very different situations. The structural and functional efficiency of the honey comb cells teaches us the idea of optimum resource utilization. ‘All forms and structures in nature are governed by physical laws that try to achieve maximum efficiency through the use of minimum energy’ (Khandelwal 2012, p.14). Similarly, the techniques of weaving, knotting and twisting used by birds for building nests is structurally very superior. The example of the beaver’s dam explains how natural shelters are designed to withstand the forces of nature, while protecting the inhabitants and keeping them safe. Shells housing different species have always inspired the construction of large-span roof structures.
The study of natural shelters is followed by case studies conducted by the author (Khandelwal 2012) on existing ‘nature-inspired’ construction. They are based on the reinterpretation of natural shelters to suit human needs for climatic comfort, economical construction, structural innovations, functionality requirements, energy and resource efficiency. Climatic comfort is achieved in the design of the ‘Eastgate Building, Harare’ which takes inspiration from the structure, orientation and effective passive ventilation system of termite mounds. Structural innovations are observed in the ‘Bird’s Nest Stadium, Beijing’ which utilizes the ideas of weaving techniques, and the climatically-adaptive response of the materials used as fillers in the nest structure. The ‘Eden Project, UK’ consists of biomes with the framing structure inspired by the pattern found in the dragon fly wing. As a symbolic manifestation with a biomimetic structural system, the ‘Bahai Temple, New Delhi’ displays an advanced shell structure inspired by the lotus flower.
Forms and structures found in nature are designed in a very efficient manner. They use the minimum amount of material and provide maximum space and structural strength. These natural forms and shapes are a result of adaptation to the physical forces over a long period of time so that they respond to these forces in a very efficient manner (Khandelwal 2012, p.34).
The structural, functional and sustainable aspects of natural shelters have realized themselves in the field of design and construction, serving different purposes. A further exploration of many such biological organisms is bound to solve the other less-explored aspects of architecture, especially regarding the morphological features of species and their patterns of response to the environment, which do not necessarily relate to natural shelters. Thus, predominant basis of understanding the concept of biomimicry is the correlation of the structures found in nature, to their shape, purpose and environmental adaptivity.
BIOMIMETIC ENHANCEMENT OF BUILDING PERFORMANCE
Natural species evolve, adapt and grow in accordance with their contextual surroundings. They need to maintain a certain level of performance for their species to survive through the tests of time. Buildings function in a very similar manner. As man-made components of the ecological system, it is important for buildings to maintain an efficient system of functioning in order to remain a vital part of the built environment.
The dissertation on ‘Biomimicry: integration in architecture’ (Verma 2016) focusses on the use of biomimicry to enhance the strength and stability of the built environment. With a predominant focus on sustainability, the research explores how the structural stability of natural shelters and properties of living creatures, inspire nature-friendly solutions to the problems faced in the architectural realm.
‘Bio mimicry can be classified into three kinds – copying form and shape, copying process – such as photosynthesis in a leaf, and copying an entire ecosystem – such as building a nature-inspired city’ (Verma 2016, p.4). The author explains this strategy of learning from nature at three different scales. The complexity of the task at hand determines the source of inspiration- the ‘biological role model’ (Knippers et al. 2016) and its scale of complexity. Learning from these role models helps in developing a sustainable approach to building design, since nature has already devised a set of principles that govern the survival of all its species. It is explained how the processes of evolution, adaptation and sustainable growth are displayed by the elements of nature’s ecosystems. Architecture also pertains to these three processes as a part of survival and growth in the environment, thus exhibiting how nature’s solutions can guide architectural progressions to live in harmony with nature.
Building performance is mostly related to its resilience. Climatic adaptivity & structural innovations that enhance building stability are some of the aspects that take cue from the survival strategies seen in nature. “Survival of the fittest” is a concept of nature’s evolution. Thus, taking inspiration from nature is an effective way of analyzing how the built form can withstand the tests of time in terms of sustainability and performance. Similarly, ‘material and structural efficiency & energy optimization’ are two global concerns that have been addressed well in advance by natural beings- plants, animals and landforms alike. Incorporating ideas from nature is understood at different levels: One is based on the processes of nature, and how technology can enhance our study of those biological principles, combined with a thorough research on natural materials and their composition, since such materials seem to be highly energy efficient and eco-friendly. Fabrication techniques should be studied for incorporation into sustainable manufacturing processes in the building industry.
Natural shelters always provide a great example for architecture to adapt to the climate and functionality requirements. Aspects of thermoregulation, water management and drainage, ventilation, etc. have found their solutions from nature for incorporation into designing of spaces, building envelopes and structures. This dissertation too, looks up to natural shelters and their climatic performance, for understanding how to improvise the stability of man-made structures without posing a threat to the environment. The author’s research explains the other interpretations of biomimicry as aesthetic appeal and the designing of structures with biological inspiration in terms of engineering technology and stable structural design, quoting examples of architects Antonio Gaudi and Santiago Calatrava. The case studies conducted demonstrate the structural innovations, material properties, climate control & daylighting in the interior spaces of buildings that take inspiration from nature. Sagrada Familia, by Gaudi, displays a translation of tree-barks into branched columns that organize themselves to let sunlight into the space, similar to the manner in which leaves of a tree orient themselves to the sunlight for photosynthesis. This example demonstrates how the simple aspect of day lighting, and structural stability take their cue from natural forms.
Biomimetic architectural solutions need support from various fields for effective functioning. ‘A theoretically sustainable biomimetic solution may not be practically feasible if the construction technology required is not available’ (Verma 2016, p.6). This issue is a matter of concern when it comes to biomimicry. Bio-inspired engineering techniques need to be further developed which use renewable energy sources to produce building materials and generate the energy requirements of buildings, much in the same way as the food production centres of plants- the leaves, which organize themselves in the pattern of the golden ratio in order to maximize solar gain for carrying out photosynthesis.
Biomimicry teaches one, the need for understanding the chemistry of life and incorporating it into architectural design, since matter is ultimately made up of chemical elements. A prime aim of biomimetic architecture in future, must be to design buildings and enhance their performance with a positive impact on energy generation and contribution to the resource bank of nature: an attempt to supplement nature. It must focus on the generation and sustenance of natural energy and its resources through architectural interventions and climate-adaptive design. This aspect needs to be further researched and explored.
BIO-INSPIRED SUSTAINABILITY SOLUTIONS
‘Biological organisms refined and developed by natural selection over a billion year research and development period can be seen as embodying technologies, functions, and systems that are solutions to the problem of surviving in nature’ (Rao 2014, p.101). Much in the same way as how organisms function, buildings too, need to adopt sustainable practices such that they pose no harm for the environment. In the present situation where nature’s resources are being depleted at an alarming rate, biomimicry is the best solution, where we learn to give back to nature from nature itself, rather than taking its value away from it. It is almost like translating the built environment into an ecosystem with all man-made practices working in relation to the surroundings, or rather, building up the resource bank of nature.
Biomimicry uses an ecological standard to judge the sustainability of our innovations (Rao 2014, p.101). Present biomimetic architectural examples serve as a great inspiration for future development in the field. Sir Norman Foster’s ‘Gherkin Tower’ takes inspiration from the Venus Flower Basket. The cylindrical form tapering upwards with its hexagonal grid structure enables the building to handle wind forces efficiently, much in the same way as the organism, which survives through strong water currents underwater with an efficient lattice cover and shape. The grid network of the tower forms light shelves, inspired by the optic fibre-like network in the lattice of the organism. This is one way of biomimetic inspiration, where functionality under similar external conditions stimulates design ideas, with a special focus on structural innovations and climatic adaptivity.
The author (Rao 2016) quotes many such examples which follow different ideas of bio-inspired sustainability according the situation at hand. The Water Cube, Beijing is a great example of energy-efficient designing that utilizes the properties of its building materials to make it sustainable. Many examples of climate-adaptive and responsive facades have been explored over the years, having life-like properties of breathable skins, hygroscopy, filtration of natural elements & internal temperature regulation, etc. The scale of study also extends to large urban districts that take inspiration from ecosystems, leading to bio-inspired communities.
In fact, under this new order of sustainability, buildings, outdoor art and other manmade structures would function like trees, meadows, flora and fauna, capturing, cleaning and storing rainwater; converting sunlight to energy and carbon dioxide to oxygen; protecting soil from erosion; disseminating seedlings; and eliminating waste (Rao 2014, p.106).
Thus, ‘bio-inspired sustainability’ concept is a relatively new approach to biomimicry. Sustainability refers to a harmony between the social, economic and environmental aspects of human life. Strategies for sustainable architectural development include material and energy efficiency of technical solutions and a consistency (integrating ecological, social and environmental aspects together) in the solutions. Under present circumstances, ‘resilience’ compliments sustainability for protecting the future of the ecosystem. ‘Learning from nature is linked with the hope of learning from biological solutions that seem to be evolutionarily optimised, ecologically adapted and low risk’ (Horn et al. 2016, p.362). There is a strong focus on explicit transfer of sustainable strategies through biomimicry, rather than believing in the implicit sustainable nature of biomimicry. Bio-inspired solutions need to be assessed for the level of sustainability they provide, and how these solutions can be made more sustainable by human intervention.
THE MULTI-FACETED REALM OF BIOMIMICRY
The book ‘Biomimetic Research for Architecture and Building Construction’ (Knippers et.al 2016) describes the structural-functional relationships in various biological organisms for incorporation into design that is ‘bio-inspired’. It explores a multitude of paths within biomimicry, that have varied solution sets based on a certain problem. The researches described in the book go into the depths of understanding every detail of the biological inspiration and its features, followed by a simulation of the features for further abstraction and incorporation into design.
Biological organisms adapt via evolution through mutation, recombination and selection by developing multifunctional and (self-)adaptive solutions. The result is a compromise, satisfying partially conflicting requirements simultaneously, just as is required of a successful architectural design (Knippers et. al 2016, p.3).
Architectural design is a subjective topic, with a never-ending scope for improvement with the results obtained. Living organisms evolve and adapt themselves to their surroundings, by efficiently using the resources available to improve their performance and enable their survival over time. The qualities of multifunctionality, structural hierarchy and adaptivity have been the main sources of bio-inspiration, with the process of evolution of living organisms inspiring a resource-efficient sustainable approach to design.
Knippers (2016) has put forth a series of questions that deal with the process of bio-inspired abstraction for a sustainable solution, highlighting the need to study the mutual dependency of biological features for biomimetic translation. Computational simulation of biological inspirations deepens the morphological understandings and observations that have been made, enabling reverse biomimicry, which is the manner in which biomimetic study helps in advanced biology, in addition to a successful transfer of ideas into technology and design. Biomimicry is about dealing with ‘scale transformation’ in the case of natural inspirational features such as adaptivity, structural hierarchy, and robustness into building design and technology. There is predominantly, a growing focus on sustainable solutions in architecture, abstracted from natural elements, with a main focus on resource efficiency, sustainable use of building materials, minimum waste generation, and so on.
How can the interplay between the scales of hierarchically structured materials be analyzed and used for the development of new construction materials? How can buildings adapt and react to changing environmental conditions as natural structures do so successfully? How can computational technologies be used to transfer design and construction principles of nature to architecture and vice versa? (Knippers 2016, p.10)
Knippers (2016) explains the limitations of narrowing down biomimetic study by focusing on specific aspects of organisms, instead of looking at the inter-dependency of all its features, and their co-relation to the external environment. An organism evolves over time, designed to gradually survive the tests of time in a robust manner, and therefore does not exhibit an optimum performance of its individual features. This is to be understood while abstracting and simulating its features for efficient incorporation into a robust architectural design.
Bio-inspired design is a broad field of research that involves biologists, engineers, architects, software experts and so on. The author classifies bio-inspired design into four sub-themes, with biomimetics as one among them. ‘Light weight constructions are an important element of bio-inspired architectural constructions’ (Barthlott et.al 2016, p.26). Importance is given to light-weight constructions as a predominant sustainable biomimetic approach in architecture. Quoting Frei Otto as a great pioneer of bio-inspired tensile roofing, the various possibilities of exploring large-span light-weight constructions such as shell structures, tensile fabrics, geodesic domes, etc. are described by looking into principles of biological constructions in organisms. Another pioneering institution is the University of Stuttgart, in Germany, which adopts technology that focusses on detailed biomimetic study for translation into lightweight, modular construction using unconventional fabrication and construction techniques. (Barthlott et.al 2016)
The authors’ contributions to the book focus on different biological organisms and their interesting features that could be incorporated into design. The study of insects is of particular interest for its light-weight exoskeleton and its structural configuration. ‘The main technology areas, in which insect solutions to problems can be applied, are the following: (1) new materials, (2) constructions, (3) surfaces, (4) adhesives and bonding technology, (5) optics and photonics’ (S.N Gorb & E.V.Gorb 2016, p.57). For example, the ICD/ITKE Research Pavilion (2013-2014) takes inspiration from the porous, yet structurally stiff exoskeleton of the potato beetle. With a unique configuration of chitin fibres organized around the pores, the exoskeleton inspires light-weight construction moduled on the stable configuration of hexagonal double-layered components reinforced by carbon fibre for strength. Such a take on biomimicry, involving computational simulation and analysis, deepens the understanding of the biological inspiration, thereby also aiding in reverse-biomimetics.
Building construction materials can improve their properties by biomimetic studies, also leading to the development of new materials and solutions. Frost- resistant plants inspire building construction materials to resist phase change of water present in their pores, that leads to damage due to repeated cycles of freezing and thawing under external environmental conditions.
Such natural materials inspire a biomimetic transfer, for example, into fibre-reinforced graded lightweight concrete. Functionally graded concrete is used for its insulative properties, light weight, inner porosity variations that enable the required strength achievement with minimum energy consumption in production (with minimum material consumption and slimmer cross-sections). Thus, lightweight, graded, fibre-reinforced concrete can be developed by considering natural sources of inspiration such as the tree barks and sea urchin spines to enable maximum energy absorption during impacts, thereby increasing the lifetime of the structure, in addition to material saving.
Many developments in current architecture and building technology are directed towards adaptive systems that adjust their geometry to changing external environmental conditions or internal comfort requirements. Their general aim is to contribute to a more sustainable architecture through adaptivity (Betz et al. 2016, p.136).
This aspect of biomimetic architectural exploration of adaptive stiffness and kinematics is very promising in terms of sustainable development of the architectural systems of facades. The authors (Betz et al. 2016) look into the prospects of hinge-less mechanisms in plants inspiring a decrease in mechanical complexity for adaptive movement mechanisms in building technology.
Hinge-less or compliant mechanisms offer this feature. Ideally, these systems exhibit flexibility during movement and develop an increased stiffness and strength when needed. They are thus able continuously to adapt to various geometric configurations through elastic deformation and to resolve the potential conflicts of carrying external loads, mainly self-weight and wind. Plants and animals have evolved a variety of linear systems capable of adapting their stiffness and of achieving deformations without the need of classical engineering-like joints (Betz et.al 2016, p.137).
The technique of compliant mechanisms involves interaction with water at the cellular level, leading to adaptive stiffness of the biological material. The aim of biomimetic architecture is the development of robust systems that display adaptivity to the unpredictable environmental conditions through the molding of its stiffness and shape. This approach can inspire sustainable solutions for building structures and envelopes. One example of such a research in progress is the ‘FlectoFold’ mechanism developed by pioneers at the University of Stuttgart. This abstracts the movement mechanism of carnivorous plants such as the Venus fly-trap for translation into kinematic energy-efficient sun-shading façade systems. It utilizes joint-free, lightweight mechanisms for movement of components based on the actuation of the stiff mid-rib of the component, which causes the two leaves to come closer, or move apart, depending upon external conditions. The ‘FlectoFin’ is another research product that takes inspiration from the opening mechanism of the Bird-of-Paradise flower.
An important issue for quantitatively understanding and describing these movements and for the transfer into bio-inspired technical solutions is the elucidation of movement patterns and of actuation principles and their interplay with the structural set-up of the mechanism because geometrical characteristics and material parameters are inseparably linked and similarly affect the motion behavior of the compliant mechanism (Poppinga et al. 2016, p.170).
For studying such detailed linkages between material configurations, geometric properties, and movement mechanisms, proper analysis, abstraction and simulation are needed using suitable computational methods.
Biomimicry explores possibilities of lightweight construction with a high structural load-bearing capacity. Such a research looks into new materials and their possibilities. Fibre-reinforced plastics play an important role in case of structures with certain requirements of mechanical properties. The chapter (Born et.al 2016) talks about researches being conducted in view of branched columns of concrete-filled FRP hulls, taking inspiration from biological plant species, with a prime focus on increasing the load bearing capacity and reducing the stresses at the branching points. Similar inspiration from root varieties and their stability against the self-weight and wind forces acting upon them can help develop new anchorage systems in building construction.
Shell structures have always been an inspiration in the field of architecture, for their qualities of being lightweight, structurally stable and aesthetically pleasing. The authors (Grun et al. 2016) explain the need for understanding the ‘morpho-spaces’, or structural configurations of the biological role-models as a method of optimizing the skeletal structure. For aiding the optimization of shell structures, evolutionary optimization algorithms have been developed to perform computer simulations. Shell structures have a high potential for development through a proper understanding of segmented shells consisting of prefabricated units that can behave like monolithic shells. It is important to develop a suitable connection method between the members, that does not affect the strength of the shell.
Examples of research and development in this field include the ICD/ITKE pavilions (2011 and 2015) and the Landesgartenschau exhibition hall, inspired by the segmented skeletal structures of sea urchins and sand dollars. Other similar approaches to shell-inspired construction are researches being conducted on the process of shell formation in land snails for developing self-supporting and light-weight building envelopes.
While giving examples of the varied explorations possible within biomimicry, the book also talks about the limitations that arise in case of such inter-disciplinary approaches through biomimicry.
Major challenges in this interdisciplinary approach, i.e. the transfer of biological principles to building constructional elements, are scaling (different dimensions) and (at least for the botanic examples) the fact that different material classes constitute the structural basis for the functions of interest. Therefore, a mathematical description of the mechanical properties and the scalability is required that is applicable for both biological and technical materials (Schmier et.al 2016, p.277).
Since it is observed that scaled-up elements have reduced strength compared to their smaller counterparts, it is thus deduced that some modifications exist in nature to tackle the issue and this needs to be incorporated into the realm of biomimicry as well as reverse biomimicry.
‘Biological evolution drives morphological diversity via genetic variation and results in a high level of adaptation, performance and resource efficiency’ (Nguyen et al. 2016, p.295). As discussed earlier, biological evolution is a subject matter of importance in biomimicry. The conventional approach towards architectural design process is by constraining the solution space within the framework of already existing typology-based design ideologies that have been adapted over the years. Biological evolution, thus serves as an inspiration for a new approach to the problem-solving methodology by taking inspiration for design exploration from the open-ended evolutionary design processes prevalent in nature. It is about expanding the existing knowledge-base of solutions towards unexplored regions. Thus, biomimetic architecture is not just about the result, it is also about the design process that takes cue from nature, the world’s best teacher.
Genetic algorithms (GA) were introduced in the 1970s by John. H. Holland (Holland 1975) as an attempt to demonstrate and explain the adaptive processes found in natural systems and as an approach to produce artificial systems that exhibit adaptive characteristics similar to their natural counterparts (Nguyen et al. 2016, p.299).
These computations or algorithms are used in biomimicry to describe the processes of problem-solving prevalent in nature, and to analyze and imbibe them into the field of concern, in a similar approach. Thus, evolution and computational design do play a key role in architecture for exploring new and unique possibilities in the existing problem-solving techniques. These algorithms help in setting up a ‘fitness criteria’ by quantifying the required performance parameters such as lighting, acoustics etc. to guide the evolution of solutions. This explains the different approaches of biomimicry- one that is end-result oriented, while another that deals with the process of problem-solving, to arrive at the best optimal solution (the fittest solution). ‘Thus, in architecture, evolutionary processes are more relevant as exploratory processes than as optimization tools’ (Nguyen et al. 2016, p.296).
Limitations to computational programming and algorithms exists in lieu of a limited search space. Overly increased number of parameters and provision of minimum parameters, both have their demerits. Thus, there is a need for the evolution of evolutionary algorithms over time, else they fail to generate unique design ideas. Computational programming should gradually increase in its complexity for further enhanced solutions to design problems.
Fabrication techniques in building construction are of immense importance. Adoption of sustainable production procedures can lead to efficient material properties & designs.
Nature can inspire the development of energy efficient production methods for biomimetic transfer. Manufacture of biomimetic products involves complex geometries and a study of the behavior of employed materials. Production of construction components of low-weight, high performance (ductility & strength combined), climatic suitability in terms of thermal insulation, frost & moisture resistance takes inspiration from the lightweight, porous and graded structures of biological systems. Bio-inspired ‘functionally graded concrete’ is an area of research with developments in lightweight, multi-functional, structurally and thermally adaptive material properties. Importance is given to the study of natural fibre-reinforced materials & fibre orientation in organisms for incorporation into strong, lightweight & stable construction. Fibre-reinforced natural materials also inspire the development of adaptive construction elements. ‘Thus, for the fabrication of bioinspired structures, the interdependencies between design methods, material properties and fabrication techniques need to be considered in order to reproduce such material and structural distributions’ (Coupek et al. 2016, p.322).
The edited book with various chapters reflecting different aspects of the field, thus describes the immense scope for further research. All aspects predominantly revolve around the biomimetic methodology of enhancement of the performance of building systems, trying to make them structurally efficient, multi-functional, sustainable, adaptive and robust in accordance with the surroundings.
GROWTH-PATTERNS IN NATURE
The article ‘Patterns of growth- biomimetics and architectural design’ (Gruber and Imhof 2017) focusses on the scope of biomimetic design in architecture, by taking inspiration from the growth processes of natural beings for innovative ideas and design solutions, mainly targeting adaptiveness, resource efficiency, etc. in lieu of sustainability.
Growth, as one of the important characteristics of living organisms, is used as a frame for research into systems and principles that shall deliver innovative and sustainable solutions in architecture and the arts (Gruber and Imhof 2017, p.1).
A sustainable approach towards biomimetic design, according to the authors, is achievable by assigning life-like qualities to the design. ‘If a building could be used during the whole process of construction, then it could be similar to a plant; a self-growing building would be born’ (Gruber and Imhof 2017, p.2). The authors are unapproving of the existing construction systems and strategies that more-or-less seem unsustainable and unfriendly to their contextual surroundings. ‘Growth’ in nature can thus inspire self-evolving structures that do not pose threats to the environment around. Inspired by nature, where growth is adaptive to environmental parameters, highly resilient architectural structures can be built which adapt themselves to their surroundings. Other aspects of biological growth cater to sustainable processes, functionality, structural hierarchy and efficiency.
The example of the slime mold is taken, which has optimized circulation patterns with a great capacity to explore the surrounding environment, mainly in accordance with nutrients, light, water, etc. Such a growth pattern accounts for efficient spatial organization that can inspire the process of building construction. ‘Its capabilities lead the researchers to the assumption that these space-grid networks formed by the slime mold makes it the co-designer of design concepts’ (Gruber and Imhof 2017, p.15) Another inspiration is taken from biological growth patterns in mycelium, which feeds on various materials, and creates interlinks that transforms its properties. The authors had conducted research on the transformation of construction waste into materials of value through treatment involving mycelium.
The studies conducted, thus show another facet of biomimetic approach to design. ‘Descriptive information from the life sciences stands in stark contrast to specific functional interests from the design side’ (Gruber and Imhof 2017, p.14). Information that is in general, researched with regards to biological organisms and their functions may not be of enough use when it comes to biomimetic designing. Thus, there is a need for a specialized biomimicry-oriented research and knowledge transfer into architectural application.
Biomimetic architecture is a vast field of study, with numerous branches and sub-branches that study different aspects of the biological role-models. Being a highly research-oriented procedure, the analysis, abstraction, simulation and translation into architecture and its related technology involves a detailed research into the organism under consideration, development of computational softwares and algorithms for abstraction and modelling, and finally, a translation into construction taking into consideration, the scale of functionality.
Sustainability has become an inevitable part of human activities. As members of the ecosystem, our activities must be oriented towards sustaining nature and its resources. The bio-inspired researches that have been conducted on adaptive architectural systems of lightweight roofing and facades, inspire the development of a sustainable biomimetic approach, through the design of efficient structural systems for the desired form and function, with a shift towards new, bio-inspired eco-friendly materials. The ICD/ITKE Research Pavilions developed by the University of Stuttgart are a great source of inspiration for the generation of innovative biomimetic designs, simulation, fabrication and efficient material and structural innovations.
Biomimetic architecture is about incorporating principles from biological organisms and natural elements, inspired by the aspects of multi-functionality, structural and material efficiency, robustness, adaptivity, etc. The features of inspiration in organisms are interdependent on each other, and this aspect needs to be recognized for a successful understanding of the principles for translation into architecture. Nature represents the interdependency of form and function, and how the function is tied to the form, which is in turn, tied to the structure which determines the form. ‘They are, foremost, the important sources for learning about the linkage of function, form and structure’ (Engel and Rapson 2007, p.26). Thus, the essence of biomimicry rests upon the understanding of this correlation in nature, for an efficient translation into architecture. Structural configurations in nature inspire researches into the concept of light-weight architecture, which adopts a sustainable approach to material saving, and an enhanced understanding of aesthetics, structure-form-function relationships, and the adaptivity of structures to their environment.
The scope of biomimicry is immense. Being a relatively new field, time is required in a complete realization of the small-scale researches being conducted world-wide. It is a known fact that ‘nature is our best teacher’ and thus, a sustainable approach inspired by nature can lead to wonderful solutions that have never been generated before. Biomimicry requires aid in a detailed laboratorial research of the ‘biological role-models’ and efficient simulation softwares for abstraction. The fabrication and construction techniques can also take inspiration from biological organisms for a sustainable design solution. The focus must be on viable, innovative ideas that collaborate to generate the built space of the future.
Engel, H.; Rapson, R. 2007. Structure Systems. 3rd ed. Ostfildern : Hatje Cantz Verlag.
Gruber, P.; Imhof, B. Patterns of Growth—Biomimetics and Architectural Design. Buildings 2017, 7, 32.
Khandelwal, A. 2012. Nature-inspired architecture. Unpublished undergraduate dissertation. School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi
Knippers, J.; Speck, T. & Nickel, K. eds. 2016. Biomimetic Research for Architecture and Building Construction- Biological Design and Integrative Structures. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing AG
Rao, R. 2014. Biomimicry in architecture. International Journal of Advanced Research in Civil, Structural, Environmental and Infrastructure Engineering and Developing 1(3), pp.101-107.
Verma, C. 2016. Biomimicry- integration in architecture. Unpublished undergraduate dissertation. School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi
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