Biomimicry as StrategyPosted: June 2, 2011
If biomimicry principles are used to define the criteria of success for a project, whether someone is “trained” in the biomimicry tool and executes it according to the defined methodologies or not, the end result will fit into the broader vision if the project is successful. Conversely, as outlined here, if the tool is applied without criteria of sustainability from the beginning, there is no guarantee biomimicry adds holistic sustainable value to the process. Therefore, a shift (or a balance) must be made from training specific skill sets of “tool application”, to defining clear, measurable criteria that has value to a project’s stakeholders.
For example: Biomimicry as Tool
Eastgate Building in Harare, Zimbabwe, by Mick Pearce Architect and OVE Arup engineering. They were tasked with the challenge of building a large complex in a desert environment without energy sucking air conditioning units. They could have taken any approach to resolve this challenge, and there are many examples of passively cooled buildings that do not take explicit inspiration from nature.
But, Mick was inspired by a documentary by David Attenborough that led his engineering team to develop a solution inspired by the termite mound, which has since become a celebrated icon of biomimicry. It is an excellent case study, they saved an enormous initial cost, continue to achieve enormous energy savings, and the chimney effect of drawing cold air up through a building has sense been replicated and advanced through many different applications.
My point, thank you for being patient, is that the project would not have occurred if the client had not placed those specific demands from the outset. If those demands were not asked for, it is unlikely that the architect chosen would have invested the time, or had the budgeted freedom to explore a termite mound as their source of structural inspiration.
For the sustainable results desired, the criteria must be built in from the beginning.
The question therefore becomes: what are these guiding principles that can be woven into a project from the beginning?
Biomimicry as Strategy.
The thought leaders of biomimicry have developed an ongoing and ever refined list of what’s being called “life’s principles”. Janine first wrote a list at the end of her wonderful book, and it has since adapted and evolved into a variety of different formats. Apologies for the lack of detail, but I’m not sure which format of the principles I am allowed to post online, so more specifics are to come in the future, but for those not in the know, Life’s Principles are enormous guiding insights into what occurs in nature. Large principles include: life adapts and evolves, uses local resources, builds from the bottom up, is resilient and interdependent, amongst other things.
They are, in essence, wonderful and challenging sources of inspiration. They set the “vision” of biomimicry. But to become design criteria that can be woven into a project, work needs to be done to define specifics and metrics that would make it measurable and definable to work within an innovation process.
Ecological Performance Specifications and Genius of Place.
In the development of criteria, architecture and urban planning is pioneering the most forward moment, in large part due to the strategic partnership between the Biomimicry Guild and HOK one of the world’s largest architecture firms. On projects biologists have been studying the ecological services of a specific place and defined hard metrics of key services such as; water flow, nutrient flow, carbon cycling, and biodiversity. These are then defined with clear metrics and written into the design brief.
Everyone then involved in the project, whether they are part of the biomimicry vision or not are going to work towards the end result simply by executing on the project requirements. HOK has since spun off a separate entity to solely focus on the development of Life’s Principles into specifications to be applied to site specific projects. Called F.I.T. (fully integrated thinking), it is a very promising and ambitious project.
Architecture makes sense at this level, because it is so rooted to place, and the disconnects between human practice and biology is so apparent. Architecture looks the same in Dubai as Singapore, but the organisms adapted to the habitat are clearly different. But…
What biomimicry criteria will emerge for other disciplines?
To be continued…