Biophillic Design and BiomimicryPosted: February 11, 2012 | |
In a research project I am exploring right now we are researching the sensory experiences of people within the built environment. There are some great concepts coming together that I’ll share in upcoming posts, but one of the themes that keeps reoccurring is the difference between biomimicry and biophilia. It’s not something that I’ve given a lot of thought to in the past, but I’ve found a few resources I’d like to share.
E. O. Wilson
I have to admit I still haven’t read E. O. Wilson’s original writing on the subject, but his quote that captures the essence of biophilia is;
“… the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life.”
You can find many, many wonderful quotes from E. O. Wilson, but this particular one came form a gorgeous brochure for the E. O. Wilson Centre for Biophillia.
What is Biophilia
In a nutshell, biophilia is the process of integrating nature, visually and literally into architecture and urban planning. Once seen as a “nice” idea with good intentions, there is now a growing awareness from a scientific level, that integration of nature can have significant impacts on a human’s health and wellness. An increasing number of studies suggest that a simple window to the outside world with some greenery will encourage fast recovery times in hospitals and less need for painkillers. Biophilia is very human centric while encouraging and validating an integration of ecology within the human habitat.
How does that differ from Biomimicry?
Biomimicry focusses on understanding the functional strategies of nature and how they can influence and inspire innovation. It is a specific solutions based methodology that fuels ideation, as well as frames aspirational goals to guide innovation methodologies. Health and wellness is implied as a characteristic of good sustainable practice, but the intention is more systemic methodology within design.
Some comparisons to put it in perspective
To put it in context here are examples I use to frame the concepts:
The Building Envelope:
- Biophilia: Focus is on allowing as much natural light to pass through, preferably with vistas to parks or wild regions that are conserved during the construction of the project. Sight lines within the space should be clearly defined and linked to occupants’ movements. Where possible natural air should be able to flow through the building, linking occupants to the outside through the sensory experiences of a breeze. Where possible green walls should be integrated internally to encourage plant life indoors, directly situated within the context of the occupants.
- Biomimicry: Initial focus is to understand the context, what ecosystem is this building in and what are the core functional challenges of that ecosystem. This could include a relationship to rain, sun and wind and would include a taxonomy of general principles found within that context. The design process would focus on recreating those functions within the materials, assemblies and structures of the building envelope. For example, if the organisms in that local ecosystem have strategies for self shading to protect from harsh light, these could be mimicked in the configuration of cladding in order to create an external microclimate to keep the building cool. Further insights into water would suggest the desired rates of flow, absorption and evaporation on site, in order for the building to function more like an organism within the ecosystem.
Weaknesses of Both
Biophillia becomes superficial when the effort is to simply copy the form of nature within the built environment. Designing a column to look like a tree has the air of novelty. Designing the pots to look “earthy” so as to extend the tree more into the environment seems more of a gimmick.
Biomimicry becomes superficial when viewed as a reductive form oriented methodology. When only one physical function is viewed and copied, through a narrow lens, the deeper lessons of place based, systemic awareness are overlooked and the end result rarely “behaves” as a natural organisms.
Value of Both
It is tiring when you see these two concepts pitched against one another when the deep essences overlap on so many fronts. The strength of biophilia in recent times has been the measurable impact on human health and wellness. Because we are primarily living in a human dominated world, benefits need to be framed through this lens. Often biomimicry when taken to the extreme alienates this audience as the building as an organism within an ecosystem is far too abstract for the person signing bills and paying for the development.
Integrating the methodologies together and recognizing that each works towards the development of a built environment that better “fits” humans to “place” should be the goal, rather than identifying the differences between the two concepts. Further emphasis on the measurable impacts, health and wellness, sustainability, and business will continue to add relevancy to the methodologies and increase the audience willing to participate.
If you want to dive deeper into some research, here is a list of great resources:
Janine Benyus’s overview of Biomimicry – her book synthesized into a core outline
Introduction to the Theory of Biophilic Design – opening chapter from an excellent book
Designing Nature into the Daily Spaces of Childhood – good argument for children being engaged in nature
How to Create Healthy Environments and Health People – review of science around biophillia in health care