How is the Eastgate Building NOT like a Termite Mound?

Image from J Scott Tuner and Rupert C Soar - Figure 9 from excellent paper available by clicking the image above.

Why is biomimicry superficial?

Back at the beginning of this blog I wrote an entry commenting that biomimicry does not guarantee sustainability. It was not meant as a critique against biomimicry as a methodology, but rather at those who only wish to learn superficial insights from nature. A recent comment highlighted the complexity of this conversation, when Jamie Saunders commented that “biomimicry” as a term might suggest non-systems thinking;

Might this be supported if ‘ecomicry’ rather than ‘biomicry’ was initially considered ? Co-evolution and ‘ecomimicry’ – drawing a conceptual understanding and insight from the ‘whole’ ecosystem’ – ‘the interwoven systems that can provide “life support” for current and future multi-species inhabitants.’

My answer, in full here, explains that “bios” has always been interpreted by those pioneering biomimicry to incorporate all of life sciences; including biology, ecology, evolutiona and much more. In other words, at all scales and at multiple levels; form, process and ecosystem. Unfortunately, most stories celebrate a form based level of inspiration; velcro for example, and skip over the deeper, more complex stories; such as Paul Hawkins using redwood forests to evolve business models.

Should the Eastgate Building be a Lung?

We've all seen or used one of these images (I'm guilty), but perhaps we didn't really know what we were comparing?

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Using Biomimicry to Rethink the “Wall” – Design Project

Lauren Dynes: sketches of the design context, what is a wood frame wall?

Lauren Dynes, who is now doing her Masters of Architecture in Calgary, explored the redesign of the internal wall for her biomimicry project. It might sound dry to some of you, but the wall was an interesting choice because of how fundamentally unchanged and standardized it is as both a concept and a product. When we think of walls, flat white surfaces generally come to mind, along with drywall and studs, bricks and mortar or maybe concrete.

When we compare the subdivisions of space within architecture to similar metaphors in biology it is clear that our designs lack the multifuncional complexity as the membranes that occur within nature.

Bridging Design to Biology

The above design spiral is the methodology we structured this project around, which will explain the key titles Lauren uses in her images. Note: that the design spiral I use has slightly different language than those you may have seen at other workshops.

For this project the first stage of the design process was articulating an understanding of the design challenge and translating observations into questions of nature. The core challenges at this stage being;

  • What are the core challenges or opportunities within the design project? (IDENTIFY)
  • How to start researching natural models. (TRANSLATE)

For those of you that are yet to try this process it can be very tricky trying to word open ended and yet specific questions of both design and nature.

Image by Lauren Dynes: We asked the students to identify 5 core challenges or opportunities they saw in their project, and translate those to "biologized" questions.


Image by Lauren Dynes: note that some of the questions sound broad and naive, we are deliberately challenging the students to ask open ended questions...

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Designing a Racing Canoe – Biomimicry Design Process

Introduction to Sabs Feigler's Bio-Inspired Racing Canoe Redesign

I’ve begun to dust off old student projects that I have been looking forward to sharing since I first began this blog. To start, I thought I would share a project from Sabs Feigler that is an excellent example of visual design thinking. This was a three week project at the end of our first semester class, where students are given the opportunity to select a project they are working on in other classes and go through a quick biomimicry process. The emphasis is on gathering biological research and connecting to the design project.

Visual Thinking, Processing Diverse Information

Sabs Feigler: Communicating Biology Research Visually

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Hagfish Slime is the new Spiderweb Silk

After only a second or two, these sheets of slime are produced by the small, ancient Hagfish. If you look up close you can see the threads that create a chaotic woven structure that hold the sheets of slime together. Thanks to Jamie Miller for the photo.

This week I helped run a biomimicry workshop with high school kids. Many thanks to Dr Doug Fudge for inviting me in on the session, and Jamie Miller for making it all happen.

During the workshop Dr Fudge showed off his research into whale baleen , and the amazing slime from hagfishes. Jamie and I played with the students, helping them extract functional insights from the organisms and then leading brainstorming sessions around further research questions and design ideas. Overall it was a great experience, biomimicry encouraged everyone to look at the organisms in a different way, and ultimately Dr Fudge was thrown some questions and ideas that he has never considered before, which is always a success.

But the Hagfish Stole the Show

Lovely little critter resting in a neat spiral. Seems like the name hag is a bit harsh, until you get up close to their faces...

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Bridging Science and Design – Update

Evolution at it's best here!

Peter (Mr Scelop) made a superb addition to Alena’s already superb diagram and I was too eager to let it sit in my inbox.

Up-Cycle like a Nudibranch

The humble nudibranch, or sea slug, could be an incredible inspiration for how designers view recycling and up-cycling, and possibly even concepts around regenerative design. It’s taken me a little while, since Tim first told me this story, but here goes my first real attempt to put my money where my mouth is around the concept of visual communication in biomimicry. Looking forward to any feedback and ideas…

Nematocyst Up-cycling

Image 1 - Anemone

Image 2 Nematocysts

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Is Urban Sprawl a Bad Thing?

Is it possible to compare a groundhog's burrow to our suburbs?

Continuing on from the my thoughts yesterday, how do you explore design research and biology research in parallel?

Using nature to prove your idea

It is very tempting to look to nature to find “proof” that justifies your pre-existing idea. Often it is easy to find a connection between natural systems and the theoretical best-practices within the fields of urban planning, architecture and industrial design. But if you  are already aware of these ideas, has the biology research really helped you? And if these best-practices remain theoretical and mostly unachieved, are you even asking the right questions?

Perhaps in some cases this is all the heart desires, confirmation that you’re exploration is heading in the right direction, and new stories to help convey the thinking to your often unwilling audience.

But biomimicry should be about making “new” insights and observations that shift, challenge and expand how we approach design, business and engineering challenges. In order to achieve this level of insight a completely different mindset is required. The investigation requires ego to be set aside and preconceived wisdom to be parked on the back shelf and  freedom to explore some rabbit holes whose end destinations may be unclear.

Is urban sprawl a bad thing?

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Re-Cycling, Up-Cycling, Bio-Cycling?

Google "recycled furniture" and you get some weird experiments, most of them a play on the concept of recycling like this chair made of foliage; "Commissioned by the Design Museum for the Designers in Residence programme, Harvest is a reseach project using London's flowering foliage as a raw material for furniture production. Installed in the Design Museum Tank, Jan-March 2010, and at Sawaya & Moroni, Milan April 2010"

Huge thanks to the mighty fine brains of Tim and Peter, their comments to my last post are incredibly insightful and offer a lot for designers to chew on (yes I did throw a pun in there, sorry).

I want to hear some more design voices – so I thought I would begin to articulate how I am interpreting the information flow from a design perspective and see what bounces back. How can we reverse engineer these biological models into ambitious design ideas?

Nutrient Cycles in Nature

I have a very basic understanding of nutrient cycles, and I’m likely not the only designer out there with these limitations. We’ve all seen those simple diagrams showing water flowing through a landscape, or the how nitrogen, carbon or some other basic element moves through the different layers of an ecosystem. We’ve all heard of decomposers and their vital roles. But any discussion at a molecular level is usually pretty vague.

The more I am learning in this area, the more I realize how important these principles may be for designers.

Every Organism is a Recycling Plant

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Project: Science Design Dialogue

I might have got myself in trouble here…

A recent post stirred up some great conversation, and someone actually called me on an idea, and now I have to put my money where my mouth is. My question to the internet was;

“Is anyone interested in starting a dialogue around science with non-scientists?”

The answer was yes (thanks to Peter “Scelop” Nierowski and the mighty Tim McGee), and so now we have to think about setting this up.

Using this blog as the sounding board to get the initial discussion going, here is the game plan, and all you beautiful people out there, let me know what you think.

Here’s the the big goal:

To fuel deep dialogue about research, that includes a diverse array of voices, that opens science to a broader audience.

Here’s the elevator pitch:

A paper is selected for its scientific merit and opportunity. A group of motivated people start a free flowing dialogue that includes written discussions, questions, debates, hopes and dreams.

After a period of time, we call it quits and assemble some sort of review summarizing the discussion. It may be something like RSAnimate, or maybe a snippet of Design Fiction, or a paper that could be presented in a biomimicry conference. This could be a research project housed in a university, non-profit, or another model.

In the mean time a new dialogue would have begun around a different paper, and possibly an entirely new topic, for people to connect around.

The big hairy ambitious goal includes the possibility of this dialogue fuelling further research in different labs and institutions that might lead to some game changing insights and discoveries. Or to an incredible book discussing the implications of science in the broader community. At this point, who knows, the vision is broad, but emergent, and will respond to whatever brews up from the discussions.

Let’s do it – here comes the action plan!

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Bridging Science and Design

A personal sketch bridging science research to design applications.

How can we make play spaces for scientists and “designers”?

Thanks to everyone who has been posting comments, the feedback and dialogue is incredibly rewarding, and gets the ideas bouncing back in different ways, which is fantastic.

Peter Neiwiarowski, friend and Director of the Integrated Bioscience program at University of Akron, has been posting some particularly good feedback that has me thinking. In a recent comment he said:

I like to imagine that maybe the next great biological insight in some system will come from a designer doing biomimicry, or maybe a great design insight will come from a biologist doing biomimicry.

I love this goal, how might we make this happen?

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