Learning from a Barrel Cactus

Image by Rui Felix: Above banner is a small crop from one of the many rich images Rui developed for this project. Each image file is quite big, and has a lot of great content to process.

I have recently developed a slight obsession around barrel cactus. They have become my go to organism when introducing biomimicry, especially in workshop exercises that gets an audience engaged in biomimicry.

To start the biomimicry class this year we ran the Barrel Cactus project and had a huge success. I have several case studies I want to share, and today’s is from an Environmental Design undergraduate student from OCAD University; Rui Felix. And I will warn you in advance, the images are superb, and you may want to set aside some time to really process the content.

Project Overview

The project we ran began in class and stretched over a couple of weeks. The core learning objectives included; general awareness around biomimicry, early concepts of biology, and practicing skills of observation and abstraction.

We began with a general discussion around “selective pressures”, defining the context for the barrel cactus, encouraging students to recognize that visual “features” of a cactus are actually “adaptations” to survival. Or from a design perspective; “solutions” to “problems” posed within the habitat. The exercise deliberately merges language of biology with design, to encourage students to engage using similar observation tools they would use in other design research investigations.

Observation through Sketching

Image by Rui Felix: Observational Sketches and Diagrams outlining insights from the Barrel Cactus

Rui Felix has outlined a stunning page above that summarizes the diverse observations made in class around the barrel cactus. You can see both sketches of form and process. Personal favourites are the digrams of light and shade, comparing the cactus ribs to a circle or square cross section.

This is an example of design research communicating biology in a way that is accessible to a diverse audience. I believe this general format should be integrated into tools such as Ask Nature.

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