Biomimicry: Design Inspired by Nature

I remember the first time I heard anything about biomimicry was back in 2000 when Speedo’s Fastskin swim suit made a literal and figurative splash at the Sydney Olympics. The premise of the suit was that the fabric was manufactured to reduce drag by mimicking a shark’s skin using a bumpy surface that resembles the bumps, called dermal denticles, that cover a shark’s body. Since 2000, further research (as in this article) has shown that the suit didn’t really do a very good job of mimicking a shark after all, but it did do a good job serving as an initial introduction to biomimicry to me and a large part of the rest of the world.

Biomimicry, in my own words, is simply emulating natural processes and systems to create design solutions.  The logic is that nature has spent thousands of years perfecting natural processes and there is a lot humans can learn about the design of our own products and processes by examining and mimicking nature. I’ve been interested in the concept of biomimicry since I was first introduced to it in 2000 and I often cite it as one of the growing trends in sustainable design, but I have struggled to find ways in which biomimicry can be incorporated into my work as an architect, so my interest in it has often been relegated to the back burner.

Last week, during my visit to InterfaceFLOR, my interest was reignited by a short session given by Lindsey James, the Director of Strategic Sustainability for Interface, on biomimicry. Lindsey gave an introduction to biomimicry and then also spoke about how Interface’s i2 line of carpet tiles. I was familiar with this line, in fact it is what was used in my firm’s Cincinnati office, and I knew a little bit about how the completely random pattern of the tiles was arrived at after studying a forest floor and “how nature would design a floor”, but I had never thought of all of the benefits of this approach. The randomness of the tiles and the fact that they never repeat has numerous positive attributes:

  • There is no right or wrong pattern or sequence for installing them, so they are contractor/installer friendly and produce less waste due to cutting and placement than other tile systems.
  • Designers can mix and match tiles with different patterns and colors- the possibilities are essentially endless.
  • The colors and patterns contain enough variety that dye lots are not important. If you order tiles years apart you can mix and match them on the floor and not see a difference. This allows the owner to keep less replacement product  on hand and also allows for easy replacement of just one or two tiles if a small area is damaged or stained.
  • The variety in color, texture and pattern means that there is minimal manufacturing waste because there is not one “perfect” standard that is trying to be adhered to, so fewer tiles are wasted during the manufacturing process as well.

Wow- nature is pretty smart if it can inspire a solution that benefits contractors, designers, owners and the manufacturer! It’s so rare that a solution mutally benefits all of the parties involved in a design and construction process that realizing this sort of blew me away. It’s so smart, so simple and it really does have benefits for everyone. So, needless to say, I am re-inspired to dig back into biomimicry and see what others are currently doing with it. Just a couple quick Google searches turned up some pretty interesting biomimicry based products that are relevant to design and construction:

Clearly, some strides are being made in the application of biomimicry, so I am excited to jump back into the game and see if I may be able to use it in some way on my upcoming projects!


One thought on “Biomimicry: Design Inspired by Nature

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