Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Concepts About Biomimicry

Sperm and Creation. Fractals, arts and biology in a single representation. Digital painting by Myriam Mahiques.

Jason Mc Lennan is considered one of the most influential individuals in the green building movement today, his work has made a strong impact on the shape and direction of green building in the United States and Canada. In one of his articles, he explains he had to give a talk in Northern California on the future of architecture, because of the work he was doing with Bob Berkebile, one of the pioneers of the "green" architecture movement. As he had an audience of different backgrounds, he realized that what he needed most in describing the future of architecture was not drawings and building images, but a metaphor - a simple way to describe the future- that would embody the green principles he wished to communicate. For too long the machine had been the metaphor for buildings, but now, metaphors should be changed.

In his own words ¨I found myself searching amidst the sand and rocks for this new metaphor, one that could replace the machine, and provide a new construct into which state of the art technologies and age old principles could be placed. Serendipity being the mother of all inventions, I soon came upon some tiny flowers eking out an existence in this harsh, but beautiful climate that would provide inspiration for this new metaphor.¨ Mc Lennan saw in the flowers the perfect metaphor for the future of architecture. ¨Flowers are marvels of adaptation, growing in various shapes, sizes and forms. Some that lie dormant through the harshest of winters only to emerge each spring once the ground has thawed. Others that stay rooted all year round -opening and closing as necessary to respond to changing conditions in the environment such as the availability of sunlight. Like buildings, they are literally and figuratively rooted to place, able to draw resources only from the square inches of earth, and sky that they inhabit. The flower, must receive all of its energy from the sun, all of its water needs from the sky, and all of the nutrients necessary for survival from the soil. Flowers are also ecosystems, supporting and sheltering microorganisms and insects like our buildings do for us. Equally important is that flowers are beautiful and can provide the inspiration needed for architecture to truly be successful¨. Then, he reminds us of Buckminster Fuller, who once said "We do not seek to imitate nature, but rather to find the principles she uses."

Solar biomimicry.

We do not need to imitate, but to understand the principles. It leads us to a new way of viewing nature as a model and mentor: Biomimicry.
Biomimicry is a new science that studies nature’s models and then takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems, e.g., a solar cell inspired by a leaf. We can learn from the leaf, but do not need to copy the morphology of the leaf.
From a Conversation with Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature ¨Biomimicry introduces an era based not on what we can extract from organisms and their ecosystems, but on what we can learn from them. This approach differs greatly from bioutilization, which entails harvesting a product or producer, e.g. cutting wood for floors, wildcrafting medicinal plants. It is also distinctly different than bio-assisted technologies, which involve domesticating an organism to accomplish a function, e.g., bacterial purification of water, cows bred to produce milk. Instead of harvesting or domesticating, biomimics consult organisms; they are inspired by an idea, be it a physical blueprint, a process step in a chemical reaction, or an ecosystem principle such as nutrient cycling. Borrowing an idea is like copying a picture-the original image can remain to inspire others¨.

Green house. From Jason Mc Lennan's web page.

Berkebile and Mc Lennan offer as example of bio-mimetic the photovoltaics, as a technology that directly converts solar radiation into electricity that can be stored or used on demand while producing no pollution. They state that the big expensive panels, in recent years have become more efficient and able to integrate seamlessly into architecture. ¨Where before solar panels were placed on top of roofs they can now serve as the roof membrane themselves, replacing conventional metal roofs or shingles. Transparent PV panels are also being developed that can be used as windows and skylights allowing daylight to enter a building while still generating electricity¨. That is good news for me. A few months ago, a Southern California resident explained to me that he loved to contribute with nature, but even with the taxes exemption, and the waive of fees from the City Hall, he could not afford solar panels in the new addition of his house, he would be spending his whole life trying to amortize the huge cost of the installation.
As we can see, the practice of biomimicry is a two way bridge, from biology to design or from design to biology.


Bob Berkebile and Jason McLennan. The Living Building. Biomimicry in Architecture, Integrating Technology with Nature
Mc Lennan, Jason. The philosophy of sustainable design: the future of architecture. Ecotone LLC, Kansas, EEUU, 2004
What Do You Mean by the Term Biomimicry?
A Conversation with Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature

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