Biomimicry


Biomimicry is interpreted as imitation of the models, systems and elements existing in nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems.

During my five years at design school I had heard a lot about inspirations from nature. So I finally decided to take the opportunity of thesis and learn about it myself. After two years of research I knew a lot more than mere imitation. Biomimicry can be classified into stages of simulation, interpretation, integration, replication and emulation. It starts from merely observing, interpreting and developing forms, structures and systems of nature to replicating natural systems and finally emulating cohesive systems.

Simulation is feigning the forms of nature. Art Nouveau was the first full fledged architectural movement to take on the natural world with an impulse to celebrate nature. But at that point in time it was limited to mere imitation, either as literal translation or derivation of an abstract.

Interpretation is understanding nature at the level of its geometry, structure and systems.

Geometrical Interpretation: Symmetries occurring in nature have been incorporated throughout the 20th century architecture; For e.g.: Bilateral symmetry of the human face and a symmetrical facade. Similarly progressions; for e.g.: Spirals in broccoli follow Fibonacci series which was further used by Le Corbusier to establish his principle of proportion known as “Le Modular”.

Structural Interpretation: Earlier simple compressive structures like arches were designed to counter the gravity but with interpretation of natural forms, more complex and efficient structures could be designed; for e.g.: The thin shell structures developed by Felix Candela and differential structures by Antonio Gaudi.

System Interpretation: Laws of energy and mass conservation permit only transformation and no destruction. Natural systems function in closed loops to maintain minimum dissipation and maximum efficiency. Habitat can be treated as an ecosystem by itself which consumes natural resources and excretes to sustain itself in terms of utility and maintaining comfortable conditions.

Integration is integrating the tectonics to design structural systems consuming minimum material and incorporating systems interpreted from nature for more efficient utility and comfort; for e.g.: ‘The Gherkin’ has a sea sponge like structure to counter wind flow in the same way as sea sponges counter water flow and the six spiralling vents having an opening at the bottom and exhaust at the roof maintain proper ventilation.

Replication also termed as “elementary biomimicry” understands and models nature not merely a part or function but as a cohesive whole. Organisms grow and adapt to the environment dynamics and in the process they develop certain capabilities which can be termed as genetic mutation. Like the self cleansing leaves of lotus to protect itself from fungal or algal growth on the leaves. The leaves have micro scale bumps to entrap air and micro scale hair to decrease the surface area for water to stick; similarly certain aerosol sprays have been developed for surfaces like wood and the self cleansing exterior paints.

Emulation can be termed as advanced biomimicry. It imitates nature to the degree of self assembly and self repair leading to a holistic, integrated functionality like natural systems. This may seem like a sci-fi tale but self healing concrete and self healing asphalt are already out of the lab under prototype testing. Currently a lot has been done for developing biochemical synthetics which are several times stronger than steel but due to cost constraints their use is limited to medical purposes.

Today humans have already disrupted the ecological balance beyond the threshold of repair. But developing self-sustainable systems using biomimetics can help restore the balance.

Monograph
Biomimicry – An Analysis of Contemporary Biomimetic Approaches – 2007
Ramaswamy Sakthivel, SID Research Cell

Award
Kamalaben Gambhirchand Shah Award for Best Thesis – 2006-07
CEPT University

Related Lecture
Bunkers inspired by Polar-bear Skin to Sustain Comfortable Microclimatic Conditions for Soldiers posted in Siachen – 2013
Defence Research and Development Organisation, Research and Innovation Centre, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras

Commendation

“I am honoured and grateful to be extended the opportunity to review Mr. Sakthivel Ramaswamy’s dissertation paper titled, Biomimicry – An analysis of contemporary biomimetic approaches. It is clear that Mr. Ramaswamy has a rich and powerful understanding of the subject matter and design influences of Biomimicry. Per your request for a score out of 100, I would recommend 100 for this work, which I find to be complete and worthy of publication….”

Donna McIntire – Chief, Energy & Sustainable Design Unit
United States, State Department, Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations.