Biomimicry

 

Biomimicry is the practise of looking at biological processes as a model for human design. In the past humans have tended to work against nature in order to progress, consuming more materials than we can afford to and expelling toxic waste back into the environment.

This is clearly not an intelligent way to continue if we hope to look after the planet and prosper for years to come. Researchers and designers are becoming increasingly focused on using biomimicry as a tool in order to achieve this.

It makes perfect sense to take inspiration from the natural world, after all everything organic that we see around us has undergone billions of years of rigorous testing and improvement to become efficient and effective. It’s such a rich resource to tap into; an almost endless number of existing models from which we can draw ideas.

The aim is to observe how nature fits together harmoniously; the cycles and chains we see illustrate how we humans can live in tandem with our surroundings rather than employing linear processes with wasteful outcomes. We want to produce less waste, be more energy efficient and look for smarter solutions to solving problems.

A great first example of this kind of innovation is the Sahara Forest Project. This project took direct inspiration from the desert beetle. Living in the harsh dry desert environment the beetle has adapted the ability to harvest moisture droplets from the desert wind by using a hydrophilic shield (a shield which attracts water) and condensing drops into its mouth.

The project has designed a greenhouse which mimics this method by using a grill which the wind can blow through and create condensation inside. Energy is also harvested by solar panels on the greenhouse which are maintained using some of the harvested water. A bi-product of this is crystallised salt which is collected and used as building blocks elsewhere. It’s this kind of cyclic efficiency and use of resources which lies at the core of biomimicry.

 

It is an approach which can be applied to nearly every area of design. One of the most popular and well known examples is the simple yet revolutionary invention velcro which takes inspiration from the tiny hooks on plant burrs which latch on and stick to fibrous materials.

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In the world of cleaning many products are highly toxic and bad for the environment. Companies Proctor & Gamble and Biomimicry 3.8 worked in collaboration to research potentials solutions for the tricky issue of blood stains. Currently blood stain removers use a lot of harmful chlorine and are not particularly effective in removing the blood particles. By turning to nature for clues they observed how animals such as snakes and leeches have perfect enzymes for digesting blood. They are now working on cleaning products based on this principle which will be both more effective and more environmentally friendly.

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The medical field often takes its cues from naturally occurring processes.  A team of researchers at the Imperial College London have developed a potential solution to the problem of needles used in brain surgery.

The needles required have to be hollow in order to extract or inject things within the brain, but the problem is that the current models are rigid and pose a threat to the patients by having to insert through a straight path in the brain tissue. The researchers derived a solution from the wood-boring wasp; the females have a needle-like organ which they use for boring into wood and laying eggs. It is made from three connected tubes which slide along each other enabling flexibility, dexterity and precision; qualities vital for sensitive brain surgery.

The flexible robotic needles they have engineered will be able to enter the brain tissue in precisely the right areas, avoiding others and resulting in less risky surgery.

Another medical example is Neri Oxman’s Carpal Skin. A protective glove inspired by patterns in animal coatings which control stiffness variation. The glove protects agains carpel tunnel syndrome and can be tailored specifically to the patient so that areas of pain can be stiffer than those without.

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This structural mimicry is becoming increasingly common in architecture. Many of the materials found in nature such as spider’s webs and bones are stronger, lighter and far more flexible than some of the best man made building materials which we frequently use.

Events such as tsunamis and earthquakes and the destruction they leave in their wake are evidence that existing building methods do not coexist well with nature. Architects are looking for ways to design, more flexible structures which provide more resilience towards the forces of nature.

By looking at the design of bones for example we can adapt traditional support columns in buildings. Rather than solid straight blocks we can produce columns which imitate bones which are tough on the outside but spongy and less dense on the inside. This variation in density and texture is both lighter and stronger than conventional design and provides the kind of flexibility which allows a building to move with its surroundings.

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Biomimicry can also inform interior design; carpet designer David Oakey is particularly interested in the beauty of nature and applies it in his work. A forest floor for example provides a perfect template for beautiful flooring within a space. The advantages of such design are that tiles can be changed, arranged and replaced at random without ever disturbing the overall appearance. Regular wear and tear and staining do not stand out on these designs and they are aesthetically interesting and attractive. Such a simple idea can save huge amounts of money, time and resources.

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My opinions

As a huge lover of nature I find the notion of applying organic design to human design fascination. In terms of aesthetics I love how it can inform design creating a more natural appearance which I and many others find soothing and comfortable. It seems like an obvious approach to take the best bits of natures smartness and adapt it to out benefit. As humankind continues forward it seems unlikely to me that we will reduce our consuming habits or slow down our desire to expand, so I think biomimicry has a vital role to play in the future of design. We have the ability to shape the world in the way we want to and I hope we manage to design a human world which lives and breathes with its surroundings and becomes self efficient and environmentally friendly.

My practise

As I have mentioned above I am very interested in the aesthetic benefits of biomimicry, there is endless beauty to be found in nature and I do already look there for visual inspiration in my graphic design. I find a lot of graphic design to be very digital looking and too minimalistic and clean. I’d like to instil a more varied and organic quality into graphic work much like David Oakey’s carpet designs. This could inform my choice of materials or methods for creating attractive design, perhaps looking at the way plants attract insects or animals attract mates. A lot of the examples I have found focus on the physical elements of nature and I would like to look deeper into the psychology of nature, maybe this could effect social happiness or behaviours?

References

Materia (2014) Nature is a design tool Available at: https://materia.nl/article/nature-is-a-design-tool/ (Accessed: 3/1/2017.)

Sahara Forest Project (2016) Sahara Forest Project. Available at: http://saharaforestproject.com (Accessed: 3/1/2017).

Biomimicry 3.8 (2016) How snakes and leeches provided insight for better detergents. Available at: https://biomimicry.net/our-work/how-snakes-leeches-provided-insight-for-better-detergent/ (Accessed: 3/1/2017).

Fraga D. (2015) Wasps inspire robotic needle for surgery. Available at: https://www.nextnature.net/2015/12/wasps-inspire-robotic-needle-brain-surgery/ (Accessed: 3/1/2017).

Oxman N. (2017) Carpal Skin. Available at: http://www.materialecology.com/projects/details/carpal-skin#prettyPhoto (Accessed: 3/1/2017).

Mendez Vazquez W. (2012) Structuring Biomimicry, Improving Building’s Resiliency. Available at: https://www.nextnature.net/2012/08/structuring-biomimicry-improving-buildings-resiliency-2/ (Accessed: 3/1/2017).

David Oakey Designs (2016) Design. Available at: http://davidoakeydesigns.com/portfolio/ (Accessed: 3/1/2017).

Materia (2014) Nature inspired floors. Available at: https://materia.nl/article/nature-inspired-floors/ (Accessed: 3/1/2017).

Flooring (2016). Available at: http://www.gaafgoed.com/img/plaatjes-tekst/Image/Interface.jpg (Accessed/downloaded: 3/1/2017).

Cover Photo (2016). Available at: http://www.integritusprime.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/nature-spiral-bokeh-micro1.jpg (Accessed/downloaded: 3/1/2017).

Sahara Forest Project (2016). Available at: http://www.maxfordham.com/assets/media/images/Projects/Sahara%20Forest/02%20SFP%20CSP%20and%20evaporative%20hedges.JPG(Accessed/downloaded: 3/1/2017).

Desert Beetle (2016) Available at: http://www.inmatteria.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/namib-desert-beetle.jpg (Accessed/downloaded: 3/1/2017).

Velcro (2016) Available at: https://media.mnn.com/assets/images/2016/10/burrs-velcro.jpg.1000x0_q80_crop-smart.jpg (Accessed/downloaded: 3/1/2017).

Leech (2016) Available at: https://cdn.theatlantic.com/assets/media/img/mt/2015/09/Leech/lead_960.jpg?1441975590 (Accessed/downloaded: 3/1/2017).

Needle (2016) Available at: http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/icimages?p_imgid=656615 (Accessed/downloaded: 3/1/2017).

Boring Wasp (2016) Available at: http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/48637000/jpg/_48637243_woodwasp.jpg (Accessed/downloaded: 3/1/2017).

 

 

 

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