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Designing The Future: How Biomimicry is Shaping Architecture

Biomimetic designs often referred to as biomimicry, involve learning from natural strategies to address our most pressing designs and challenges sustainably. This approach seeks to harmonize human innovation with the wisdom of billions of years of natural evolution.

The term biomimicry was coined by Janine Benyus in 1997 when she authored the book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. It encapsulates the idea of translating nature’s ingenious solutions into innovative technologies, standing apart from other bio-inspired design concepts by its primary focus on solving functional challenges through nature’s lessons.

Biomimicry Architecture is a unique approach to imitating nature in architectural design. It aims to create strong yet sustainable structures inspired by the enduring systems of nature, with limitless design possibilities. It can shape architecture in various ways: by replicating natural functions, mimicking natural appearances, and incorporating natural elements. This leads to a more sustainable built environment guided by lessons from the natural world.

Biomimicry
01_Sagrada Familia, The Gherkin, BIQ Building_ ©ystudios.com

5 Examples of Biomimicry in Architecture:

The Eden Project: The Biomes

  • Project: Greenhouse
  • Designed by: Grimshaw Architects 
  • Inspired by: Soap bubbles and Forms

The Eden Project, nestled in Cornwall, England, stands as a remarkable testament to human innovation and environmental education. Comprising three biomes, including the awe-inspiring Humid Tropics Biome, this architectural wonder replicates a diverse ecosystem. Its groundbreaking design feature, ethyl tetra fluoro ethylene (ETFE) foil pillows, provides strength and transparency, while geodesic domes disperse weight evenly.

The Eden Project 1
02_The Eden Project_©boutique-retreats.co.uk

Overcoming the initial challenges of nutrient-poor soil and flooding, the project’s creators ingeniously transformed the landscape. By mixing clay waste with composted green waste and developing a water management system, they created fertile soil and harnessed rainwater for irrigation. The Eden Project’s educational mission, promoting sustainable development and environmental research, further elevates its significance. It welcomes a community dedicated to preserving the planet, connecting students globally, and inspiring future generations.

The Eden ProjectGlorious gardens and giant biomes
03_The Eden Project, Glorious Gardens and Giant biomes_©CNN

The Gherkin: An Energy-Efficient Icon

  • Project: Offices
  • Designed by: Foster and Partners 
  • Inspired by: Venus Flower Basket Sponge 
The Gherkin 1
04_30 St. Mary axe_©www.skyscrapercenter.com

The Gherkin, located in London’s financial district, is a distinctive skyscraper standing at 180 meters with 41 stories. It occupies the site of the former Baltic Exchange and Chamber of Shipping, which were damaged by an IRA bomb in 1992. Designed by Norman Foster and constructed by Skanska starting in 2001, it has become an iconic part of London’s skyline.

This energy-efficient building features innovative design elements. It uses natural ventilation through gaps in each floor and also allows sunlight to penetrate deep into the building. The top levels house a bar and restaurant, offering panoramic views of London. The Gherkin’s design prioritizes sustainability, using only half the energy of a similarly sized tower.

Gherkin
05_Helix restaurant at the Gherkin_ ©Trip advisor.com

The Gherkin’s history is marked by a terrorist attack and a shift from the original design concept, leading to the creation of this unique skyscraper. Today, it serves as a prominent office building, hosting various companies and media productions. The building’s bold design has earned it several awards, including the prestigious Stirling Prize. Its location at 30 St Mary Axe is significant, given the historical context of the site and its architectural impact on the City of London.

Forest of Knowledge: Sub-Centre Library

  • Project: Library
  • Designed by: snøhetta 
  • Inspired by: Ginkgo Canopy
Capital library beiging
06_ New Capital Library, Beijing _©ArchDaily

In response to an international design competition win in 2018, Snøhetta and ECADI were commissioned to design the Beijing Sub-Center Library, a groundbreaking project celebrating both contemporary learning and China’s cultural heritage. The design redefines conventional library architecture with a focus on technology-driven concepts and sustainable materials. A distinctive feature of the library is its pioneering self-supporting glass facade, rising to 16 meters.

Central to the design is the theme of openness and inclusion. The library’s layout encourages learning, information exchange, and open discussions. At its heart lies a large common space, highlighted by a grand forest-inspired canopy, resembling a ginkgo forest. This canopy extends from the sculpted reading landscape to support the roof and serves as an informal resting zone where visitors can sit and read, creating a unique atmosphere.

The interior design features tree-like columns that support the roof while also housing technology components for climate control, lighting, acoustics, and rainwater management. The undulating plan of the library, reminiscent of rolling hills, incorporates reading rooms, staggered levels, book collections, an amphitheater, and study areas, all seamlessly integrated with the surrounding landscape. Transparency in the building’s glass facade allows passersby to witness the interactions inside, inviting them into the open, amphitheater-like space.

Interior of library
07_Interior of Library_ © Archdaily

In terms of sustainability, the library incorporates integrated photovoltaic elements on the roof for renewable energy production and utilizes sun-shading devices and reduced glass heights on specific facades to minimize solar heat gain. Locally sourced materials and modular components with a rationalized structural grid have been employed to reduce customization. This project aims to set new benchmarks for future library design, emphasizing building technology, sustainability, and public engagement in cultural spaces. 

Bunjil Place: A Symbol of Protection, Welcome, and Cultural Enrichment

  • Project: Cultural Centre
  • Designed by: fjmt
  • Inspired by:  spread wings of ‘Bunjil’ the eagle

Bunjil Place is a multifunctional civic hub in Melbourne’s Narre Warren, designed to serve as a vibrant center for community engagement and cultural activities. It encompasses a diverse range of functions, including a library, performance theatre, public gathering space, exhibition galleries, and flexible event spaces. At its core, the design emphasizes an interconnected and inclusive fluid form that unifies these functions, fostering collaboration and community interaction.

Bungil palace
08_Bunjil_Place_ © Glenn Hester

The project’s vision revolves around creating an authentic sense of place for Narre Warren and the City of Casey, addressing the identity loss caused by rapid urban development. It draws inspiration from indigenous themes, notably “Bunjil the Creator” and “The Meeting of Many Paths” artwork by Cathy Adams, both central to the culture of the Boon Wurrung. The goal is to reflect community values of inclusivity and civic pride, aiming to be a welcoming space for all residents.

Bunjil Place’s architecture features an iconic timber grid shell roof that evokes the image of Bunjil, the eagle hawk creator. The roof’s complex geometric forms symbolize protection and welcome, grounding the building while also soaring above. The design thoughtfully integrates various programmatic elements, encouraging the cross-pollination of ideas and activities among users.

Mimiciking eagle wings
09_mimicking eagle wings_©John Gollings

Furthermore, the building’s materiality and form promote a meaningful gathering place for the community. It offers spaces for cultural engagement, exhibitions, and storytelling, contributing to the acknowledgment of the world’s oldest living culture. While the design has been successful in its architectural expression and symbolism, there is room for deeper integration of indigenous knowledge systems and cultural values.

The Dutch Mountains: Twin timber skyscrapers

  • Project: Residential / Office
  • Designed by: fjmt
  • Inspired by:  spread wings of ‘Bunjil’ the eagle

The Eindhoven railway zone is undergoing significant development, transforming into an internationally oriented center for living, working, and social interaction. The Dutch Mountains, one of the inaugural projects within this zone, will rise as two towers featuring offices, residences, and a hotel, unified by a communal winter garden. These towers, with their dynamic and ever-changing appearance, will become iconic structures visible throughout Eindhoven. The innovative architecture blends sustainability with modernity, showcasing a commitment to reducing greenhouse gases by using cross-layer glued wood (CLT) from sustainable forests for construction, making it both environmentally friendly and visually striking.

The Dutch mountains
10_The Dutch Mountains_© marcovermeulen.eu

The design of The Dutch Mountains emphasizes its role as a landmark and community hub. The two towers, differing in height and orientation, meld together fluidly, with the façades transforming into the roof and vice versa. This unique design creates a seamless connection between the towers, which is further accentuated by a striking roof structure of laminated wooden beams known as the “voile,” visible from the building’s central interior. This lush interior space not only connects various program elements but also establishes a link with the surrounding environment.

The building places a strong emphasis on sustainability, with a significant portion of its structure crafted from cross-laminated timber (CLT) sourced from sustainably managed forests. This sustainable approach reduces CO2 emissions by minimizing the use of steel and concrete. While some structural components, such as lift cores, necessitate concrete, the design maximizes the use of timber, offering a tactile quality to the building’s interior. The CLT is not only visible but also aids in carbon sequestration, supporting the reduction of greenhouse gases.

Worm eye view of tower

11_ Worm eye view of tower_ ©TDMS

To maintain an eco-friendly and healthy indoor climate, The Dutch Mountains leverages natural principles. Rainwater collected from the roof irrigates the central interior space, fostering a vibrant atmosphere. Any surplus rainwater is redirected to the nearby Dommel River. Additionally, the building’s heating and cooling systems rely on an Aquifer Thermal Energy Storage (ATES) source. The structure’s sustainability aligns with its goal of promoting a healthy and sustainable urban environment.

In terms of functionality, the building’s lower three floors are dedicated to communal spaces, offering a wide range of amenities, including catering, sports facilities, shops, meeting rooms, exhibition areas, and a spacious conference room, all connected through a welcoming entrance hall. The towers’ lower levels house offices and flexible workspaces, while one tower accommodates residences, and the other features a hotel and short-stay apartments. At the pinnacle of the south-westerly tower, a rooftop bar promises breathtaking 360-degree views of Eindhoven and its surroundings, reminiscent of a mountaintop retreat.

The Dutch Mountains are not merely a building but a symbol of sustainable urbanization, pushing the boundaries of green architecture and modern urban planning. It seeks to inspire and captivate while demonstrating the possibilities of environmentally responsible design and construction.

Conclusion

In the world of design and architecture, biomimicry, often referred to as biomimetic design, represents a powerful journey into the heart of nature’s wisdom. It’s a path that encourages us to learn from the Earth’s timeless solutions and apply them to our modern challenges in sustainable ways.

Biomimicry’s essence lies in the idea of aligning human innovation with nature’s profound expertise, and this philosophy extends to biomimicry architecture. It’s about creating not just structures but living, breathing reflections of the natural world’s enduring systems. These architectural wonders, from the Eden Project’s ethereal biomes to the innovative Gherkin in London, the pioneering Beijing Sub-Center Library, and Melbourne’s inclusive Bunjil Place, all remind us that we can build with nature, not against it.

These architectural marvels blend seamlessly with the environment, providing strength, sustainability, and a sense of wonder. They show us that even in urban landscapes, we can replicate the balance and harmony found in nature. From replicating soap bubbles to mimicking ginkgo canopies, these designs inspire inclusivity, foster community engagement, and promote sustainable living.

As we look to the future, biomimicry architecture offers a path to create buildings that respect our planet’s limits and celebrate its beauty. By combining innovation with the timeless lessons of nature, we can build not just structures but vibrant, sustainable communities where people and the environment thrive together.

References

  1. London Top Sights Tours. (2019). The Gherkin in London – History of London’s Gherkin a Truly Iconic Building. [online] Available at: https://www.londontopsightstours.com/the-gherkin-history-of-londons-newest-iconic-building/.
  2. ArchDaily. (2018). Bunjil Place / fjmt. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/897651/bunjil-place-fjmt.
  3. ‌www.hess-timber.com. (n.d.). Bunjil Place. [online] Available at: https://www.hess-timber.com/en/references/detail/bunjil-place/.
  4. Mountains, T.D. (n.d.). The Dutch Mountains. [online] The Dutch Mountains. Available at: https://www.thedutchmountains.nl/#smart [Accessed 10 Sep. 2023].
  5. Dezeen. (2022). Snøhetta designs library in Beijing that mimics a Ginkgo forest canopy. [online] Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2022/01/05/snohetta-beijing-sub-center-library-china-architecture/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2023].
  6. designboom, lynne myers I. (2022). a forest-like canopy tops snøhetta’s Beijing sub-center library. [online] designboom | architecture & design magazine. Available at: https://www.designboom.com/architecture/snohetta-beijing-sub-centre-library-01-03-2021/ [Accessed 12 Sep. 2023].
  7. https://www.howstuffworks.com/about-author.htm (2001). How the Eden Project Works. [online] HowStuffWorks. Available at: https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/conservation/conservationists/eden3.htm. [Accessed 12 Sep. 2023].
  8. Architectuul. (n.d.). The Gherkin. [online] Available at: https://architectuul.com/architecture/the-gherkin/media/5a182649-23fc-4555-a35b-4b576d7b5e1b [Accessed 12 Sep. 2023].
  9. Pintos, P. (2019). 30 St Mary Axe Tower / Foster + Partners. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/928285/30-st-mary-axe-tower-foster-plus-partners. [Accessed 12 Sep. 2023].
  10. http://www.visitcornwall.com. (n.d.). Visit Cornwall | Arts & Culture: Eden Project. [online] Available at: https://www.visitcornwall.com/things-to-do/gardens/eden-project. [Accessed 12 Sep. 2023].

Also Read;

https://thearchspace.com/the-imperial-by-award-winning-architect-hafeez-contractor/

https://thearchspace.com/the-gherkin-by-the-pritzker-prize-winner-norman-foster/

By Deepika Shukla

Deepika is a fifth-year undergraduate architecture student who explores the interconnectedness of diverse fields, believing they hold valuable insights for a better society. She views architecture as a catalyst for positive change, shaping a transformative and evolved world. I firmly believe that structures hold stories of their existence and evoke a sense of belonging beyond mere shelter. They resonate with our emotions and contribute to our psychological well-being.

Link to my website:

https://wordpress.com/home/myimpressions7.wordpress.com

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