Biomimicry as nature builds it


Biomimicry as nature builds it

Biomimicry as nature builds it is the second post in a series whereof the approach in sustainable design is discussed better to understand the different design tool’s advantages and limitations. The first post nature capitalism, today biomimicry and next to the framework called cradle to cradle. The term biomimetics was introduced as a term by Schmitt in the early 1960s and listed in Webster’s dictionary in 1974. Biomimicry comes from the word bios, meaning of life and mimesis, meaning to imitate. Biomimicry is described as the applying the emulating nature’s strategies and patterns to direct product design, processes, and policies, and as such draws its inspiration from the living world.

Biomimicry in design is an increasingly important trend in product innovation and especially chemistry is the development of materials and processes based on those employed by Nature. Nature has made truly remarkable substances and systems, with billion’s years of evolution, not only created life but supporting functions as food, energy, biodiversity and advanced chemical symbioses. These processes are so fine-tuned that if not interfered to balance a system whereof life continues and keeps the environment sustainable. Humankind is just about discovering the potential mimicking nature, draw creative inspiration from these fundamental principles.

Gaudi and the power of shape

Nature as a source of inspiration and mimicking is far from new, the Architect Gaudi naturalistic vision came from his observation of all living beings and particularly plants and trees.  He used both natures as aesthetic and technical design solutions; it’s clearly seen in the winding staircase in lower parts of the bell tower of Sagrada Familia. The narrowness inside the tower was a big design challenge as it seems impossible to fit staircases inside, Gaudi solved this by making a snail shape form that goes back on oneself. The form is surprisingly accurate, his reproduction of nature can be observed when comparing the staircase with that of a snail shell. Furthermore, the form makes it possible for water to flow freely when it’s raining.

Today the advanced research in chemistry has made it possible not only to draw design solutions from the forms found in nature but copy the marvelous functions of the plants, trees, and animals. In the years since the Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, the rise of a new design discipline, the number of bioinspired patents, products, and practitioners have steadily risen.  One of the most engaging fashion researcher and clothing designer who using biomimicry in her work is Suzanne Lee. She published the interesting and highly recommended book Fashioning the future, tomorrows wardrobe in 2005. Her work stretches further than copying nature through biomimicry and exploiting natures bioactive material but also growing new versions of nature using tissue engineering. It’s possible, for example, to make a fiber that is stronger than steel and much more elastic by crossing a silk-worm and a spider; the garments could be designed specified ultrathin, lightweight, impossible to tear and stretchy. The perfect material for sportswear, protecting and surgical implants.

Suzanne Lee and BioCouture 

Next step is actually growing clothes as Suzanne Lee doing in her project BioCouture on a large scale or even at home in the nearby future. Nature is without creatively limits, the fact, the relatively unexplored space of biological chemistry. The process strategy of 30 million species biodiversity is inspiring and broad.  A design brief that specifies, for example, no heat, beat, and treat, no waste, and no rare or toxic materials function as a creative frame,  accomplish what not have imagined.

The two ways of approaching nature, Biomimicry formally involves a clear and systematic replication of processes that are employed by Nature. The second way is called bioinspiration. It involves a more indirect drawing of ideas from Nature. Here Nature serves as a rich and readily accessible source of new concepts and approaches. Nevertheless, the line between the ways is not clear-cut. Read more about BioCouture and Suzanne Lee 

In nature, every object included in the processes are consumed, there is practically no waste and no energy spilled. The same process is used when creating life; biomimicry follows these principal’s building to shape rather than subtractive cutting and grinding is an inherently waste-free, most manufactured product today yield 93% waste and only 7% product. Biomimicry can replace traditional textile dyeing.

The butterflies structural color is the result of periodic patterns when light strikes the surface of the butterfly wing, it’s scattered, interfered or diffracted at a wavelength comparable to the lattice size; the result is the unusual brilliant and vivid color much stronger than obtained from dyes or pigments. Now another function water repellent has been added by mimicking the wing’s surface structure. It called a super-hydrophobic surface found in objects such as lotus leaves and in butterfly wings, these qualities make it possible to stay in the air without raindrops clinging to them.

The super-hydrophobicity surface has the ability to effectively repel water. The two qualities are related by the very small Nanostructures found in wings of the Morpho butterfly. Both structural color and super-hydrophobic are in high demand for many different applications, with extremely low energy consumption and environmental impact as they don’t use dyes process, chemicals or intensive labors. (Water-repellent, Journal Advanced Functional Materials).

Morpho Butterflies and structural colors

Donna Sagro’s Morphotex fabric apes the microscopic structure of the Morpho butterfly’s wings, which appear cobalt blue (Indigo) despite lacking any intrinsic color; animals use colors to protect and hunting adapting colors to match environment surroundings and climate. Without pigments, nature’s solutions use thin film interference to create color as the Chameleons Organisms unique functions are capable of manipulating formation to produce materials that are tailor-made for their needs. The same is applied in Nanotechnology, whereof, be programmed to certain functions as rain protected materials and odor-free fabrics. Janine Benyus focuses on her eminent book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature and the Biomimicry Institute on nine core concepts derived from the study of the natural world.

Nine core concepts of nature

  • Nature runs on sunlight
  • Nature uses only the energy it needs
  • Nature fits form and function
  • Nature recycles everything.
  • Nature rewards cooperation
  • Nature banks on diversity
  • Nature demands local expertise
  • Nature curbs excesses from within
  • Nature taps the power of limits

Human-made Vs. Biological systems

  • Simple wasteful
  • Linear flows of natural capital
  • Disconnected
  • Engineered to maximize one goal
  • Resistant to change
  • Frequently and longterm use of toxins
  • Monocultural and centralized
  • Fossil fuel dependent
  • Use global resources
  • complex
  • zero waste
  • closed loop flow
  • densely interconnected and symbiotic
  • optimize as a whole system
  • adapted to constant change
  • no long-term toxins used
  • distributed and diverse
  • run on current solar income
  • regenerative
  • local resource use

Does biomimicry work as processes for a better society?

In this perspective, biomimicry becomes a strategy for taking advantage of Nature to produce novel structures and processes, and combat negative environmental impacts of current practices. Biomimicry is not, in reality, a framework; however, a way of imagining the design in new and various ways, and develop alternative processes. The strength of biomimicry is an inspiration for the enormous potential of creating sustainable fabrics, products, and services, learning from the solutions already working in nature. In most cases, material’s and processes surpass the complexity of human innovation and design. The weakness is the lack of a framework as its incomplete and is suited better integrating traditional development processes, not replacing them.

Biomimicry invites to an interaction whereof designers and developers communicate new and alternative solutions by asking questions.  How does life create these objects and how does it make the most of it? Does nature seek the optimized solutions? Critics of the biomimicry pinpoint the lack of guidance in terms of social or financial sustainability.  In my opinion, this is not completely true as nature does not only seek the best option but the most balanced. Whereof, the interaction between natural capital and consume in a bio-system is fine-tuned  (nature regulates and keeps the diversity so that no animal, plants or trees do not become superior). The society has proven better off when it’s more equally shared in almost any important social issue; life expectancy, violence, mental illness, prevention of global warming, reducing the cultural pressure to consume, etc. according to “the spirit level, why equality is better for everyone.” The book contains research on many significant issues whereof more equal society benefits in nearly any relevant matter.

Nature complexity and uniqueness 

In the natural world, the flow and structure are organic, dynamic, integrated part in ecosystems when the term designing with nature sustainability means connecting the principles with the built environment at all levels; transforming the mechanical into the organic and layer of large grids into ecosystems. The human ability to understand the complexity and manage large-scale systems is limited, in nature even the smallest object is part of substantial ecosystems. These objects are encoded nature’s design, causes and effects evolutions, the actions performed now, is the fruit of tomorrows karma,  Every object has its place and function, preserve, build from the bottom up, use the only energy needed and recycle everything.

For example, toxic substances, while these substances are common in nature, they are highly specific, produced in small quantities as needed, and completely biodegradable. However, when these substances are isolated and higher concentrations such as pesticides, it’s dangerous for humans, animals, and vegetation. Still, we use these substances in concentrated forms without thinking about why those substances were only in small quantities found naturally.  Nature is more than a bank of resources to draw on: a system made to identify more than seven billion people with each a unique DNA code, witness a world without limitations and boundaries.

Humans have a lot to learn, the enormous difference between poor and rich shows that our performance is actually doing the opposite of nature principles for survival. However, a study of biomimicry easily can lead to a greater understanding in designers, is in itself of great value. Far beyond narrow limits and intellectual habitat of commercial design it  reminds us of nature duality  and our circumstances as designers; no matter how small part we play in the system, and still vast responsibility we have to the “whole.”

SOURCES AND USEFUL INFORMATION
  • Benyus, J. Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, William Morrow & Company Inc., New York, 1997.
  • Fashioning the future. Tomorrow’s wardrobe by Suzanne Lee
  • Bioinspiration and biomimicry in chemistry. Reverse-engineering nature Edited by Gerhard F. Swiegers
  • The design is the problem. The future of design must be sustainable by Nathan Shedroff
  • The spirit level, why equality is better for everyone. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett
  • Expiatory temple of the Sagrada Familia. Gaudi
  • Water-repellent, Journal Advanced Functional Materials.
  • Journal Reference: Jie Li, Guanquan Liang, Xuelian Zhu, Shu Yang. Exploiting Nanoroughness on Holographically Patterned-
  • Three-Dimensional Photonic Crystals. Advanced Functional Materials, 2012


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Kenneth Lyngaas
Sustainable fashion designer & eco-philosopher Sustainable fashion dedicated the twenty-first-century green living, design for change through system thinking, eco philosophy, spirituality, and sustainability.
Kenneth Lyngaas
Kenneth Lyngaas
Kenneth Lyngaas
sustainableFASHION// dedicated the twenty-first century sustainable community and living. Every day, I deliver selected news on Eco design across the Internet. Most people appreciate an update without searching latest news themselves. Therefore, it’s already served. Don’t miss it, subscribe! http://paper.li/buddhajeans/1322177882
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