Kirsty Hammond looks at what construction can learn from nature

Biomimicry is the imitation of the models of nature, their systems and elements for the purpose of solving complex human problems.

Biomimicry in architecture and construction is the practice of designing buildings and products that simulate the clever benefits of nature and all its processes.

Not only used in design and build, this concept can also be used for sourcing innovative building materials and for utilising green building techniques.

As far back as the late 19th century, Gaudi was influenced and inspired by the atmosphere of forests for the interior design of the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona, Spain.

100 years or so later architecture can now even incorporate living matter into its structures and building materials such as mushrooms and algae.

A natural choice for a green world

Kirsty Hammond Kirsty Hammond Editor of Specifier Review

Ant world

As our understanding grows and research reveals more, we are able to harness all the wonders of nature and utilise its strengths.

For example the Eastgate Building in Zimbabwe has an internal climate control system originally inspired by the structure of a termite mound.

The operation of buildings around the world amounts to a huge 40% of all the energy used by humanity so an understanding of how to build more sustainably is vital.

Many answers can be found in the nature surrounding us.

Catching fog

Human designed solutions to building can be rather crude and costly, we rely on more materials or more energy to solve a problem.

Natural processes rely on a unique geometry and natural material properties. Nature is resourceful, we are not.

For example, fog catching or hydro morphology has to be one of the most fascinating examples I’ve researched.

In certain regions of the world, where water is scarce fog laden air brings hope for a kind of water gathering not yet extensively explored.

Inspired by a species capable of surviving the driest environments, the Namibian desert beetle. The beetle moves to a position where the fog frequently rolls in, it raises its wings that have a series of water attracting bumps, and troughs that repel it.

Drops of water collect on the bumps and roll through the troughs to the beetles mouth. This principle has now been innovatively created into a mesh, that also harvests the fog allowing people without access to clean water a hopeful supply.

By harnessing this natural technology, scientists hope to combat water shortages globally.

True ‘green’ houses

Continually architects are drawing on living matter and incorporating these into their structures.

In Germany “algae houses” harness micro algae as a renewable energy source by growing it in transparent surfaces.

One side of the green towers surface contains tiny growing algae which work to control light entering the building and provide shade.

It is the world’s first example of a ‘bioreactor facade’. The algae are continually supplied with nutrients and carbon dioxide by a circuit of water that rises through the building’s surface.

In addition to the sun filter the algae can also be harvested and used to make a renewable energy source called Biogas which in turn is used to supply the building.

Limited resources

A major drive for architects and designers is the pressing need to build with limited resources in the face of finite energy and material supplies.

The Whale Norway is an exciting new project from architect Dorte Mandrup and located 300 km from the Arctic circle, on the water’s edge of the Wadden Sea.

It will enable visitors to the area to see migrating whales up close. The building itself will resembles a giant rock that blends beautifully with the costal landscape.

It hopes to create awareness and learning for conservation of whales and their environment.

The curving roof will appear as if it has been lifted straight from the earth, it will be covered in stones that will age and encourage the growth of moss. The interior will be constructed from wood and concrete, rocks from the landscape will be preserved and embedded in the floor.

There are many truly amazing examples of biomimicry across the world and both scientists and architects alike are fascinated but ultimately utilising this practice in construction helps to reduce the impact that a structure has on our environment.

A natural choice for a world that is so desperate to go green!

Kirsty Hammond is publisher and editor of Specifier Review