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Nature and Art

Biomimicry in Architecture

By Jordana Fyne

Biomimicry literally means the imitation of life.

But what biomimicry means for you and me is a new world of innovation. Or rather, our natural world translated into innovation.

Armed with centuries of trial, error and evolution, the natural world is the ultimate Consumer Reports guide. Cockroaches have been around for more than 300 million years – you may not like them in your kitchen, but you have to admire their destruction-proof design. The study of biomimicry is looking to that time-tested design for new ideas.

In 1941, Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral noticed his woolen socks covered in burrs after walking his dog in the woods. He slipped the burrs under a microscope and saw hook-shaped seeds meshed with the looped fibers in his socks. Today we call that Velcro.

Nature’s designs are integrated in so many aspects of our daily lives, and, with more than half of our global population in cities, it’s no surprise to see nature turning up in our infrastructure. Take Japan, for example. After the devastating 2011 earthquake, one of the only buildings left standing was Toyo Ito’s building, Mediatheque.

Jaws dropped at the seeming impossibility of the seven-story glass box of a building surviving a magnitude-9.0 earthquake, but a look at the design tells a different story. In a nation wracked by earthquakes, Ito conceived of a structure with “seaweed-like tubes swaying freely as they supported floor plates, as though the architecture were without weight or dimension.” Constructed with this nod to the ocean’s most enduring organism, the seaweed-inspired Mediatheque has galvanized a new generation of architecture.

Examples of biomimicry can be found in the buildings all around us. Think you can spot the beauty of nature embedded in urban structures? Test your eye for design in this slideshow, Biomimicry in Architecture.

Then learn more about the science of biomimicry on Cool Green Science.

Jordana Fyne is writer/editor for The Nature Conservancy’s internal communications team.

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