Those of you who follow this blog know that I’m a science fiction author. The alien race in my book “Collision with Paradise” live 100% sustainably in a cooperative and synergistic partnership with their environment, including intelligent organic houses with self-cleaning floors and walls, heated, fueled and lit by organisms in a commensal relationship. Everything works on a natural cycle of harmonious renewal and natural evolution.
Science fiction? Think again. Science fiction is turning into fact.
Architects Bob Berkebile and Jason McLennan wrote, “In the future, the houses we live in and the offices we work in will be designed to function like living organisms, specifically adapted to place and able to draw all of their requirements for energy and water from the surrounding sun, wind and rain. The architecture of the future will draw inspiration, not from the machines of the 20th century, but from the beautiful flowers that grow in the landscape that surrounds them.”(The Living Building: Biomimicry in Architecture, Integrating Technology with Nature)
Humans have been getting ideas from other animals and plants since long before Leonardo DaVinci wrote the quote at the top of my article. Application of these ideas has been haphazard, and not particularly aimed at green design. Janine Benyus, leading proponent of nature-based design, first proposed in her book “Biomimicry” that learning from nature would be the perfect tool for eco-design. Engineering inspired by nature can be “functionally indistinguishable from the elegant designs we see in the natural world,” says Benyus, who founded the Biomimicry Institute to research and educate the world on sustainable biomimetic design.
Sustainable architecture will take “its cue from the original green: Nature” says Blaine Brownell in the March 2009 issue of Discover Magazine. It makes sense when you look at Nature’s proven track record.
Biomimicry is already being applied in large-scale challenges.
The think tank The Living is developing a product called Kinetic Glass, based on animal respiratory systems and made with a slit silicone surface that lets air pass through. Its tiny sensors detect levels of certain gases and opens or closes its “gills” accordingly.
Scientists are taking their cue from the air-purifying ability of plants and fungi to create barriers that not only reduce noise but remove harmful substances. Imagine, for instance, concrete that absorbs carbon dioxide, highway barriers that break down smog, and paint that eliminates odors in the room. Architects Douglas Hecker and Martha Skinner of the design studio Fieldoffice created the SuperAbsorber highway barrier that reduces local airborne pollution through a process known as photocatalyzation. Italcementi, an Italian maker of photo-catalytic cement, claims that the airborne pollution of a large city could be cut in half if pollution-reducing cement were to cover just 15 percent of urban surfaces.
Researchers at the University of Melbourne, John R.J. French and Berhan M. Ahmed, respectfully touch upon this concept when they discuss a human-termite design partnership. They explore the termite model, which meets all nutrition, energy, waste, disposal needs, shelter, and food sources in a true symbiotic relationship; and they are applying it to how we design our buildings. The Eastgate Centre building in Harare Zimbabwe, already mimics the way tower-building termites construct their mounds to maintain a constant temperature. Engineers copied the way the insects constantly open and close vents in the mound to manage convection currents of air and the building consumes less than 10% of the energy used in a similar sized conventional building. “We need to emulate the symbiotic abilities of termites to survive over time, for we all live on this symbiotic planet, and symbiosis is natural and common,” French and Ahmed remind us.
Educating the public and promoting community responsibility and involvement in green designs is key to achieving the necessary paradigm shift for future success. These can include: green rooftops; rain gardens; people’s gardens and curbside gardens; and green streets. It isn’t enough to know the how; we need to know why to make it work.
This article first appeared on Viridis developments, June 2010.
1. Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Write
2.eco-friendly building in Bejing
3. Shanghai Tower
4. Salk Institute, California
5. Vancouver Public Library
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.