biomimicry for sustainable architecture

Biomimicry, derived from “bio” meaning life, and “mimicry” meaning imitation, is a fascinating approach to innovation that draws inspiration from nature’s ingenious designs and processes to solve human challenges. It offers a profound shift from traditional design thinking to a more holistic and ecologically sensitive approach.

From the intricate pattern of a seashell to the resilience of a spider’s web, biomimicry taps into millions of years of evolutionary wisdom. The intention of biomimicry can manifest in two distinct ways. There could be two instances when you can comfortably claim the biomimicry occurrence in the architecture.

First, it involves taking form and geometry inspiration from nature, where architects replicate the structural aesthetics of natural elements. Second, it aims to execute specific functions in a manner that mimics nature’s efficiency. By observing and emulating nature’s time-tested solutions, biomimicry offers a treasure trove of innovative ideas for the AEC industry. This harmonizes with the environment and elevates human ingenuity in designing more sustainable and resilient solutions. 

Examples of Biomimicry in Architecture

➡️ The Eastgate Centre, Zimbabwe: 

Building Eastgate, Zimbabwe

  • Inspiration: The form and design of the Eastgate Centre drew inspiration from termite mounds, replicating their efficient ventilation system. 
  • Impact on the Building Performance: By mimicking the self-cooling mechanism of termite mounds, the Eastgate Centre achieved a remarkable impact on the building’s energy efficiency and indoor climate regulation. The innovative design allowed the structure to maintain a stable and comfortable temperature without relying heavily on traditional air conditioning systems. 

The termite mound-inspired ventilation system works as follows. During the day, warm air inside the building rises to the top, and a series of vents located at the top of the structure allow this warm air to escape.

As a result, a natural suction effect is created, drawing in cooler air from the lower levels of the building. At night, when the outside temperature drops, the vents close, trapping the cool air inside. The next day, the process repeats, ensuring a continuous flow of fresh air without the need for energy-intensive mechanical cooling. 

This geometrically inspired design drastically reduces the Eastgate Centre’s energy consumption compared to conventionally air-conditioned buildings of similar size. It has become a prime example of biomimetic architecture, where nature’s efficiency is harnessed to create sustainable and environmentally conscious structures.

Beyond its energy-saving benefits, the termite-mound-inspired form contributes to a distinctive architectural identity, making the Eastgate Centre a unique and iconic landmark in Harare, Zimbabwe. 

➡️ Beijing National Stadium (Birds Nest), China: 

Beijing National Stadium - Bird's Nest Stadium

  • Inspiration: The building drew inspiration from bird’s nests for its form and design, replicating the intricate lattice-like structure. 
  • Impact on the Building Performance: The geometrically inspired form of the Beijing National Stadium, known as the Birds Nest, has a significant impact on the building’s aesthetics and structural integrity.

The design features a complex web of steel beams that interconnect to create a visually striking and unique appearance. The lattice-like structure gives the stadium its iconic and recognizable shape and serves functional purposes as well. 

The geometric design allows for a spacious and column-free interior, providing unobstructed views for spectators. The lattice work distributes the load evenly throughout the structure, making it structurally stable and capable of withstanding heavy loads and stresses, such as those experienced during large-scale sporting events and concerts. 

The form’s inspiration from bird’s nests also adds a symbolic and cultural dimension to the building, representing unity, strength, and the spirit of cooperation. The Beijing National Stadium became an architectural icon and a symbol of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, leaving a lasting impact on the city’s skyline and becoming a source of national pride. 

Overall, the Birds Nest’s geometrically inspired form demonstrates how nature’s designs can inspire awe-inspiring architecture that marries both aesthetics and functionality, leaving a lasting impact on the built environment. 

➡️ Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin (United States) 

Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin (United States)

  • Inspiration: The building drew inspiration from bird wings and their aerodynamic form, replicating the dynamic movement and shape. 
  • Impact on the Building Performance: The geometrically inspired form of the Milwaukee Art Museum, particularly its movable wing-like brise-soleil (sunscreen) on the roof, has a profound impact on the building’s functionality and visual appeal. 

The movable wings of the brise-soleil are designed to open and close based on changing weather conditions, providing natural ventilation and regulating the amount of sunlight entering the interior spaces.

When closed, the wings act as a sunscreen, blocking excessive sunlight and reducing the cooling load on the building’s HVAC system. Conversely, when opened, the wings allow natural light to flood the interior spaces, creating a well-lit and visually engaging environment. 

Beyond its functional benefits, the dynamic and kinetic form of the movable wings creates a captivating architectural feature. The wings can be seen as an extension of the building’s expression, resembling the graceful movement of bird wings in flight. The changing positions of the wings also add an element of spectacle, transforming the appearance of the building throughout the day. 

The geometric inspiration from bird wing enhances the Milwaukee Art Museum’s energy efficiency and interior comfort as well as contributes to its unique identity as an architectural landmark. It serves as a shining example of how nature’s forms can be translated into striking architectural designs that elevate both form and function. 

The Process of Biomimicry Architecture with BIM

7D BIM integrates additional dimensions beyond the traditional 3D BIM model to include cost, scheduling, and sustainability-related data. When combined with biomimicry principles, it can revolutionize the design, construction, and operation of buildings, leading to more efficient and sustainable building systems. Here’s how the utilization of 7D BIM with biomimicry can optimize investments in efficient building systems: 

  1. Biomimicry in Form Performance Testing:

Biomimicry involves drawing inspiration from nature’s design solutions to address human challenges. By using 7D BIM, architects and engineers can incorporate biomimetic principles into the design process and simulate how the building’s form interacts with its surroundings. Computational analysis and simulations can be performed to test the form’s performance in terms of energy efficiency, natural ventilation, and daylight utilization, among other aspects. 

  1. Scheduling and Cost Optimization:

By coupling biomimetic design early in the process with cost and time scheduling, potential cost and schedule impacts can be assessed more accurately. Let us say for biomimicry-inspired cooling systems in the building. With advanced BIM workflow, designers can plan out teach of the element of the design based on the efficient logistical operation and resource allocation.  

  1. Real-Time Performance Monitoring:

After construction, the biomimetic designs can be tested on real-time performance data metrics from the building’s sensors and systems. Design aspirations are mostly based on designer’s assumption but the BIM and IoT integration could provide periodic data feed on its performance.

Will There Be a Biomimicry Movement in the Future?

As climate change effects continue to unfold, the future beckons a compelling need for a biomimicry movement. With nature as our ultimate guide, closely modeling our buildings and innovations on its genius holds the key to reducing our impact on the environment and fostering better ecological assimilation. Biomimicry represents a beacon of hope, where we can draw inspiration from the intricate systems and designs perfected by millions of years of evolution.

By emulating nature’s efficiency and sustainability, we pave the way for a harmonious coexistence with the planet. As we face unprecedented challenges, embracing biomimicry unlocks innovative solutions and rekindles our connection with the natural world, reminding us that the answers to our most pressing problems have been flourishing around us all along. The future beckons us to heed nature’s call and embark on a transformative journey towards a greener and more sustainable tomorrow.