The aim of the project biomimetics in architecture – architecture of life and buildings – is innovation in architecture. The purpose of investigating the areas common to architecture and biology is not to draw borders or make further distinctions, or even to declare architecture a living organism, but to clarify what is currently happening in the overlapping fields. The accumulation of knowledge of individual examples is less important than the investigation of the methodology of translating knowledge gained from nature into technical solutions. The objective is to employ biomimetics as a tool in architectural design. The fields in architecture where this is applicable and necessary are diverse. Innovation will help to solve current problems in architecture and environment, and new fields of architecture and design will be explored, e.g. space design.
The strategic comparison with biological paradigms will help identify areas for innovation. Best of all, biomimetics in architecture will help develop a culture of active environmental design.
This book entitled “Biomimetics in Architecture – Architecture of Life and Buildings” (Architekturbionik – die Architektur von Bauwerken und Lebewesen) gives a broad overview of overlapping areas in the fields of biology and architecture, investigating the field of what is called biomimetics in architecture (Architekturbionik).
A comprehensive comparative study of these overlapping areas has not yet been carried out. Numerous people have already delivered contributions to the connections between architecture and biology. Many such approaches have provided successful architectural developments.
Werner Nachtigall has compiled a vast collection of examples and made a heroic attempt to order the field of biomimetics as a whole. In his works “Baubionik”1 and “Vorbild Natur, Bionik-Design für funktionelles Gestalten”2 he concentrates on issues around design and building. Frei Otto and his group have tried to give architects and engineers a view on what he called “Natürliche Konstuktionen”3 and developed an experimental approach to natural design. Otto Patzelt has compared growing and building in “Wachsen und Bauen”.
The Russian Juri S. Lebedew in the 1960s wrote the only comprehensive work done so far on “Architekturbionik”5. Recent developments in biomimetics in Germany and the UK occasionally touch architecture, but no comprehensive effort is being made.
The new approach carried out here transfers the biological characteristics of life onto the built environment and thus architecture.
In order to make the topic accessible to architects the basics of life sciences are presented, which cannot be omitted when dealing with nature and natural role models for design. An overview of the present state of research in the relatively young scientific field of biomimetics shows the potential of the approach.
Methods used for this investigation are diverse. Literature research, conference organisation and participation, and expert interviews were carried out.
Data for the case study about traditional architecture in Nias was collected in two field trips, with extensive architectural documentation and narrative interviews. The processing of the data was done with architectural and engineering tools. Students design projects in different intensities delivered examples for the biomimetic approach in architecture. Another case study in space architecture based on literature research and design studies in workshops was also carried out.
The basic assumption of the research is that the study of the overlapping fields of biology and architecture will show innovative potential for architectural solutions.
The important questions are: Can the combination of the biological characteristics of life and the built environment offer new solutions for more appropriate, more sustainable architectural designs?
Can the new approach – searching for life’s criteria in architecture – provide a new view of architectural achievements and make visible innovative potential that has not yet been exploited?
Why is it important to deal with architecture and biology?
Growth of cultural landscape
At the beginning of 2007, 6.6 billon people are living on earth.6 Almost all of them live in cultural landscapes. We have managed to transform the natural environment to fit our needs in many respects. About half of the world’s population lives in densely populated urban areas. Built environment has replaced the former natural environment as
man’s “normal” surrounding.
Therefore the design of the built environment is becoming more and more important. Qualities that in former times could be found in nature have to be introduced into the artificial, cultural, or social, environment, in order to maintain quality of life and biodiversity.
Architecture is mainly concerned with the built part of our environment, but must also refer to spatial planning on a larger scale.
Together with the growth of the world’s population, the rapid development in technology and economy creates an enormous impact on the environment as a whole. The building industry’s, and thus architecture’s, share in the developments which are listed below are considerable:
- Natural land loss and irreversible destruction of biodiversity
- Exploitation of raw material
- Extensive use of energy
- Production of waste
- Emissions into soil, water and air
Architecture has to adapt to environmental changes.
If pollution continues, architecture will in the future have to provide shelter from a potentially hazardous future environment.
The investigation of biology and natural processes makes architects aware of the ongoing processes and the influence they can achieve.
Technological progress provides different means of planning and building, and has opened up opportunities, which allow a more generous interpretation of architecture in terms of functionality and mediation between humans and their environment. Current developments show an increase of life’s criteria being implemented into architectural projects.
There seems to be a transition in architecture from providing unsophisticated shelter to a smart third skin for humans.
Sick building syndrome – sick environment syndrome
The discovery of the “Sick Building Syndrome” has led to intensive research and development in the sector of building automation and technology integration. The “Sick Environment Syndrome” has not yet been defined as a cause of illness, but their own concern will hopefully lead humans to pay more attention to ecology in the future.
Other future environments
Both the expansion of civilisation on Earth and space technology have introduced new environments already dealt with by architecture. Until recently only functionality and materials were considered when designing for extremely hostile environments.
Once long duration missions are undertaken human factors have to be considered and these need to be answered by architectural means The different nature of space environments requires innovative architectural approaches, which will then influence architecture on earth.
The only way to solve some of our building-related problems is through innovative solutions. Role models taken from nature, which have developed over many years can enhance innovation.
Criteria of life
Life has been introduced into architecture discussion, but life itself evades precise definition. Criteria of life attempt to provide a definition of life that covers the whole of contemporary understanding of life in its many manifestations. Offering all possible starting points for comparison and transfer, the paradigm of life’s criteria is perfect for investigation of overlaps between biology and architecture.