Success and Failure of Biomimicry

Biomimicry has become one of the most popular methods of design in recent years. Biomimicry is the practice of looking into nature to find effective models to solve various design challenges in the built environment. It is seen as a simple concept for the solution to perplexing design issues; just copy what we see in nature and it should work in built structures. We typically see benefits of biomimicry in reducing the level of toxic chemicals and improved efficiency. Examples include the bullet train which mimics the dive of a Kingfisher; and concept cars that copy the shape of a boxfish, etc. Chris Garvin, a senior associate at Cook+Fox Architects, believes that the oversimplification of biomimicry comes with a risk. And while all of these design concepts from nature are intriguing, we rarely “see a form that manages to use one function to achieve myriad results” (Garvin).

Although successful biomimicry is fascinating and useful, it still for the most part fails in the sense that it is not as “natural” as its function demonstrates. We rarely see products that are made with materials that are recyclable, non-toxic, and manufactured at room temperature at a low pressure. Although products of biomimicry have some environmental benefits, they are still inferior to the 100% natural organisms we see in nature. Garvin states that “we need more scientists and entrepreneurs to break the innovation barrier to use biomimicry in a more comprehensive and holistic manner”.

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One comment

  1. After reading this post I looked into biomimicry a little more and as I read Janine M. Benyus’ introduction to biomimicry on the Biomimicry Institute website I was encouraged to hear her describe three levels of biomimicry. The most common and comprehensible is mimicking the natural form (like the train based on kingfisher discussed in this post). I disagree that “biomimicry has become one of the most popular methods of design in recent years.” I would argue that the idea of biomimicry has become a popular design method; and that is why designers are stuck in the “fad” phase of mimicking the natural form. If we make it look like and work like a natural form then we have achieved biomimicry and can pat ourselves on the back and feel better about “doing good” when we go to sleep at night. But two other methods exist which, though less utilized, are arguably more important: mimicking the natural process and mimicking natural ecosystems. I think the key to what Garvin was talking about with achieving qualities of bio-life in the same non-invasive and sustainable way that natural organisms do requires tapping into these two methods.

    In order to do this we cannot rely solely on scientists and entrepreneurs to “break the innovation barrier” as Garvin is quoted saying. Instead we must all take steps toward breaking the communication barrier. I think the most important thing for anyone to understand about biomimicry is that achieving true biomimicry requires collaboration of multiple disciplines. Benyus writes that, “organisms are the consummate physicists, chemists, and engineers, and that ecosystems are economies beyond compare.” If we truly want to mimic nature, a good place to start would be by copying its business structure; multiple professions working together to achieve maximum efficiency in a self-sustaining system.

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