Re: Artificial Nature

I’m glad you wrote about this, because this is what I was attempting to get at least week.  I will circle back to your Light Box example at the end, but I want to say that I think the functional properties of achieving biomimicry are far more important than any other qualities.  Maybe it’s just my personal viewpoint, but I fear that if we design everything to mirror the natural world and its systems we will create this illusion of completely bringing nature indoors.  Or creating a biomimic cloud over our eyes, if you will.

My argument the other day was that by simply trying to exemplify and show nature, we aren’t really solving a problem but rather creating a new one.  At least in my mind whether it be by using natural materials, or engraving them, or using digital means of representation, we are making as you called it “Artificial Nature”.  Too often I worry that we are moving in a direction where we will eventually just try to emulate an outdoor appearing environment and place it indoors.

While I won’t argue that buildings would not have the possibility to become healthier, it is important that we never try to ”replace” nature.  When looking at nature as a mentor, “Biomimicry is a new way of viewing and valuing nature.  It introduces an era based not on what we can extract from the natural world, but what we can learn from it” (1).  In the example of the Light Box we would be learning from nature how decreased light reduces melatonin levels.  We would then be integrating this knowledge back into our biological cycle through the use of the Light Box.  I think you hit it all when you said, “while the Light Box has almost zero biological relationship to the actual sun, the important part is that this fake little representation of nature actually has very real benefits.”  Perfectly stated.



  1. shiha003

    The argument made in the first response to this post about “simply trying to exemplify and show nature” is something that is happening in our world today, but I think for a very good reason. The term biophilia can be used here in defining human’s attraction to nature. We are mentally and physically rely on a direct connection to biophilia for our health. Humans are effected greatly by the presence and absence of nature, and I am sure we have all heard about the studies of how productivity increases if there are plants or sunlight present in an office, this is all because of biophilia.
    But living in the dense urban environment we are surrounded by today, it isn’t so easy to walk out your door and see a grove of trees or have a view of natural wetland. We are living in a 21st century, but still have the same physiological needs we have had for thousands of years. There is not turning our society back to living in rural communities with a world population of 2 billion; and the only way I see that we can have the biophilic effects that our mind and body crave is through artificially natural elements that mimic those of the real thing.
    There was a study conducted in Sweden that monitored brain activity of humans when shown images that had fractal patterns, which are common in nature. The individuals brain activity increased and the images became multi-faceted with the natural fractal pattern. With this study, people in the design community are pushing for fractal-based design in architecture for it’s positive impacts on the human brain.
    So while it is frustrating to think that we have come to a point in our society that most of the population doesn’t have the privilege to have access to nature on a daily basis, we are not giving up on the knowledge that we need contact with natural elements and patterns.

  2. Elizabeth Weitz

    I actually agree with the comment above, and with Andrew’s post. When I talked about artificial nature, it wasn’t a derogatory term, but rather a way of explaining the things we interact with that look like nature but aren’t the real thing. When I identified two subcategories, the functional and the not, I definitely favor what I call the functional, being something that exists to be integrated into a biological cycle – this is why the lamp is good, in that is doesn’t look like nature, but it certainly portrays it in a way that that is beneficial to our behavior which is dependent on other natural systems, in this case being the sun. With that said, I think the comment above proves a good point, which is that what I may have coined as being unfunctional – the fake house plant, could have positive influences on behavior due to its fractal patterning. However, we must be careful, because just because nature is full of fractal patterns, does not mean that its artificial replications are represented with them as well. How often do you see a painting of a bouquet of flowers, just to realize that a small percentage of them are accurate enough to portray the Fibonacci pattern in their construction?

    If well studied, it is good that we can replicate natural phenomena, even in seemingly unnatural ways. But I agree with Andrew, in that I am fearful of a sort of ‘biomimic cloud’ distorting our vision of what is real. It would require a study to begin soon and continue for the next 50 to 100 years to determine if our perception of nature will have changed, and if we are less happy, or cognisant because of it.

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