A view on Biomorphic architecture

by Madelein
A view on Biomorphic architecture

Opinion piece: Tanushree Saluja

“It’s got to come from outside, it won’t come from within. We need to switch from a paradigm of cut, slash and burn to grow, regenerate and breathe, using nature as the ultimate technology.”

Should we be looking at growing buildings, rather than building them?

The way we build our buildings in the current times is unwise. We mine valuable resources out of the earth and transport them on fossil-fuel based ships all over the planet and when they arrive on site, they have to be put together by hand.

Every building is a bespoke prototype. We’ve been doing this for 200 years. If you look at a building from 1917 and one from 2017, it’s the exact same technology.

We’ve learned so much in the last 200 years, yet not evolved. Not to mention the fact that buildings are the largest contributors to climate change. So, how do we fix this? And why now, more than ever before?

There’s a thin line between Biomimicry, Biophilic and Biomorphism.
• Biomimicry is the “mimicry,” or more accurately, the emulation of life’s engineering.
• In contrast, biophilia describes humans’ connection with nature and biophilic design is replicating experiences of nature in design to reinforce that connection.
• Biomorphism models artistic elements on naturally occurring patterns or shapes reminiscent of nature and living organisms. Taken to its extreme, it attempts to force naturally occurring shapes onto functional devices. The approach was born from the idea of the importance of nature and orientation towards the environment.

The shape, material, structure and mechanisms in the universe have been and are continuously evolving from much before the existence of humans. The basic idea formed in architectural design is through a process of collaboration between humans and nature.

Characteristics of Biomorphic Architecture

This is a living roof. Its nature but on top of dead toxic materials. It is missing the opportunity. In construction, we have to layer things over one another – structure, form, lighting and plumbing.

In nature, everything grows together! We can move from the idea of mass production into mass customisation and a vast world of exploration and unthinkable possibilities will open up for us. So, instead of painting our homes every 3-5 years, the pigment could come from within – inspired by chameleons. You wouldn’t need lighting because the whole surface could glow – inspired by the firefly. That’s what’s possible!

We are not the first creatures to grow things on this planet. The formation of organisms in nature is open to problems, changes and transformations in relation to the steps of their lives.

Architects are interested in natural processes, keeping characteristics such as variability, changeability and complexity. This integration model of architectural design and style depends on form and space. The organisms in nature, with their unique characteristics are giving researchers special ideas in problem-solving. The adaptation of this dynamic process – which continually renews itself in the living environment – should be critical in architects’ thinking models.

Biomorphism is characterised into 3 categories:

  1. Vegetal Biomorphism – inspired by plants

Gardens by the Bay in Singapore is an iconic landscape project for vertical gardens. Taking inspiration from the form of the orchid, the masterplan is a rich fusion of nature, technology and environmental management. Stunning architectural structures are combined with a wide variety of horticultural displays, daily light and sound shows, lakes, forests, event spaces and a host of dining and retail offerings. The whole plan has an intelligent environmental infrastructure, allowing endangered plants, which would not normally grow in Singapore to flourish, providing both leisure and education to the nation.

Gardens By The Bay, Singapore Source ©Thrillophilia.com
  1. Anatomical Biomorphism – inspired by human anatomy

Designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, L’Hemisfèric, this hemispheric theatre houses a planetarium, laserium and IMAX theatre. Recognised for drawing from the outside world to create his designs, Santiago fashioned the building to resemble a human eye — the “pupil” holding the hemispherical dome of the IMAX theatre and the “eyelid” that can open and close by using hydraulic lifts to operate the steel and glass shutter. The pool below reflects the elliptical building, creating the full image of the eye. It has also earned the name “The Eye of Knowledge.”

L_Hemisferic, Spain, Source – ©idesignarch.com
  1. Zoomorphic Biomorphism – inspired by the structure of animals

The research team at the Institute for Computational Design (ICD) and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) took morphological inspiration from the structure of the sea urchin and the sand dollar, both sea-bed invertebrates, to create what almost bears semblance to a floating beehive. This was achieved by combining the skills of architects, engineers, biologists and palaeontologists.

ITKE research Pavilion, Source – ©dezeen.com

Stop chiselling and allow augmentation to happen

We are living in a special and rare time in history, when the confluence of four fields is giving designers access to tools we’ve never had access to before. Computation design – allowing us to design complex forms, additive manufacturing – letting us produce parts by adding material rather than carving out, material engineering – that lets us design the behaviour of materials in high resolution, and synthetic biology – enabling us to design new biological functioning by editing DNA. We need disruption, a paradigm shift, a transformation. No candle manufacturer invented the light bulb, neither did the post office invented email. It has to come from outside, it won’t come from within. We need to switch from a paradigm of cut, slash, and burn to grow, regenerate and breathe, using nature as the ultimate technology.

Living things are not chiselled, they augment. Every sensitive architect or designer often finds themselves in-between the chisel and the gene, the machine and the organism, the assembly and the growth.

We constantly push ourselves with the intention of making our building breathe. Isn’t that the first sign of being alive?

The next would most definitely be moving away from assembly, and closer to the growth of the building. Nature has always been a great mother, inspiring the designers’ minds. A new age of design and creation takes us from a nature-inspired design to a design-inspired nature and that demands of us – for the first time – to mother nature.

Our sincere thanks to www.re-thinkingthefuture.com for the use of some of the information contained in this article.

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