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Inspired, Naturally
13 Aug 2011 | Financial Times pg. 1. | by Paul Miles.

In a truly sustainable world, we would build our homes using only recyclable materials, renewable energy and without any waste. It seems impossible – and yet that is how the rest of nature operates.

Animals and plants build structures of incredible complexity without the energy-hungry high temperatures, pressures and toxic chemicals with which we process raw materials in this fossil fuel age, and without generating useless waste. Our buildings, on the other hand, are responsible for more than 40% of carbon emissions in the EU. Globally, the construction industry is responsible for 30-40 % of solid waste, says the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

It is no wonder that architects and designers are looking to the rest of nature for inspiration. They always have: Leonardo da Vinci sketched designs for a flying machine with bird-like wings; the Wright brothers studied a vulture’s drag and lift. In the 21st century, scientific advances such as molecular genetics and nanotechnology have made drawing inspiration from nature a more precise science. Biomimicry, as it’s known in the US (or biomimetics in the UK) is, “the conscious emulation of life’s genius: innovation inspired by nature”.......If we could mimic that on a larger scale, imagine the difference it would make to our building industry. We could produce our own organic “steel” at an ambient temperature, formed from nothing more than everyday atoms such as carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen. The need to mine, transport raw materials, burn coal and produce toxic wastes would all virtually disappear. What’s more, the whole process would be solar-powered....The $170bn cement industry, a big emitter of carbon dioxide, is having a biomimicry-related makeover. Calera, the American company, is using waste carbon dioxide from flue gas to produce a type of cement in a process similar to coral growth. In a move that shows that the US government recognises the potential of Calera to turn cement manufacture from a process that emits millions of tons of carbon dioxide into one that sequesters it from power stations, the company was awarded $19.5m by the US Department of Energy last year.

That is a Utopian scenario but there are other areas where progress is being made. These include digital fabrication technologies such as 3D printing that can “grow” structures that breathe and work like living systems...biomimicry is heralded as one of the growth areas for this century. It is a genuinely multi-disciplinary field where, for instance, a research team comprising entomologists, engineers and materials scientists is not uncommon.......Buildings with an appearance of biological forms are not new. Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes, similar to plankton in their geometry, are resource-efficient in their construction....Biomimetic architecture is certainly not as simple as creating buildings that reflect nature’s aesthetics.

A building cited as an example of biomimicry is a conventional-looking 1990s shopping centre and office block, the Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe.....“Buildings that adapt to changing conditions is the way we have to develop if we are to mimic truly the low energy ways in which biology works,” says architect Michael Pawlyn, whose book on the subject, Biomimicry in Architecture,
3-D  agriculture  biomimicry  books  cement  construction  cross-disciplinary  Department_of_Energy  inspiration  Leonardo_da_Vinci  nature  sustainability 
august 2011 by jerryking
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