Humankind has instinctively turned to nature for problem solving inspiration and with 3.8-billion years of R&D history, there is much to be learned. From buildings and bridges to materials and medicine – examining and mimicking the beautiful, complex and intricate designs of Mother Nature has enhanced almost every aspect of our daily lives. Absent of human intervention, a sustainable world already exists and inspirational solutions are all around us.
In application, this design concept is commonly known as biomimicry. This growing discipline studies nature’s systems and then imitates its processes and elements to solve current challenges. The supporting premise is that the environment’s constant ability to adapt has allowed both plant and animal life to evolve to survive. Synchronizing our work to mirror the unification of nature allows innovators, inventors and professionals in a variety of disciplines to contribute to sustainable solutions through systems-thinking, creativity and interdisciplinary collaboration. For example, the Wright Brothers employed biomimicry when they studied flight patterns of pigeons and used what they learned in the design and construction of their first airplane. Velcro was invented in 1941 by Swiss engineer George de Mestral who first got the idea for this new material from the burrs that were often stuck to his dog’s hair. Drawing on nature's design library also includes glue inspired by lizards, coatings inspired by beetles, turbine blades inspired by whales, paint inspired by leaves and fans inspired by the sycamore.
Birds, insects, trees, and animals seek harmony with their ecosystems, giving us important indicators about how to create sustainable growth and restorative development that provide the same level of oxygen, water filtration and soil fertility as the origin habitat. If nature can create growth conditions conducive to sustainable life, shouldn’t we do the same?
Deriving design inspiration from nature is certainly not new, but when combined with advancements in technology, it is having a profound impact on site design. Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, has suggested that biomimetics will revolutionize urban design and town planning. Cities should be designed to function like natural ecosystems, addressing water attenuation, air pollution and carbon retention. As a means to reduce the fluctuation in global temperatures, landscape forms are introduced to mitigate the concrete urban jungle. We now more frequently use tools such as green roofs, vertical parks, permeable surfaces and atmospheric water harvesting to create cities that behave like ecosystems.
As landscape architects we are committed to understanding ecological systems and their integration into the built environment. We share the planet with 30 million species, so we must keep our eyes open and pay attention. We must work to develop locally and regionally specific performance solutions that seek out synergies and study the way nature solves problems to inform our design decisions.
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