Biomimicry is quickly emerging as one of the next architectural frontiers. New manufacturing processes such as 3D printing, coupled with the drive to make buildings more environmentally sustainable, have led to a wave of projects that are derived from natural phenomena or even constructed with biological materials. A recent example of this trend is “Hy-Fi,” this summer’s MoMA PS1 design that is constructed of organic and compostable eco-bricks. Other projects such as MIT Media Lab’s Silk Pavilion have taken biological innovation a step further by actually using a biometric construction processes – around 6,500 silkworms wove the Silk Pavilion’s membrane. “Animal Printheads,” as Geoff Manaugh calls them in his article “Architecture-By-Bee and Other Animal Printheads,” have already proven to be a viable part of the manufacturing process in art, and perhaps in the future, the built environment as well. But what happens when humans engineer animals to 3D print other materials?
A unique biotechnology start-up company have developed a method of growing bricks from nothing more than bacteria and naturally abundant materials. Having recently won first place in the Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Challenge, bioMason has developed a method of growing materials by employing microorganisms. Arguing that the four traditional building materials – concrete, glass, steel and wood – both contain a significant level of embodied energy and heavily rely on limited natural resources, their answer is in high strength natural biological cements (such as coral) that can be used “without negative impacts to the surrounding environment.”
“Our research integrates computational form-finding strategies with biologically inspired fabrication“, claims the ‘about’ page of MIT Media Lab’s Mediated Matter Group. Though this may sound like run-of-the-mill architectural boasting, you are unlikely to find any more exemplary combination of scientific research, digital design and biomimetic construction than their recently completed Silk Pavilion.
Inspired by the spine of a whale, the Vertebrae Staircase is not simply mimicry of organic form but an exploration in shaping structure. Much of the design work went into refining the single component, or vertebra, that mate with each other creating a unified spine running from floor plate to floor plate. These interlocking vertebrae create a rigid and self-supporting structure.
More on Andrew McConnell‘s ‘Vertebrae Staircase’ after the break.
Today, 3D Printing technology lives in the realm of small plastic tchotchkes. But economists, theorists, and consumers alike predict that 3D printers will democratize the act of creation and, in so doing, revolutionize our world. Which poses an interesting quandary: what will happen when we can print houses?
Last week, I discussed the incredible capabilities of 3D Printing in the not-so distant future: to quickly create homes for victims of disaster/poverty; to allow the architect the freedom to create curvy, organic structures once only dreamed of. But, if we look a little further afield, the possibilities are even more staggering.
In the next few paragraphs, I’ll introduce you to Neri Oxman, an architect and MIT professor using 3D Printing technology to create almost-living structures that may just be the future of sustainable design. Oxman’s work shows how 3D Printing will turn our concept of what architecture – and the architect – is, completely on its head.
Check out this condensed video, provided by the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), featuring Michael Pawlyn. As many architects have been inspired by nature, Pawlyn concentrates on biomimicry’s potential to influence the function rather than the form of a building. He believes a functional revolution needs to occur, stating we need to focus on a radical increase in resource efficiency, a shift to closed-looped systems and the transformation from our current fossil fuel economy to a solar economy. With the natural world as our living proof, Pawlyn believes all three of these challenges are crucial and achievable.
Biomineralization expert and Stanford scientist Brent Constantz has found a way to mimic the way coral builds reefs, by creating cement from carbon dioxide and water. Constantz was inspired to pursue this idea when he learned that for every ton of Portland cement produced a ton of carbon dioxide is emitted. The process in which Constantz is proposing actually removes carbon dioxide from the air. Constantz’s company, Calera, has a demonstration plant on California’s Monterrey Bay that uses waste CO2 gas from a local power plant and dissolves it into seawater to form carbonate, which mixes with calcium in the seawater and creates a solid.
The Economist featured an interview with Michael Pawlyn discussing sustainable architecture inspired by nature. Michael Pawlyn is known for his passionate investigations of the unique, efficient structures of natural organisms and how they may translate through design. Biomimicry has been an important topic amongst the innovators and educators who are learning from the 3.8 billion years invested into the design of our natural world.
The shell of an abalone is “twice as strong as the toughest man-made ceramic.”
Continue reading for the complete interview.