When Biology Inspires Architecture: An Interview with Doris Kim Sung

Much of ’s work is with Thermal-Bimetals, a laminated sheet metal material that can expand and contract at different temperatures. Image © Brandon Shigeta

Material Minds, presented by ArchDaily Materials, is our new series of short interviews with architects, designers, scientists, and others who use architectural in innovative ways. Enjoy!

Before attending Columbia University for her Masters in Architecture, Los Angeles-based architect Doris Kim Sung took a fairly non-traditional approach to becoming an architect: she was a biologist. Naturally then, Sung’s architectural work tends to take inspiration from the biological world, particularly in the way she experiments and innovates with materials. Much of her work involves thermal bimetals, a material that expands and contracts with temperature swings; it can even act as a sun shade and ventilation system, without the need for electricity.

So where does a biologist-turned-architect draw inspiration from? We interviewed Ms. Sung to find out for ourselves — the responses, like her work at dO|Su Architecture, are simply fascinating.

Bricks Grown From Bacteria

Courtesy of bioMason

A unique biotechnology start-up company have developed a method of growing bricks from nothing more than bacteria and naturally abundant . Having recently won first place in the Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation ChallengebioMason 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.”

Silk Pavilion / MIT Media Lab

© Steven Keating

“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 .

Vertebrae Staircase / Andrew McConnell

Courtesy of

Inspired by the spine of a whale, the Vertebrae  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 McConnells ‘Vertebrae Staircase’ after the break.

TEDx: Metal that breathes / Doris Kim Sung

Biology student turn architect, has dedicated her studies to the infinite possibilities of thermobimetals, smart materials that respond dynamically to temperature change. As tested with DO|SU Studio Architecture’s recent installation “Bloom”, whose surface is completely fabricated with thermobimetal, these smart materials are capable of relieving our dependence on energy-inefficient mechanical systems with their self-shading and self-ventilating properties.

Imagine a building skin capable of maintaining thermal comfort in an environmentally responsible and cost effective way by responsively mimicking the characteristics of human skin.

How 3D Printing Will Change Our World (Part II)

Rapid Craft, designed by .

Today, 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 worldWhich 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.

Video: Michael Pawlyn discusses Biomimicry in Architecture

Check out this condensed video, provided by the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), featuring . As many architects have been inspired by nature, Pawlyn concentrates on ’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.

Want more? Check out this interview with Michael Pawlyn on Biomimicry and his book Biomimicry in Architecture.

Reference: RSA

Learning from Coral to make Cement

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.

Reference: fastcompany.com

Interview: Michael Pawlyn on Biomimicry

Abalone Shell : Photo by Gilly Walker - http://www.flickr.com/photos/27863935@N03/

The Economist featured an interview with Michael Pawlyn discussing sustainable architecture inspired by nature. is known for his passionate investigations of the unique, efficient structures of natural organisms and how they may translate through design. 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.