Biomimicry: Design Inspired by the Genius of Nature

I’m always amazed when I see efficient design that is inspired by nature. I shouldn’t be – since mother nature has been engineering itself since the beginning of time for optimal ways to survive and thrive. You could say nature is the ultimate bio-innovator – in a never-ending R&D project of constantly improving, adapting and looking at better ways to grow.

Informally, biomimicry has been around a while now. Ancient cultures observed the world around them to teach them how to survive and coexist with nature. Today, as a formal field of study, biomimicry is the discipline of examining the models and processes of nature (of mimicking it) and applying that to solve human problems. With sustainable solutions and social responsibility becoming a mandatory consideration for many designers in a variety of fields, more of them are looking to nature and are asking “how does nature solve a similar problem?”

In this video – science author Janine Benyus shares examples of how we as humans can innovate by observing how nature solves its own problems.

Benyus’ message is simple:

“The core idea is that nature, imaginative by necessity, has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers. They have found what works, what is appropriate, and most important, what lasts here on Earth. This is the real news of biomimicry: After 3.8 billion years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival”.

Here are some other interesting examples of biomimicry in action:

Staying warm while skating in Winnipeg

Patkau Architects based in Vancouver, British Columbia solved the problem of staying cold in bitter winds by looking to animal behaviour for inspiration. This lightweight plywood material can stand up to harsh winter winds by being placed at rotations, groupings and distances that resemble the effect created when buffalos huddle together for warmth and protection.

Skating shelter design in Winnipeg takes its inspiration from how animals huddle together for warmth. Photo courtesy of Patkau Architects.

Lightweight, inexpensive and sturdy skating shelters that stand up to Winnipeg's frigid winters. Photo courtesy of Patkau Architects.

Solar Ivy – Generate energy while you add a green look to your building facade

Solar Ivy has developed solar panels in the shape of leaves to cover exterior walls of buildings. It (almost) creates the same aesthetic that you’d get with rambling ivy covering the exterior of many brownstones, brick homes and limestone buildings.

Solar Ivy's solar panels mimic the shape of leaves. The energy-generating cells are attached to a recycled leaf structure and can be customized in colour, spacing, energy needs and orientation. Photo courtesy of Solar Ivy.

Among Solar Ivy's features are its strong stainless steel mesh which allows it to "grow" anywhere on any facade, its ability to produce renewable energy and like its natural ivy counterpart it provides shade. Photo courtesy of Solar Ivy.

WhalePower Wind Energy: The story of whale bumps and a man named Fish

The story of how WhalePower came to be is the kind that makes every entrepreneur dream of their “eureka” moment. Years ago, Frank Fish (a biology professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania) happened to come across a small sculpture of a whale while on vacation in Boston. He remarked to the store manager that the bumps on the whale fins were placed on the wrong side. The store manager quickly confirmed with a photograph that the artist had in fact depicted it correctly and that was the moment that Fish set out to understand the purpose of and the particular placement of the “bumps” or tubercles. Many years, many mathematical models and many studies later, WhalePower was formed in Toronto and the industry of fluid dynamics was never the same. Today, this tubercle technology blade is a clean power-generating source in the energy sector. Fish is looking to expand into any devices requiring a fan-based cooling system.

The humpback whale fin with its tubercles (or bumps) displayed. Studies show that the tuburcles actually help contribute to a 30% efficiency in the whale's movement by creating less drag as it cuts through the water. Photo courtesy WhalePower Corp.

WhalePower Corp.'s Tubercle Technology - blades modeled after a Humpback Whale fin. With the first energy-producing wind fans now in place in Seaforth, Ontario, the tubercle design has shown to consume 20% less power, make significantly less noise and enables a savings in energy costs to as much as 25%. Photo courtesy WhalePower Corp.

Biomimicry as a field of study can teach us a lot about being more connected to and being more respectful of the world in which we live. Just by being more observant and learning about how nature evolves, we can potentially find sustainable and eco-friendly solutions to the problems of our own making.

Now THAT – juices me big time.

Do you have any other examples of biomimicry in action? Share them here.


Biomimicry Institute:

Patkau Architects:

Solar Ivy:



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