Nature - Innovation at its best
Updated: Aug 18, 2021
Women & Design // WID Insights
Biomimicry, in short, is defined as the conscious emulation of nature’s genius — Conscious being the operative word. It is about observing ecosystems that create with life-friendly chemistry, that are inclusive of every creature and to witness innovation at its best!
About a year and a half ago A poster at my place of work caught my attention. I don’t remember too many of the details on it but it basically said, Reconnect to nature - Learn biomimicry. At the time I was familiar with the idea of biomimicry because of the yearly design challenges launched by the Biomimicry Institute. I decided to attend the workshop believing that it would give a new perspective in design and it ended up transforming the way I think about life. The workshop was led by (architects and founders of the Biomimicry India Network) Prashanth Dhawan and Seema Anand, along with Naturalist - Sarath Champati.
Biomimicry, in short, is defined as the conscious emulation of nature’s genius — Conscious being the operative word. It is about observing ecosystems that create with life-friendly chemistry, that are inclusive of every creature, and witnessing innovation at its best! The workshop was held in Nandi Hills — The forests of Nandi are some of the most ancient lands that exist on the planet today (around 3 billion years old). My favorite part of the workshop was our morning treks into the forest! Before we left on our small adventure, we gathered to have some refreshments and discuss the day. The naturalist Sarath, would point out smells and sounds from the forest to tell us some interesting facts. It was mind-blowing how I could only smell the coffee and not anything else. This made me realize the extent of our disconnect from the natural world! Sarath would lead the treks and along the way, he would point out some interesting facts about birds, insects, and lichen. The coolest thing about trekking in an ancient forest is that you get to see creatures that are older than when people existed on the planet! We also had a session of shinrin-yoku - This is a Japanese tradition, also called forest bathing, which is a national pastime in Japan and is believed to reduce stress and promote wellbeing. This experience is about bathing in the forest atmosphere or taking in the forest through our senses. It’s just as therapeutic as it sounds!
“Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature's patterns and strategies,” says Wikipedia. Our collective goal as creative individuals should be to design in collaboration with life. Below I have listed out the resources from the Biomimicry Institute that can help us apply this concept into our design process. Human-centric design is old news, let’s move on to Life centric design!
Function & Strategy
Function is a very crucial part of design. We have all adhered to the ‘form follows function’ principle of Bauhaus at some point. The main purpose of this belief was to bring coordination between the artist and designer, to put aside individual ideas, and focus on the purpose of the design. And without a greater purpose, the design (form) itself would be meaningless. It’s not very different in biomimicry, understanding function and strategy will assist you in biologizing your design. “Organisms meet functional needs through biological strategies. A biological strategy is a characteristic, mechanism, or process that performs a function for an organism. It’s an adaptation the organism has in order to survive.” - biomimicry.org
Asking questions has always helped lead us in different creative directions. Here, We should ask questions with a problem-solving approach and not related to what product we are making. If your goal is to design a kettle, the question ‘How can I make a better kettle?’ would not help with a solution. Instead, ask the question, ‘How can I heat water?’ ; ‘How does nature heat water?’ and this might open you up to many possibilities!
The System’s view
Our world is made of countless organizations co-existing with each other. In nature or otherwise, a system is designed to bring about equilibrium across all functions without which, the system eventually collapses. Some of the greatest threats we are facing today are caused due to these very system failures. Take the pandemic, for example, there is evidence that Covid-19 is a zoonotic disease. If the world continues to exploit animals the way we are today, it’s just a matter of time before we face the next virus and the next pandemic, possibly deadlier than this one. The animal agriculture industry has destroyed invaluable natural resources and caused immeasurable suffering to sentient beings because what people constantly fail to establish is a harmonious give and take relationship with Mother Nature!
“Systems take many forms. They can be very large (like the earth) or very small (like a cell). Systems may be physically tangible (like a house) or abstract, such as a governmental system or computer network. They can also be a combination of both. What makes a system a system is that it is composed of — an interconnected set of elements that are coherently organized in a way that achieves something (function or purpose).” - biomimicry.org
Earth’s Operating System
Our planet provides abundantly for all life that takes up residence on it. But the earth has limitations too. Life on earth has evolved through millions of years of learning and adapting to these limitations. Hence, there is balance. You take what you need (food, water, oxygen) and give back that which you do not use (organic waste, carbon-di-oxide) yet, nature finds a way to recycle and utilize everything. “Earth exists in a state of dynamic equilibrium; it maintains an ecological and chemical balance, despite being in a constant state of change, much as our bodies maintain homeostasis despite being in a constant state of flux.” - biomimicry.org
The Biomimicry Institute states: Life on Earth has survived and thrived by adapting to the limits and boundaries of Earth’s planetary context—what we might call “Earth’s Operating System”. The characteristics that define Earth’s Operating System are :
Earth has limited water
Earth has limited atmosphere
Earth has limited sunlight, from which all energy ultimately is derived.
Earth has gravity.
Earth is cyclic.
While competition and predation between species may exist on an individual level, from a systems perspective life allows other life to flourish.
Life allows other life to flourish. Let’s ask ourselves — Have we allowed life to flourish? Do we allow each other to flourish? Why do greed and jealousy thrive when there is space for every living being?
Nature's Unifying Patterns
As research methods go, there are so many frameworks and processes we can follow. With research in design, we are, for the most part, trying to understand why people do what they do, what can be motivators for change, and why there is allegiance to current habits? We empathized with circumstances and behavioral patterns. This helps us do what? Create solutions that merge seamlessly with the requirements of the user. Similarly, in the context of Biomimicry, the institute has identified patterns of nature that impact functions and interactions of organisms — these are the building blocks of ecosystems. Except, in this case, it’s about compatibility with life and not just with people.
The Biomimicry Institute states: Nature’s unifying patterns is our attempt to identify the 10 most essential lessons from the natural world that should be considered as part of a design process. We call them “nature’s unifying patterns” because examples of the patterns can be found broadly across the majority of life on Earth. Consider these patterns at the start of any design process and return to them throughout the process as an evaluation tool.
Nature uses only the energy it needs and relies on freely available energy.
Nature recycles all materials.
Nature is resilient to disturbances.
Nature tends to optimize rather than maximize.
Nature provides mutual benefits.
Nature runs on information.
Nature uses chemistry and materials that are safe for living beings.
Nature builds using abundant resources, incorporating rare resources only sparingly.
Nature is locally attuned and responsive.
Nature uses shape to determine functionality.
To study each of these principles in detail head over to this link
“What if every time I started to invent something, I asked, ‘How would nature solve this?’” Says Janine Benyus. (Janine is a biologist, author, a ‘nature nerd’, and the co-founder of The Biomimicry Institute. She popularized the term ‘biomimicry’ in her book, ‘Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.’ She also co-founded Biomimicry 3.8 and has consulted with 250+ clients including Nike, Kohler and Levis.) What if everything we created supported life instead of destroying it? What if civilizations functioned like ecosystems?
After reading plenty of books about the human spirit, if there’s one thing I can say with conviction, it's that we can do anything we put our minds to. Let’s make the effort to live in harmony with nature for a better future! If we do not find a way to bring balance in our systems, to develop respect for life, to treat all beings with compassion, we stand a chance to lose our largest and most marvelous system — The Earth, our home. I urge you to do everything in your power to conserve and rebuild what we have left!
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With 🧡 Team WID.