Authored By Sangeeta Rakesh Goswami:
“Universe in one great Kindergarten for man.Everything that exists has brought with it its own lessons”…….Swett Marden
Architects Bob Berkebile and Jason McLennan wrote, “In the future, the houses we live in and the offices we work in will be designed to function like living organisms, specifically adapted to place and able to draw all of their requirements for energy and water from the surrounding sun, wind and rain. The architecture of the future will draw inspiration, not from the machines of the 20th century, but from the beautiful flowers that grow in the landscape that surrounds them.” (The Living Building: Biomimicry in Architecture, Integrating Technology with Nature).
Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe also called as Anthill is one of the biggest shopping centre with 5,600 sq meter of retail space and a parking space of 450 cars. This unique sustainable architecture building has no conventional air-conditioning or heating, yet stays regulated year round. With remarkably less energy consumption for air conditioning (only 10 % of a conventional building), it saved its owner $3.5 million in the first five years. This architectural wonder is Designed by architect Mick Pearce using techniques inspired by the indigenous Zimbabwean masonry and self cooling mounds of African termites.Yeah ! the African termites ! The largest office complex of the country is said to be the only one in the world to use the same cooling and heating principles as the termite mounds.
Termites (see video) in Africa need a temperature of exactly 30 degree Celsius to farm fungus, the food they eat. On the contrary, the temperature in Africa ranges from a high of 40 degree Celsius in the day to as low as 1 degree Celsius during night. How do they manage to maintain that consistency? Wondering? The termites attain this incredible feat by a system of vigilantly adjusted convection currents all through the mound. Through constantly opening and closing the series of vents, fresh air is continuously drawn from the lower part of the mound which then goes down into enclosed spaces with muddy walls and up through vertical ducts to the peak of the mound. Thus the fresh air replaces stale air that rises and exits through a flue to the peak. Competing with compulsive work ethic of all ants, termites regularly dig new vents and plug up old ones so as to fine-tune the temperature. Isn’t it amazing technique while the temperature regulation is a struggle familiar to any architect?
‘Capture the rain’ skyscraper is yet another example which mimics the mechanisms of capturing and processing the rainfall of millennia plants (a class of blueberry called “southern highbush”consisting of the unique features, they Produce a vigorous bush that is upright but somewhat spreading, with maximum rainfall capturing efficiency). This skyscraper proposed by Polish Architectural students Ryszard Rychlicki and Agnieszka Nowak received accolades in the 2010 skyscraper competition because of its ability to capture rain water which can ultimately be used to meet the daily needs of water by common men. Experts say that it can replace 85 liters of the average 150 liters of water consumption per person in US. The roof is designed so as to capture the maximum rain fall and underneath are water reservoirs in the form of large funnels and reed fields which serve as hydro botanic treatment unit. This unit process rain water to make it worth usable and then transmit it to apartments. The external surface of the building has a network of gutters that is designed to capture rainfall flowing down the building. Thanks to the human being’s power to mimic.
Adiel Gavish in her work Biomimicry and the Principles of Sustainability says, “It carries in its DNA a pattern for innovation, improvement and efficiency”. Man’s creativity and ability to engineer anything and everything has always been considered cynical. Nature on the other hand had never been comfortable with inventions which are not homogeneous with itself. Each time man has overlooked nature, it has paid. Considering the fact that it has to nourish some 5.3 Million species and yet maintain harmony, there can’t be a mentor better than this for human beings to follow. There can’t be a scientist better than nature to adore which has been making oxygen, storing carbon dioxide, fixing nitrogen, making complex sugars, maintaining water cycle, carbon cycle, creating micro climate and engineering recycling of waste materials seamlessly since 3.5 billion years. Each of its components from insects to plants, animals and all living organisms are engineers at their best; they have discovered unique ways to survive congenially. Biomimicry is nothing but the art, the skill, the intuition and science of taking advantage of evolution’s 3.8 billion years of research and development since the very first bacteria. This science doesn’t talk of harvesting organisms, or domesticating them to accomplish a function for us, rather it talks of exploring their world, understanding how they work and how they survive with limited capabilities, relating them to our own life and then imitating them so to form a true synergistic relationship with Mother Nature.
Otto Schmitt, an American academic and inventor, coined the termBiomimetics to depict the transfer of ideas from biology to technology. Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) made several notes and sketches of various “flying machines” on his keen observations of the anatomy and flight of birds. Wright Brothers who finally succeeded in creating and flying the first airplane in 1903, derived inspiration from observations of pigeons in flight. Biomimicry(see here) as an approach to innovation is not new (see biomimicry in action here). Jenny Benyus, founder of Biomimicry Institute says, “Engineering inspired by nature can be functionally distinguishable from the elegant design we see in the natural world”. Benyus says the strategy has already yielded a wide range of new products that may replicate nature’s successes : ceramics with the strength and toughness of abalone shells, self-assembling computer chips that form by processes similar to the way that tooth enamel grows(Watch IBM Biomimicry Challenge here), adhesives that mimic the glue that mussels use to anchor themselves in place and self cleaning plastics based on the structure of a lotus leaf, race cars which mimic therhinoceros horns. That apart there are many like the principles of solar cells copied from photosynthesis of leaves,cameras from eye design, steely fibers woven spider-style, shatter proof ceramics drawn from mother-of-pearl, cancer cures compliments of chimpanzees, computers that signal like cells. With the advent of genetic engineering, biological knowledge is doubling every five years, For the first time in history, scientist have the instruments-the scopes and satellites-to feel the shiver of a neuron in thought or observe in color as a star is born. When this intensified gaze is combined with the sheer amount of scientific knowledge, they suddenly have the competence to mimic nature like never before. It would be easier now to show how electrons zipping around a leaf cell convert sunlight into fuel in trillionths of a second.
Biomimicry is the key to bridging the current huge divide between the conveniences of big business enterprise on the one hand and a more conservationist vision on the other, the practice of developing sustainable human technologies inspired by nature. Let’s take more examples.
After years of development, Boston Dynamics’ developed a souped-up version of the quadrupedal Big Dog robot called the the Legged Squad Support System (LS3). Boston Dynamics designed the original Big Dog by studying the human knees and deer and got legs. The agile Big Dog robot would carry those equipments which are too tough to be carried in mountains and terrains thus lightening the load for the soldiers, or allowing them to bring even heavier systems through nearly impassable terrain. The LS3 can carry a 400 pound load 20 miles, on refueling every 24 hours and uses a mixture of cameras and GPS signals to follow a squad autonomously and capable of jumping over obstacles. DARPA, a division of US Pentagon has created a small robotic drone which mimics the humming birds to fly and is to be used for spying and surveillance. As of now, it has been able to fly only for 20 seconds but research is on for further enhancements.
The core idea is that Nature, creative, inventive and imaginative by necessity, has already solved many of the problems we are struggling with : energy conservation, food production, climate control, non-toxic chemistry, transportation, computing, healing, data storage and a whole lot more. Biomimicry needs more awareness, needs to be introduced in school syllabus, to be promoted at every science promotion material. It will be gratitude and this zealous desire to protect the brilliance that surrounds us, makes it more than just a new way of viewing and valuing nature. “Biomimetic revolution has the potential to change the way we deal with our dilemma in each case. As they say, ” nature would be model, measure, and mentor”. It’s also a race to the rescue, to survive on our own planet !