the power and magnificence of biomimicry

I have been fascinated in biomimicry since I started my practice in 1999. I stumbled across biomimicry through my association as a member of the Sustainable Business Network (at the time the Auckland Environmental Business Network). I heard Janine Benyus speak about her book she had written, 'Biomimicry, Innovation inspired by Nature' 1997, and I became hooked.

Hope blossomed in me as I realized the magnificence of the amazing doorway that had opened for me. The possibilities were endless and exciting for a new way of working in architecture. By thinking and acting differently, a building could positively impact its surroundings and reduce and ultimately reverse the overburdened use of resources and waste typical of construction practice today.

So what is biomimicry? The definition below comes from Biomimicry 3.8 Resource handbook, and encapsulates this complex and beautiful practice:

Biomimicry is the conscious emulation on nature's genius. It is an interdisciplinary approach that brings together of two often disconnected worlds: nature and technology, biology and innovation, life and design. The practice of biomimicry seeks to bring the time-tested wisdom of life to the design table to inform human solutions that create conditions conducive to life. At its most practical, biomimicry is a way of seeking sustainable solutions by borrowing life's blueprints, chemical recipes, and ecosystem strategies. At its most transformative, biomimicry connects us in ways that fit, align and integrate the human species into the natural processes of Earth.  


Currently, as per the World Counts website, the amount of resources extracted from the earth is increasing daily. Last year we extracted 55 billion tonne of bio-mass, fossil energy, metal and minerals from the earth. As our world population grows this also grows. On top of this, developed countries extract more resource per person. According to their statistics, developed countries need to cut out the use of natural resources by as much as 90% to ensure environmental and social sustainability. Currently this is increasing rather than decreasing. Right now we need 1.68 earths to provide our resources and absorb our waste.

The construction industry is one of the main contributors of both the use of resources and the dumping of waste. In New Zealand alone, the construction industry uses 40% of the resources used and is responsible for 60% of what is dumped. This does not even take into account the waste generated during the making of the product.

Through practices like biomimicry we can shift from what we can extract from nature to what we can learn from nature. Rather than maintaining status quo, where the making of buildings and infrastructure required for buildings is resource hungry and devastating to the environment, we can rethink practices around water, energy, materials and land use to name a few. By changing our practices we can create not just a sustainable outcome but one that regenerates and has a positive impact to a project's place and community. In addition, we can work with scientists to innovate materials and finishes that no longer harm or take from the earth. Wow.

Amery Lovins, sums biomimcry perfectly,

Nature is inspiring design to be more efficient, effective, resilient and beautiful.

Working together, one project at a time, we can start to make a difference and at the same time end up with something that is more and not less than if we had gone the conventional route.