Designing in Nature’s Image

Why Designers Need Biomimicry to Correct Our Current Course

Insights
Michael Pawlyn
Words
Sarah Hackett
Film
Nathalie Attallah

Designing in Nature’s Image

Why Designers Need Biomimicry to Correct Our Current Course

When it comes to the conversations on the state of our planet, it is easiest to point out problems. Especially without presenting solutions. 

Michael Pawlyn, the founder of Exploration Architecture and among the principal architects on the Eden Project, does the opposite. Pawlyn focuses on designing high-performance buildings and solutions for the circular economy. The key to his solutions is nature inspired design. 

In the following  interview from The Garden of Secrets, Pawlyn urges designers, architects, and engineers alike to look to nature to find solutions, solve the greatest problems of our time, and help us live in a more sustainable world:

The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length. All words are credited to Michael Pawlyn.

The Sustainability Movement

There are certain elements of the sustainability movement that are gloomy and maintain a focus on the problems we are currently facing. Anyone who is aware of the data on climate change, biodiversity loss and so on, realizes that we have some serious challenges to overcome. 

And then, at the other end of the spectrum, you have the people that are convinced there are no problems, that it is fine to carry on like normal and to ignore these environmentalists because they’re just exaggerating. 

I would rather take a middle position and say yes there are problems. Let’s start implementing solutions. 

Don’t deny the fact there’s a problem. There’s nothing courageous about that. It is much more courageous to accept there’s a problem and do something about it.

The Case for Biomimicry, The Value of Nature Inspired Design

I often represent the case for biomimicry as being that it helps us address three really important engineering challenges. The first is achieving radical increases in resource efficiency; doing far more with far less. The second is shifting from a linear approach to resources to a circular economy that purposefully designs a process without the waste. And the third is the very important shift from the fossil fuel economy to the solar economy.

For me, there is no better source of solutions than biomimicry to help us address those three interlinked challenges. 

I think there’s just so much potential to create better buildings, to create a better quality of life for people in cities, but at this moment we are not implementing these solutions at anywhere near the rates that we need to. 

And I think when we look back in 10 or 20 years’ time, we’ll ask ourselves why we failed to apply these solutions when they all existed?

Nature

 

All the solutions we need to address climate change, resource shortages, to design out waste and pollution, we’ve got all these solutions now. I want to see more clients teaming up with architects, engineers, and designers to actually deliver those.

There has been a lot of talk about the potential of biomimicry and all of that talk is real. But, until it’s actually manifest in buildings and products that show how we can create a better quality of life, it’s not really making the difference that it could or should be making. 

The Next Step: Moving Beyond Sustainable Design

Sustainable design has very often been about mitigation. It has been about making things slightly less bad; using a bit less in the way of resources, a bit less energy, using slightly less toxic materials, and so on. 

I think it’s time we moved on from that less bad mentality to identifying what 100 percent good would look like, and trying to get as close as possible to that. 

And, sometimes going beyond that to deliver net benefits. That is a regenerative design, where we can start to work the same way that ecosystems do. 

Ecosystems, they don’t extract and degenerate their contexts. They build and enhance natural contexts. 

For more from Michael Pawlyn, watch The Garden of Secrets documentary and visit the Exploration Architecture website

TEALEAVES and UBC Botanical Garden took the message of The Garden of Secrets and Nature Inspired Design to the inaugural World Biodiversity Forum in Davos, Switzerland on February 24, 2020, alongside the World Health Organization, Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, Botanic Gardens Conservation International, and Microsoft

For more information, visit the official website of the World Biodiversity Forum

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