How could you use biomimicry in your work, in your life?

First, you have to give it time; make space in your life for it.  It’s been a tremendous learning journey for me - my experience with biology before 2008 or so literally amounted to a single high school class.  I don’t claim to be a biologist, but I’ve taken the time to educate myself so I can have meaningful and productive conversations with people far more knowledgable than I in specialized areas of the life sciences such as ecology, natural science, medicine, and the environment.  Surprisingly, architecture has been a good preparation for this though I notice very few have followed this path.

Second, carefully choosing where and how to intervene in a complex system is literally as important as your goals for living within that system.  If you want to create conditions conducive for life globally as well as locally, in the long run it’s no small task.  Literally, you are faced with life decisions and it’s critical to make space for making better choices.  In the short run, it is entirely possible to take steps supportive of that aspiration.

Finally, I find it helps to start with good questions: what are you trying to solve for?  A global challenge?  An economic outcome?  A calendar outcome?  You can design anything, but if your process is aligned to excellence in some particular dimension that your client cares about, you’re more likely to succeed with that client.  That can end up being a good thing for the environment - for living systems - but you have to work at it diligently.  It isn’t magic. 

Just so you don’t get the idea it’s all metaphor and arm-waving, one of the first steps is looking at your situation in terms of function and then looking further afield so to speak, at how that function is performed by our native counterparts in the non-human or non-western world.  It may be hard to believe, but there’s some pretty incredible expertise out there just waiting to be tapped into, but we need to get over some pretty significant biases.  This is the hardest part because sometimes the workings of nature are counterintuitive and translating into action challenging.

In a practical way, a big difference in my biomimetic approach is focused research prior to design.  This is different from common practice which either simply regurgitates stale ’solutions’ or obscures poor results with aesthetics.  Nothing against aesthetics, but more broadly a variety of nature-based lenses help beautifully with a range of design processes.  Simply put, there’s more than one way to solve a given problem.  It’s a learning process that often yields unexpected but satisfying results commensurate with the questions being asked.  Making progress on meaningful goals isn’t always easy - but what’s the alternative?

Randall Anway, AIA - Principal, Biomimicry Specialist