Biomimicry in Architecture

Biomimicry in Architecture

Biomimicry is the act of creating man made outcomes that replicate aspects of nature. Natural systems have developed over 3.5 billion years in order to be efficient. The idea of biomimicry isn’t new, it is just a newer term. People have forever been inspired by nature, such as the Greeks application of the golden ratio. One of the most famous architects in the world Gaudi was always inspired by natural formations. Although he may not have used them to be more sustainable, his works tested traditional techniques, and he was able to create structures that seemed to defy gravity, all based on his research into natural systems. Nature is circular. It uses waste to survive. Therefore, by creating biomimetic architecture we are able to create habitats that are closer to natural ecosystems, instead of linear wasteful environments. While also aesthetically creating buildings look natural and are safer for surrounding wildlife.


Michael Pawlyn is a leader in biomimetic architecture. While at Grimshaw Architects he was part of the team responsible for the Eden Project. But in 2007 he set up his own firm, Exploration. Here the focus is on innovation and biomimicry within architecture. Creating projects which not only look like pieces of nature, they also aim to benefit the environment. With developments in technology it is now easier to replicate nature. Algorithms are created which digitally “grow” objects, in a similar fashion to how a structure would be created in nature. In terms of manufacturing, 3D printing can also hold many benefits. We are able to create complex structures much more easily, and also create structures with as minimal materials as possible. In 2014 Pawlyn created a collection of 3-D printed display tables which were based on bone and tree growth. The final outcomes used only a thousandth of the material compared to if the object was solid, but they functioned just the same. 

An example of the firm’s methodologies is their seawater-cooled greenhouse in the desert. The greenhouse is modelled on a beetle that is able to collect its own fresh water in a desert environment. Technologies at the location include algae for biofuels, salt processing to extract valuable elements and compounds, halophytes (plants that can grow directly in seawater), and BioRock™ (electro-deposition of minerals).


Pawlyn was lead on the design of the warm temperature and humid tropics biomes at the Eden project. He was able to create groundbreaking pieces of architecture. The site for the Eden Project is situated on an old Kaolinite Mine. While the design process was taking place the mine was still being used. Therefore it was important for the design to account for varying ground levels, so each “bubble” can be at different levels depending on the topography of the site. The geodesic dome structures, made from hexagons and pentagons, were found to be the most effective way to create a spherical structure, inspired by carbon molecules, radiolaria, and dragonfly wings. Each dome is made from inflated Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE), as in nature some of the most efficient forms are made out of pressurised membranes. The structures are so lightweight that minimal reinforcement steel was needed, it is in-fact one of the lightest structures ever created and weighs less than the air inside. Each dome is also self-heating, using passive solar principles.


Developments in biomaterials, and the understanding of how structures grow in nature, has allowed architects to create buildings that not only create less pollution but also work with the environment around them. The BioRock Pavilion is a proposal by Michael Pawlyn and his team to grow a building. They aim to use electro-deposition of minerals in seawater. They began by looking at how nature alone would solve the problem of climate change. This then led to looking at the Vostok ice core data, which showed that before the industrial revolution CO2 levels were steady. James Lovelock’s Gaia theory found that these steady conditions were mainly maintained due to coccoliths, marine-organisms that grow skeletons from calcium carbonate, This is because they multiplied greatly when CO2 levels were high, meaning that the CO2 was transferred from the atmosphere into the lithosphere as they used it to grow. Therefore, this event space could be grown underwater by “growing” minerals onto a thin steel structure. The final structure would calcify, resulting in a similar material to reinforced concrete.

Michael Pawlyn
Grimshaw Architects