Tuesday, January 15, 2013


"Morphogenetic" bus by Altair Engineering for the NYT
I recently read a New York Times article on Altair, a company that developed software to emulate bone growth, where software optimizes the relationship between stress and form much like vertibrate bones do.
“During the design process using morphogenesis, coliseums may vaguely resemble rib cages; chairs can look like vines growing up a tree; and motorcycle frames can resemble the shape and strength of a snake’s jaw,” - Altair company prospectus
Image credit: Wikipedia.org
The idea is really nothing new - Leonardo Da Vinci was emulating nature's forms in his inventions in the 1400s.  What is fairly new is our access to powerful computers that allow such technology to exist.  Similar technology was used to create the famous biomimicry case study, the Mecedes Benz Bionic Car, where designers used "Soft Kill Option (SKO)" and "Computer-Aided Optimization (CAO)" software developed at the Karlsruhe Research Centre to analyze stresses and create a form that optimized material use.  This much lighter frame resulted in a 70 mpg efficiency with a conventional (non-hybrid) engine, saving resources not only at the gas pump but also in the production of the car.
“The engineering optimization found in nature is astonishing and often superior to our own innovations. Growth patterns and resource management systems within living organisms can be thought of as found technologies waiting to be understood and re-purposed for industry.” - William Myers, author of a new book Bio Design
What gets me excited about this subject are the possibilities of incorporating this engineering software into software used by architects and structural engineers when designing biomorphic, biophilic, and biomimetic architecture.  By incorporating not only natural algorithms into our buildings but also natural processes that result in natural aesthetics, we can create structures that truly emulate nature at the deepest levels.  We can reconnect ourselves aesthetically and functionally with the beauty and optimization of nature.  And THAT is truly beautiful.

References (in addition to those linked above)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

On the Creature Trail

We have been coming to Sanibel Island for many years, but it wasn't until I started learning about biomimicry that I really paid attention to the abundant Life that is present on this natural beach.  We took a recent trip to the beach at low tide and came across some fascinating creatures!  I even got other kids involved and one of their moms asked if I was a marine biologist.  I said no, I'm an architect, but I have an amazing instructor in biomimicry that is!  So, this post is a thank you to Biomimicry3.8's Dayna Baumeister.  Everyone involved in design should be lucky enough to learn from her and the amazing creature stories she shares.

Budding Scientists

Learning from Moon Snails

My daughter found this tiny (deceased) moon snail while walking on the beach with her Grandma.  We knew it had died because while the animal was still in the shell, it was floating and didn't retract when touched.  So we had a rare opportunity to look at it more and learn from the moon snail!

Tiny Moon Snail
I first heard of moon snails on my BPro kayaking trip to British Columbia.  We used a large moon snail shell as a "talking stick" for our opening and closing rituals, and one of the amazing biologists we kayaked with showed us the architectural egg casing that the moon snail creates using sand, seawater, and the mucus it secretes.  So when my daughter found this one, I got excited.  I showed her its foot and how it has tiny microscopic serrations that it uses to drill into clam shells, creating the little holes in the shells we used to make a necklace.
Tiny Moon Snail
We looked at the shell's gorgeous spiral shape and purplish color, the spiral a result of how it grows larger and builds its shell.  We think that the snail died because the protective cover on its foot got jammed on a slightly damaged shell edge and couldn't retract.  But this creature's misfortune gave us a chance to look at it closer.  And as the creature dried up and fell out of its shell, we got to examine it in greater detail.

Solving Mysteries on the Beach

One of my favorite things about my work is learning new things about environments I'm familiar with - going outside, exploring, and asking questions!  My family and I went walking along Sanibel Island during low tide and came upon a mystery.  We found these critters just floating in the shallow waters and had no idea what they were.  They were squishy and had "hairy" tentacles all over its back, but its belly was smooth.  We didn't know what it was, so we started to investigate and ask questions, biomimicry style.
Mystery Critter
We noticed it didn't have a shell like the other tidal organisms we found in the same area.  Why does he have a soft body when all of the other creatures here have a shell?  Especially in tidal areas, where this makes him more vulnerable to the ever present sea gulls.  What are the tentacles for?  Protection?  Camouflage?  Why was its belly so smooth and almost a thin membrane that concealed its insides?  And maybe the most interesting question - why was it here and why were they floating, seemingly lifeless?