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)

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