Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Nature Walk Among the Trees: Learning Multi-Functional Design from Nature

Educators are the ultimate multi-taskers! We are required to balance the needs and interests of students, parents, and administrators while teaching to many different sets of educational standards - and keeping it interesting for students (and us)! Because of this, we are always looking to get the most out of everything we do and every lesson plan must accomplish many goals at the same time. 
"It was fun measuring the tree and writing and coloring!"
- Camille, Kindergarten
Our “Nature Walk Among the Trees” lesson showcases our simple, yet powerful approach to fit in with various K-12 standards (STEM & NextGen Science) in a fun and thought provoking session that challenges students (and teachers) to think “outside the box” and learn about science in nature in a creative new way. Looking to biomimicry’s Life Principle to “use multi-functional design,” we showcase life’s multi-functional strategies as exemplified in a native tree. For example, leaves:
  • provide shade, 
  • transfer energy,
  • absorb carbon dioxide,
  • filter air,
  • self-cool, 
  • recycle nitrogen...
...all in one seemingly simple little package! What can we learn from life’s multi-functional strategies to design products and services that perform just as well?

Participants in our session will experience the class as their students would, learning about biomimicry’s life’s principles from a trained biomimic and learning from a curriculum designer how lessons from this course can fit within their current curriculum and fulfill requirements for a STEM and Next Generation Science Standards. Support materials will be provided that you can bring back and implement in your classroom. “A Nature Walk Among the Trees” is one of several courses we are creating to make it easy and fun to integrate biomimicry’s Life’s Principles into K-5 classes.

Register for the Biomimicry Educator's Summit in Austin, Texas, October 4th and learn more about our educational products on our website!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Biomimicry for the Designer: 101

Designers are continually looking for new and innovative ways to create beautiful, livable spaces that are environmentally responsible and, more recently, resilient to disturbances. Increasingly, designers on the leading edge are looking to nature for this inspiration, including HOK, Grimshaw and Exploration Architecture to name a few. Learn how biomimicry can contribute to the sustainability and resilience of the built environment in this short introductory video, and sign up for a Chicago Biomimicry Immersion through Prairie Lab to learn more!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Nine Reasons Why Applying Biomimicry to Built Environment Projects is a Win-Win-Win!

Photo: ZlicovekShutterstock
Amy was recently asked to contribute to the Biomimicry Institute's new blog, Asking Nature. Check out her thoughts on "Nine Reasons Why Applying Biomimicry to Built Environment Projects is a Win-Win-Win!"
"Designers in the building industry are continually looking for new and innovative ways to create beautiful, livable spaces that are environmentally responsible and resilient. Increasingly, those on the leading edge are looking to nature as a source of inspiration. Here are nine examples of how applying biomimicry in the context of the built environment can help designers, projects, and communities as they work to create naturally sustainable, inherently resilient spaces."
Curious to learn more? Check out the next Chicago Biomimicry Immersive Workshop THIS SATURDAY! Enter promo code 'BioChi10' for 10% off the cost of registration!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Collective Resilience

Mention the term "swarm theory" and people typically think of robots that work together or accident-avoiding cars, but conversations I've been having recently are all about bringing swarm theory to work for human behavior. In a nutshell: how can we set up structures within our businesses, organizations, and communities that incentivize individuals to work together toward a common goal? 

I've written about swarm theory in relation to communication issues in a previous entry, and building on that, how can we leverage the mechanisms behind this innate behavior to create strategic alignment for our businesses and communities? The mechanisms in swarm theory are simple: individual organisms working together to create a whole that is greater than the sum of their parts. Through information transparency, multiple sensors, and simple rules, flocks and swarms are able to leverage the self-interest of the individual to work together and mitigate disturbances, such as predation. The biological mechanisms are simple, but translating them to a human context is anything but elementary.

Perhaps you are asking yourself:
How can I grow my business while keeping my culture intact? How can my organization cut through the noise to spread the word on an important initiative? How can I organize my community to collectively tackle initiatives that mitigate the effects of urban flooding, crime, and climate change? 
Let's start learning from billions of years of nature's R&D and work together to bring natural solutions to work for our businesses, organizations, and communities. Contact us to learn more!

Resources to learn more!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Exploring Synergies: Biomimicry's Genius of Place and the Living Building Challenge

I recently started a conversation with biomimicry friends and colleagues about the synergies between The Global Biomimicry Network's Genius of Place initiatives (affectionately referred to as "GoP") and the Living Building Challenge ("LBC"), specifically Imperative #9: Biophilic Environment. For those of us interested in emulating nature's forms, processes, and systems in the built environment, it is an interesting area to explore! I've synthesized initial our thoughts in this blog entry, but we need to continually adapt and grow our thinking on this subject. We would love to hear your thoughts as well - please join the conversation and let us know what you think!

Here is how the LBC 3.0 Imperative #9 is written:
Living Building Challenge 3.0: Imperative #9 Biophilic Environment
Of the imperative's above, I would like to particularly highlight the following:
"(Show) how the project will be uniquely connected to the place, climate and culture through Place-based Relationships."
"The plan should include historical, cultural, ecological, and climatic studies that thoroughly examine the site and context for the project."
So what does this mean for practitioners who are interested in meeting Living Building Challenge standards while fostering an intrinsic connection to place through biomimicry? And how do we communicate the value of a regional and site-specific Genius of Place initiative without confusing people with all the "Bio" terms? (See Terrapin Bright Green's amazing post on this subject to learn more about the distinction.)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

How does nature manage stormwater?

Image and article by Amy Coffman Phillips (cross posted with Biomimicry Chicago)
On a stormy day like today, we remember that water - life giving resource that it is - can cause big problems for the built environment! Maybe you are worried about your basement flooding. Or that your car will get stuck as flash floods cover roadways. Maybe you worry about water infiltrating your building, damaging finishes and inviting mold. The question we must ask is: are these problems inherent in the process of development or are they signs that we are managing stormwater incorrectly? 

Through biomimicry, we can find innovative solutions to this challenge by asking the question: "how does nature manage stormwater?"

As an architect, one of my primary responsibilities is to "keep water out" of buildings. Often, that means finding ways to accelerate the flow of water off the roof and away from the site. We do this with impermeable surfaces, downspouts, drainage channels, drain tile, and much more. The goal is to get water off and away as soon as possible, treating it as a waste product. But in nature, the strategy is the opposite of acceleration, but to slow the flow. Water is slowed in a many ways at a variety of scales. 

Let's think like a forest. 

Canopy trees are the first defense: slowing the fast moving water that falls from the sky and breaking it up into smaller droplets. Then understory trees, shrubs, and ground cover further serve to break apart water drops and slow the flow until they fall to the soil and are readily absorbed by spongy soil architecture. Excess water that is not readily absorbed runs off but is impacted by logs, twigs, rocks, and other obstructions that serve to further slow this acceleration. The result is that only a very small percentage of the water that falls from the sky actually runs off to streams and rivers in intact ecosystems. 

What a difference from our built environment where over half of the water that falls on site is wasted, taking soil and pollution along with it to clog waterways.  
Image courtesy of the EPA via Wikipedia, depicting two different types of built environment. In intact ecosystems, the amount of runoff is many times even less, although it varies by ecosystem type and local conditions. 
Fortunately, architects, planners, city officials, and politicians are realizing that in the process of developing our cities, we have destroyed native ecosystems and the services they provided. Through biomimicry and the "Genius of Place" process, we can begin to reverse this situation and the negative impacts we have created for ourselves. 

It's time to rethink the paradigm of stormwater as a waste product and look to nature for inspiration to make our buildings like trees, our cities like forests.

Discover innovative solutions to this and other challenges at the Chicago Biomimicry Immersion, starting April 25th at The Morton Arboretum! Be sure to enter the promo code "BIOCHI10" for 10% off the cost of registration!

Links for further reading:

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Chicago Biomimicry Immersion - 2015!

In addition to running the B-Collaborative, Amy is a Partner and adult educator at Prairie Lab, LLC, and they are running a Biomimicry Immersion: Chicago-Style starting this April. Check out the webpage - with Amy's new video - to learn more!