Long before human beings began tinkering in labs, organisms had developed carbon capture and sequestration systems, water harvesting techniques, water transport systems, adhesives, colorfast materials, electronic circuits, distributed energy conversion systems, color displays, light absorbers, insulation, thermal dissipators, and information storage, along with countless other designs. All of these are blueprints for technologies that are not only useful to society but are also integral to the global economy.
Nature has the potential to amaze us, stimulate us, propel us forward to want to learn more and understand more fully our world. Nature adds a kind of wonder value to our lives unlike almost anything else. It is likely that the benefits of close contact with nature are deeper and even more profound, and the potential to make a difference by integrating nature directly into our lives, even greater than we realize. Nature ought not to be an afterthought, and ought not to only be viewed in terms of the (considerable to be sure) functional benefits typically provided (benefits of trees, green rooftops, wetlands for managing stormwater, for mediating air and water pollutants, for addressing urban heat island effects, and so on). The elements of a deeper concept of integrating nature into everyday living include a recognition of the considerable place-strengthening benefits and place-commitments that derive from knowledge of local nature.
Ecology is a science of emergent phenomena: populations have properties (birth and death rates) and behaviors (schooling in fishes, flocks of birds) not inherent in individuals. Like other ecosystems, cities are not the sum of their constituents; they are key examples of emergent phenomena, in which each component contributes to but does not control the form and behavior of the whole. Traffic congestion, air pollution, and urban sprawl emerge from local-scale interactions among variables such as topography, transportation infrastructure, individual mobility patterns, real estate markets, and social preferences. What makes urban regions different from many other ecosystems is that in these regions humans are a dominant component. In context with the complex biotic and abiotic interactions within human-dominated ecosystems, the emergent ecology of these systems, and their ecological forcing functions. In their separate domains, neither the natural nor the social sciences can explain how integrated human and ecological systems emerge and evolve, because human and ecological factors work simultaneously at various levels. Integrating both biophysical and human agents drive the urban socioeconomic and biophysical patterns and processes that control ecosystem functions. Creating an integrative model requires insightful strategy, serendipity, or both. Bioinspired innovation offers a real opportunity to create new urban design principles, products and processes inspired by proven designs: the attributes of organisms that perpetuate in nature because they solve particular challenges. Bionic cities celebrate abundance, biodiversity, rich multisensory environments. Appreciated as much as the visual or ocular experience natural forms, shapes, and materials, place importance and invest in the social and physical infrastructure that helps to bring urbanites in closer connection and understanding of nature.
A flurry of innovation occurred in the twentieth century that had a positive, transformative effect on our cities, economies and societies. Buildings are made up of modular parts and components that are mass-produced and interchangeable. This model actually works in the same way that a machine does, where transposable parts make a whole. Awesome design machines have been created in this spirit such as composite cars, planes and steel buildings. But these complex machines are not a reflection of how nature works. The new sensibility that views the world as an organism challenges us in completely new ways to propose innovative ways of designing and making things. It implies a continuous living system where the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts, and parts can grow into other parts. For example, ways of printing breathable building skins whose pores also contract and expand in relation to the environment, exploring ways to control the spatial distribution of building materials, to find intelligent form.
It is becoming increasingly clear that innovation and technological breakthroughs are not only keys to economic growth in the twenty-first century but also are necessary for human prosperity. The millions of materials and systems found in nature are a treasure trove of innovation, and companies can benefit by using these designs to reduce the time and costs associated with technology and product development. New channels of innovation, new products and markets, increased efficiency, and sustainability goals can all be realized through bioinspired innovation.
Natural systems offer solutions to urban, social and economic challenges. Bioinspired innovation transforms urban and architectural design, economic principles and social interactions, improves quality of life, and enhances the natural environment.
We can apply the various ‘bio’ fields within the built environment. Design is central to the social, ecological, environmental and economic benefits of sustainability in product development. Traditionally, the business case for design was based on criteria such as cost savings, product improvement, ergonomics and user needs. The current driver is significantly more complex and multidimensional. How do designers address a greater variety of difficult criteria regarding sustainability issues while balancing cost, manufacturing and consumption issues? Although challenging, incorporating sustainability significantly multiplies the benefits of what industrial design can offer.
Design has always been a collaborative, facilitative process that brings about solutions based on asking the right questions. Using biomimicry as a framework allows these questions to be framed in a sustainable context. The solutions are based on a much wider solution space yet are based on a much more focused functional subset. Biomimicry is so much more complex and complete in how it addresses systems issues, resilience, symbiotic relationships and benign materials.
As a key conduit for biomimicry knowledge, design has to capture the attention and imagination of natural systems and solutions that are more responsive to a more dynamic environment. Interdisciplinary collaboration across traditional silos such as departments, faculties and professions is increasingly required to generate creative and innovative solutions in today’s complex world. These benefits are often attributed to the biomimicry design process. Biomimicry offers a useful framework as it focuses on functions and outcomes developed with input from a variety of disciplines.
The convergence of ecology, design and resilience thinking is certainly making notable changes within several central areas of human activity, and will continue to do so. However, while the impact is manifesting globally, its distribution is anything but consistent and widespread. Some cities and indeed some nations are more forward thinking than others, therein less conservative in their theoretical approach. It will be the more pioneering communities that are most likely to secure a future, and the least pioneering that will ultimately fall. While those in the more progressive thinking parts of the world might be considered advantaged intellectually and creatively, they may well face environmental challenges of such proportions as could ultimately make whole regions uninhabitable, be it by desertification, flooding or something else. Whereas, some less progressive communities could be advantaged by their locality, i.e. relatively limited variances in environmental conditions.