The tiny, precious, pale blue dot we call home.

Nothing like some global perspective and a bunch of good quotes to start the new year off with:

“In outer space you develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that, you son of a bitch.”

– Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut


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Earthrise- Apollo 8. image: Wikipedia


“If the earth improves because of our presence we will flourish, if it doesn’t then we die off”. -James Lovelock

And it’s as simple and as difficult as that – keep the Earth’s ecological systems healthy and functioning and we will ensure the continuation of human civilization. The key to evolving our technologies and developments in a way that increases the health of our ecological systems is to study nature in detail; study how sustainable solutions have evolved over 3.8 billion years and apply that knowledge to everything we create. In a word – Biomimicry.


Zygote Quarterly Bio-inspiration

What better way to spend this afternoon than clicking through the pages of the newly released Zygote Quarterly 3rd Edition.

This unique e-zine is a refreshing and inspiring view into the current world of biomimicry as it develops across multiple disciplines.

With it’s beautiful graphic styling and high quality original articles, its quickly become an inspiration favourite.

The Biophilia of Biomimicry

Biomimicry gives us a strong logical reasoning for turning to nature for design solutions. The living things on this planet have gone through 3.8 billion years of research and development, refining them into the perfectly appropriate and adapted solutions we see functioning around us today. So in our quest to create a more sustainable built world, it makes perfect sense to study how nature has achieved this successfully. But for many of us there is more to the appeal of Biomimicry than logical design solutions, there is a conscious or unconscious love of nature and a desire to live in a world that is linked more closely to the natural one.

image by alex bellink

Biophilia- the “love of life or living systems” is a term that was coined by E.O Wilson in 1984 in his book “Biophilia”. Wilson is a naturalist/biologist/researcher/Harvard professor who has spent a 60 year career looking deeply into the biology, evolution and socio-biology of life on this planet and the role of human beings within it. It is thought that the close relationship humans had with nature along the course of evolution for shelter and survival, has left a kind of genetic ‘memory-mark’ within us, and we seek out nature to fulfil these instinctual longings.

“Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction”. – E.O Wilson

Wilson believes strongly in the need for conservation of natural habitats to ensure the continuation of biodiversity of the planet. He suggests that not protecting our natural world is actually the unnatural behaviour.

“Perhaps the time has come to cease calling it the “environmentalist” view, as though it were a lobbying effort outside the mainstream of human activity, and to start calling it the real-world view”. -E.O Wilson

In the design world, Biophilia has been most noticeable in medical and healthcare facilities. It has been well documented that patients who have a visual link to nature and natural light in their rooms have a faster healing and recovery time than those who do not.

Healing spaces of the Jurong Hospital, Singapore, incorporate views to nature and abundant natural light.

Links to the natural environment have also been shown to increase productivity and reduce absenteeism in offices by up to 20%, as well as improve relaxation and psychological wellbeing therapeutic facilities and homes.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s classic Falling Water house and a new drool-worthy favourite of mine in Hollywood Hills by architect John Lautner epitomise the appeal of living closer to nature.

On a city scale, biophilic design is gaining presence and popularity as our suffering from a lack of nature becomes more severe. recognises the benefits of integrating nature more deeply into our cities and promoting a biophilic love for it:

Important ties to place: there are considerable place strengthening benefits and place-commitments that derive from knowledge of local nature; from direct personal contact; enhanced knowledge and deeper connections = greater stewardship, and willingness to take personal actions on behalf of place and home;

Connections and connectedness: Caring for place and environment, essential for human wellbeing and in turn essential ingredient  for caring for eachother;

A need for wonder and awe in our lives: 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; (see the post Springtime Spontaneity)

Meaningful lives require nature: the qualities of wonder and fascination, the ability to nurture deep personal connection and involvement, visceral engagement in something larger than and outside oneself, offer the potential for meaning in life few other things can provide.

Of course Biomimicry can function successfully without a hint biophila behind the intent or execution of a design. Studying a whale’s flipper to create a more efficient turbine design does not necessarily require a love of nature, but I have a feeling it is the driving force behind much hard work that goes into these innovations.

So whether your love of nature comes from a deeply instinctual place, or happy vacation memories, an appreciation for the aesthetic beauty of nature, or fascination for the life giving functionality of it, the more this biophilia is recognised and valued as an essential part of living, the closer we can get to achieving it in our designs. Design it for the love of it.

Springtime Spontaneity

Blooming cherry tree structure by Vision Division

Following along the idea of lessons from nature which are broader than specific design solutions comes one of the most underutilized, I think, in the human world: spontaneity!

As the May blossoms spring into life here, and a walk through a brown defrosting park one day could a couple days later be a fresh green hive of life; Surprise, spontaneity and wonder are in the air.

Of course the seeming spontaneity of nature is actually the result of a hidden and complex natural process of germination, that I, the casual gawker, only see the end product of. Similarly with architecture- months sometimes years of thought, discussion, planning and careful design go into the germination of each project. So for the designer the process and product of architecture may not feel at all spontaneous especially with the amount of constrains and compromises often placed on a fresh idea. However for the general public and roadside passersby, not only is the sudden springing up of scaffolding sometimes a surprise, but the building design itself has the ability inject some spontaneous delight into the everyday experience of the city.

Delight is sadly an often neglected trait of architectural design. Although we are all taught early on in architecture school about Vitruvius’ founding rules of ‘firmness, commodity and delight’, delight in this context generally means a pleasing built appearance, but why not take a more literal approach? Nature reminds us of the refreshing power of delight in life, it can rekindle that childlike wonder we had before the world was dulled by routine and expectation. The built environment is capable of inspiring wonder as well, not only by large formal and structural gestures like those of Ghery, but also by small unexpected details that challenge expectations in a playful way.

Ghery’s Guggenheim Bilbao and City of Wine building create delight by contrasting the existing city vernacular and challenging expectations of what a building should look like.

Storefront for Art and Architecture NYC transformation of the building edge creates temporary public spaces, and unexpected permeability for a spontaneous city experience.

Renzo Piano (top left) among many who use colourful building facades to insert a ‘joyful vibrancy’ into the cityscape.

Creating a sense of wonder and cheer by vivid color lighting where it is needed most, Children’s Hospital Phoenix USA.

Expo pavilions blur the line between wonderous imagination and useful buildings, i wish more of these delight filled buildings would spring up in our cities for a more permanent purposes. Image by Matthew Niederhauser.

Kelli Anderson gives a great TED talk about ‘disruptive wonder’ proposing that by rejecting the normal order of everyday objects and experiences that frame our realities, we can expand what we expect from reality. She urges us to creatively mess with the complaisance of the little things that reinforce the assumptions we make about the world.

Of course the best kind of spontaneously  wonderful insertions into the built environment are the living green ones. There are so many creative people out there finding innovative, beautiful and witty ways of introducing greenery into our lives, using the element of spontaneity to wake us up to the delight of the natural world and expand what we expect from the reality of our cities.

Moss graffiti-artists include Anna Garforth and Edina Tokodi.

Pothole gardener Pete Dungey and Guerilla Gardeners transform the concrete jungle.

Architectural green walls are always a delight to stumble on, whether engineered or natural.