HOK’s Architectural Biomimicry.

I just came across this talk and was really excited to get some insight into the current Biomimicry workings at HOK, arguably the most progressive architectural design firm when it comes to integrating Biomimicry into architecture. Unfortunately no insights were given here, just a brief and basic introduction to the general concept of biomimicry. But the title makes me smile so I think it’s still worth sharing.

Biomimefragilisticexpialidocious!

HOK started collaborating with the Biomimicry Institute in 2008, and I remember being so excited for the future of architecture when this happened. Being the global, innovative and trend-setting firm that HOK is, their alliance with the Biomimicry Guild meant all good things for spreading the wisdom of biomimcry within the architectural industry as well as the wider community.

The flagship project that kicked off the alliance was the Lavasa Hill City Project, a massive masterplanning exercise involving the design and construction of three new villages within a hilltop ecosystem in southern India. The approach was a mixture of basic sustainability and restorative design principles, attention to traditional Indian vernacular style, and an especially close examination of the existing ‘genius loci’ of the environment. By studying the unique ecosystem and local biome, the designers attempted to extract solutions to design challenges at an architectural and urban scale.

Sketches of the biomimicry design idea’s for Lavasa by HOK. Image from hok.com

By understanding the intricacies of the site ecosystem, the designers could identify important ecosystem services that must remain undisturbed to continue the ecological functioning of the area. These were:

  • Water collection and storage
  • Solar gain and reflection
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Water filtration
  • Evapo-transpiration
  • Nitrogen and phosphorous cycling

“Design strategies include roof lines that create the wind turbulence that aids the evaporation, green roofs that prevent soil erosion, and a polymer product that stiffens soil to create the same stabilising effect as a cliff swallow mixing saliva with mud to create a mortar that adheres their nests to buildings”. hok.com

Initial conceptual renderings of the Lavasa Hill City Project and current photograph of the site. Image from hok.com

Today, four years after the initialisation of this project and eight years before it’s proposed completion, phase one is almost complete with some apparent successes and failures. Construction was halted in 2011 after a report from the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests identified negative impacts on the environment by the development, and some controversy about methods of obtaining the land was encountered.

What I’m looking forward to and hoping to see one day soon is the sharing of knowledge gained from this project about real world applications of Biomimicry into architectural and urban design; what worked, what failed, what could be done differently. Things have been a little quiet as far as new architectual Biomimicry projects starting up since this one made headlines, and the rapid spread of Biomimicry hasn’t quite occurred how I thought maybe it would (outside of architectural schools). It’s proven to be a tricky concept/method to convert from theoretical to practical, so the Lavasa Hill City is a vital case study for so many designers unsure about how to successfully introduce Biomimicry into a project. The sharing of this knowledge is something that would surely progress the entire field of sustainable architectural biomimicry.