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11 Things Biomimicry Taught Me

Upon discovering biomimicry from Janine Benyus's Ted Talk, I was profoundly moved when realizing that we may have forgotten that we are not the only species that mastered the art of building. This awakening triggered a series of investigations that led me deeper into the rabbit hole to learn more about what biomimicry is really about. A solution space, an ethos, and a mindset all in one. I needed to learn more.

After a long journey from experimenting with biomimicry in my architecture thesis year, at work as a designer, followed by an entire master program in biomimicry, I learned some essential takeaways that fundamentally changed not only the way I work, but my view of the world altogether. Here is what biomimicry taught me.

1. We are part of nature just as much nature is a part of us

Somewhere along the line of our evolution as a human species, we may have forgotten that we too are an integral part of nature, and that our entire civilization is connected to nature as a whole. Can we imagine a scenario where nature stops providing for our current lifestyle?

We may not be truly as detached from nature as we think we are. Even if we do live in dense concrete “jungles,” nature finds a way to grow between the crevices of our pavements, almost greeting us and reminding us that they too are part of our urban environment.

2. “Limits” can unleash limitless possibilities of new creative innovations

In the short term, we may not feel the constraints of Mother Earth’s capacity to sustain our growth. Nature showed me that in the long term, all organisms have to grow within certain resource limits in order to sustain an ecosystem or risk a total collapse due to an inevitable resource scarcity scenario.

I’ve discovered that limits encouraged creative and genius adaptations in nature more often than not. Being able to selectively choose where to allocate resources, based on what is available, can optimize designs to a degree we could not simply reach without these pressures. Ultimately this can contribute to the emergence of elegant designs to help us better manage our precious natural resources.

3. All lifeforms have inherent value

No matter how big, or how small, it seems like all living organisms contribute to the health of our environment in one way or another. Some of the most invisible and tiniest creatures, fungi, have been discovered to play pivotal roles in almost all ecosystems, and by and large, the state of our planet today. We may never be able to truly account for the true value of nature.

4. Competition is overrated, cooperation is understated

“Healthy competition” is a buzzword thrown around to suggest that this may be the most effective way to encourage groundbreaking innovations. In nature, competition is described as a lose-lose situation where organisms have to compete for limited resources by expending their valuable energy in such pursuit to push the others out.

Meanwhile, cooperation (mutualism/symbiosis) is a win-win situation where it enables multiple organisms to join forces to achieve what was previously impossible. Lichens are terrific organisms that exhibit this point wonderfully. They are a union of fungus, bacteria, and algae that can literally devour rocks and turn it into soil. Something that no other organism can do as far as I know, and certainly not on their own.

5. Sustainability is the natural path of nature, not just a byproduct

We’re shown time after time that nature’s designs are sustainable, and by extension making the case for sustainability as an integrated part of a successful design is strong. Nature does not necessarily favor sustainability because of the cultural construct behind it, but because it truly is a winning trait essential for good design.

6. Nature is brimming with innovative ideas waiting to be discovered

I am mind blown by the number of organisms that can inspire us for a given design challenge. Even though we may not know the names of all species, there are still bountiful strong scientific studies that can make discovering nature’s genius designs incredibly enlightening.

7. Intention and humility are the keys to nature’s lessons

I was amazed to discover the methodical approach of biomimicry’s emulation process. It certainly is not complicated, nor is it a walk in the park either. It takes deep connection and intention when asking nature so that we can receive meaningful answers. We may not know how to ask her the first time, and that’s okay–it’s part of the process. We then gradually learn the art of asking questions to get the most out of our time with nature. It takes great humility to be open to the possibility that we may not know the answer and be ready to receive new lessons to illuminate us. Ultimately, trusting the process can lead to fruitful results.

8. Caution! It may forever change the way you think

Once we do learn certain lessons from nature, it opens up more avenues for future exploration. I often find myself that any time I undergo the biomimicry emulation process, her answers inspire me with even newer insights for future projects either within the same project’s next evolutionary step or a parallel thought that eventually formulates into a new project. It feels like each lesson I learn helps me connect the dots in my mind, like rewiring my brain to instinctively think like nature does.

9. Nature is inspiringly beautiful

Well, this one I didn’t need biomimicry to realize how beautiful nature is, but it started to make sense why it is! Nature succeeds in meeting all her needs in such grace and beauty that puts most human designers and engineers to shame. How does she manage to combine both functionality and beauty together so seamlessly and consistently?

10. Biomimicry can be both a philosophy and scientific inquiry

Ethos serve an essential role in biomimicry. Without this philosophical underpinning, all our technological advancements become sort of meaningless. We’d be tempted to extract nature’s technologies for our own benefit without learning the true meaning behind her lessons.

11. Biomimicry is revolutionizing design industry and boosting the green economy

Many indicators show that biomimicry as a design movement may be beginning to gain momentum such as the number of related published papers and increased investments in the green economy. We are at the cusp of true transformation, an era of ecological awakening, joining hands with nature to create a future that supports all our aspirations and dreams. What a time to be alive!

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