A look inside Google’s biophilic Chicago offices

November 11, 2017 by  
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The tech giant made nature-inspired design a central architecture strategy, not an afterthought.

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A look inside Google’s biophilic Chicago offices

NexLoop unveils water management system inspired by spiders, fungi, bees and plants

November 3, 2017 by  
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In its quest to sustainably serve the needs of urban farmers , NexLoop  found inspiration for its water management system in the natural world. Seeking to create a system that is self-sufficient and adaptable to local needs, the NexLoop team observed the ability of cribellate orb weaver spiders to craft webs that capture water from fog in the air. The team then incorporated this design into their system, called the AquaWeb, to passively capture water from the atmosphere. The biomimetically-designed AquaWeb incorporates ideas from fungi, bees, and plants to create a naturally-inspired solution to the complex human problem of growing food. For its work, NexLoop was awarded the 2017 Ray of Hope Prize from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation and the Biomimicry Institute. After determining how water capture would work, the team looked at drought-tolerant plants such as the crystalline ice plant to learn how it effectively stores water to survive in dry areas and applied these lessons to the AquaWeb’s storage system. As for distribution of this water, the team studied fungi , which are essential organisms in places like forests where mycorrhizal fungal networks transport water and nutrients to trees that need them. As for a solid structure, the team incorporated the hexagonal shape of honey bee nests. Related: 6 groundbreaking examples of tech innovations inspired by biomimicry The AquaWeb seeks to meet the needs of a global community that is increasingly urban . The global population is expected rise to at least 9 billion by 2050, 70 percent of which will live in cities. This historic shift towards urban living will require adoption of food systems that are locally based, resilient, and efficient in its use of resources. AquaWeb’s passive capture and storage of rainwater is a key feature for stability in a world increasingly plagued by extreme weather. As part of the 2017 Ray of Hope Prize, the NexLoop team received $100,000 to promote and refine its design. The second place prize was awarded to Team Windchill, which designed an electricity-free refrigerator based on animal temperature regulation, while the third place prize went to Team Evolution’s Solutions, which invented a food waste nutrient recycling and supply system aimed to help hydroponic farmers . + Biomimicry Institute Images via NexLoop and Depositphotos

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NexLoop unveils water management system inspired by spiders, fungi, bees and plants

Biomimicry vs. biophilia: A primer

October 27, 2017 by  
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Nature’s technology inspires human-made innovations in everything from Blue Planet cement to the office of Cookfox Architects.

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Biomimicry vs. biophilia: A primer

What the tiniest creatures can teach us about adapting to life’s challenges

October 24, 2017 by  
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John Steinbeck wrote that “all things are one thing and that one thing is all things—plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and an expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time.” He had a great big feeling about life, but spent a lot of time just poking around little tidepools to get it. Great minds–from Copernicus to Galileo, Newton, Darwin and Einstein–have always done this, observing life’s tiny details and looking for connections between them. These little things add up to deep patterns that can sometimes change the world. Steinbeck’s gentle nudge to “look from the tidepool to the stars and then back to the tidepool again”–is actually an act of revolution. Little things trigger big changes–and that’s exactly how biomimicry can help us better adapt to the world around us. A lot of people don’t know that Steinbeck was also a biologist, or that his best friend was Ed Ricketts, the only scientist in history to have 15 animal species (and a nightclub) named after him . Before Ricketts, biology was a pretty Victorian affair. Gentlemen naturalists traveled around collecting specimens, dissecting them and pinning them on boards, categorizing and naming them. Most studied each creature separately, but Ricketts was compelled by the connections between them–he is widely regarded as the first marine ecologist. Ricketts and Steinbeck were having tough times in their personal lives, and decided to charter a fishing boat, and escape along the Pacific Coast. They went from Monterey to San Diego, along the length of Baja California, around Cabo San Lucas, and finally into the Sea of Cortez. Steinbeck’s book, The Log From the Sea of Cortez , is a cult classic for geeks like me, describing how the pair dropped anchor here and there, puttering around the tidepools they discovered, observing and collecting tiny creatures along the way. Inevitably, a group of little kids would gather round to see what they were up to. The kids had never seen scientists before, and didn’t know what to make of grown men poking around tidepools for something besides dinner. Exploring was strictly kid stuff, so they figured Ricketts and Steinbeck must be doing something else. “ What did you lose? ” they would ask. The men would look at them in surprise. “ Nothing! “ “ Well, what are you looking for then? “ Being a philosophical kind of writer, Steinbeck thought this was a great question. What exactly were they looking for? What were they expecting these tiny creatures to teach them? Quite a lot, it turns out, and many regard Ricketts’ book Between Pacific Tides as the Bible of modern marine biology. There were hundreds of small discoveries–and 50 new species–but Ricketts’ key contribution was the way he untangled complex relationships among ocean inhabitants, large and small. He saw that water temperatures affected plankton levels, which affected larger species, and that overfishing in warm years led to crashes in the sardine populations years later. He even predicted the catastrophic loss of the once-thriving Monterey fishery. Everything was connected, and small effects reverberated in unexpected ways through vast ecological webs. Ricketts made a habit of observing small details in the living world, and saw them build to deep patterns that suddenly changed everything. This process–studying nature’s little details, finding the connections between them, identifying deep patterns that stand the test of time, and abstracting them into solutions we can borrow—is the key to biomimicry , the art and science of innovation inspired by nature. Biomimicry is part of a profound change in the way we see the world, the way we make and do things, and the way we think about our way of life. When we really look, we begin to realize that humans face exactly the same kinds of problems other species do, and that the 30 million or so species that share this planet with us have their own solutions. “After 3.8 billion years of research and development,” writes biomimicry pioneer Janine Benyus , “failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.” These strategies are the ultimate in sustainability—solutions that have worked for generations without diminishing the potential for future offspring to succeed. Sharks have cruised the oceans virtually unchanged for 400 million years, and the ancient Hawaiian concept of the octopus as the last survivor of a past universe is accurate, because their relatives passed through several major extinction events that wiped out almost all their contemporaries. These ways of life work, even as the world changes. 99.9% of the species that have ever existed are now extinct, and those that remain are the survivors, the most successful 0.1% of all life. As I write in my new book, Teeming: How Superorganisms Work Together to Build Infinite Wealth on a Finite Planet (and your company can too) , we clever humans overthink our answers, forcing square pegs into round holes because we can. We invent one-off solutions—and new polymers–for every problem, and get heavy-handed about creating them. If we’re dealing with high impact—in the automotive or aerospace industry, for instance—we heat, beat, treat various raw resources into submission. If we need to stick something in place, we use toxic glues. Flooding? Build a giant dam. Drought? Build a very long ditch. Our solutions require huge amounts of energy and materials, and produce a lot of waste–things no creature can eat. Our chemical answers make us sick, and poison our planet, and are neither adaptive nor resilient. The creatures of the tidepools solve these same kinds of challenges every day, without fancy Research and Development teams or even—in many cases—brains. Big waves smash down and sweep across the rocks. Organisms are stranded in the baking sun, blasted with UV light. Tiny creatures are constantly flooded or baked, exposed to radical swings in salinity and temperature. Yet their strategies last, while our own industrial solutions have only been around a couple hundred years and seem to create more heartaches and headaches. What can these little beings teach us? Related: INTERVIEW: Dr. Tamsin Woolley-Barker on how biomimicry can improve happiness and creativity in the workplace Sea urchins thrive in pounding surf, because their spines are like shock absorbers, helping them wedge between rocks. Look through the scanning electron microscope, and you see an exquisite microstructure, perfectly designed to spread impact forces and stop cracks from spreading, with predetermined weak points that can fail without hurting the animal. Stiff and strong, yet flexible, these natural ceramics regenerate at surrounding temperatures from local minerals, powered by algal energy scraped from nearby rocks and grown from sunlight. Abalone and oyster shells offer stunning mother of pearl with remarkable properties. One deep-water oyster–the windowpane oyster—is nearly transparent and practically bulletproof. Nacre, as this material called, is incredibly strong, and yet chemically, isn’t much different from crumbly chalk. Look under the right microscope, and you’ll see it is composed of many layers of tiny hexagonal tiles, mortared with thin sheets of bendy, elastic protein. All of it is hyper-efficient, made from local materials, using life-friendly chemistry and conditions. Material scientists are working hard to 3D print analogous solutions. Barnacles filter tiny food particles from the water, protruding their highly modified legs to use as nets. But when the tide goes out, their homes seal perfectly shut, protecting their tiny, watery world. The microscope reveals four little French doors that open and shut. Each is hard and strong, but near the edges, they transition into a flexible, plastic-like gel, like the rubbery seal inside your car door–but intricately fringed to create an incredibly tight, interlocking seal. These are precision mechanics, grown from nanoscopic genetic blueprints, in microscopic cell factories. They self-repair when damaged, and respond intelligently and instantly to changing conditions. Sea cucumbers are soft and floppy, sliding through the narrow spaces between rocks. But when touched, tiny hairy whiskers in their skin enzymatically orient and bind into a firm, rigid net. When the predator is gone, other enzymes break the bonds and make the skin soft again. Scientists are copying this for electrodes (rigid for implanting, and soft in the body), and protective clothing like bulletproof vests. Seastars must stick to the reefs as they move around in search of prey, even as violent waves come and go. The solution is a reversible adhesive—a sticky glue that works underwater, even on slimy algae–that they excrete from their feet and turn instantly on and off with protein activators. Imagine if we could copy that! All these solutions work at ambient temperatures using locally available materials and water as a solvent. There are no toxic chemicals, no extreme heat, no carbon emissions. They don’t even need to be manufactured—they assemble themselves from the bottom up, powered (ultimately) by sunlight. These solutions adapt to local conditions on the fly and are made from a small set of universal building blocks that other creatures can eat and make new things with. These solutions are edible! They are smart, responsive, and flexible, and perform as well, if not better, than synthetic materials–while weighing 30 to 300% less. They are deeply efficient and sustainable, shaped by billions of years of natural selection, making our own synthetic solutions look distinctly amateurish. These solutions and many more have caught the eye of “mainstream” business and other organizations–Fortune Magazine called Biomimicry the #1 trend in business for 2017, and many institutions not traditionally thought of as “green”–including the military, NASA, and a wide range of industrial chemical, medical, and material science companies are eager to tap nature’s “open source” genius. It’s an exciting time, and little ripples of innovation are starting to add up to a tidal wave of change. Biomimicry is a profound change in the way we see the world, the way we and do things, and the way we think about our way of life. Small things build to deep patterns that have the power to change everything. For every challenge we face, we can ask ourselves how nature would do it, then look closely. The little things we see around us every day could one day change the world . + Teeming: How Superorganisms Build Infinite Wealth in a Finite World lead image via Unsplash Dr. Tamsin Woolley-Barker is an evolutionary biologist, primatologist, and biomimicry pioneer with an extensive background in leadership, innovation, and sustainability. Her book Teeming: How Superorganisms Work to Build Infinite Wealth in a Finite World is available now .

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What the tiniest creatures can teach us about adapting to life’s challenges

Black butterfly wings provide inspiration for superior solar cells

October 23, 2017 by  
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Researchers took cues from butterflies to design thin film solar cells that can better absorb light. The rose butterfly, common to India, has soft black wings that help keep the insect warm with the sun’s heat. Mimicking the design of the butterfly’s wings, the scientists created a solar cell that The Verge reports can gather light twice as efficiently. California Institute of Technology and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology researchers went to nature for inspiration for improved solar power technology. They scrutinized butterfly wings under an electron microscope and discovered the wings’ scales were pockmarked with holes, which are under one millionth of a meter wide, according to The Verge. These holes not only allowed the wings to be lighter, but scattered light so the butterfly can absorb more heat. Related: Bio-inspired wind turbines with flexible blades are 35% more efficient The holes are random in shape, size, and distribution, according to Radwanul Siddique, lead author of a study recently published online in the journal Science Advances . Computer models helped the scientists realize the shape wasn’t important for absorbing light, but position and order did matter. The scientists utilized hydrogenated amorphous silicon sheets, according to Phys.org, to create similar structures. A top layer had small holes that could scatter light, allowing it to hit the silicon base. This design collected around twice as much light as others. They were able to create their solar cells with a five- to 10-minute process. Thin film solar cells could be more efficient than traditional solar panels , according to Phys.org, if they could operate for longer time periods. This new research could move thin film solar technology forward: The Verge reports solar panels with the butterfly wing- inspired design could allow the panels to produce more power during the day. Via The Verge and Phys.org Images via Wikimedia Commons and Radwanul H. Siddique, KIT/CalTech

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Black butterfly wings provide inspiration for superior solar cells

Herzog & de Meuron are upcycling a historic gasometer into a stunning residential tower

October 23, 2017 by  
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A former industrial area in Stockholm is on its way to a stunning makeover. Several old gasometers in Hjorthagen are being  repurposed into a vibrant new residential area called Gasklockan at the hands of several talented designers. For one tower, Swiss architects, Herzog & de Meuron will convert the old brick building into a soaring residential tower, while Piet Oudolf and LOLA Architects  will create a lush green space that snakes through the development. Besides being a local landmark, the late 19th century buildings have quite a bit of historical value to the city, representing 100 years of gasworks in the area. Accordingly, the master plan for renovating the area focuses on integrating the beloved gasometers into the newly revamped residential area. Related: INTERVIEW: Walking the High Line with its garden designer Piet Oudolf The team behind Herzog & de Meuron will be converting the tallest gasometer into a 330-feet-high residential tower with 45 floors while the smallest gas holder will be turned into an art gallery (konsthall) for exhibitions. The remaining buildings will be rearranged to coexist with several new social areas around the complex, including a sculpture park, cafes and restaurants, as well as plenty of green space . Not only will the development count on amazing architecture, but will boast an equally stunning landscaping design . Led by renowned architect Piet Oudolf and LOLA Landscape Architects, the landscape design will focus on providing ample green space and a central plaza for residents and visitors to come together. According to the project description, the landscaping scheme will focus on creating a sustainable , natural environment that will enhance the climate around the complex and be accessible throughout the year, in every season. At the heart of the project will be an expansive meadow garden with a 300-feet long sun bench. Several walking paths will wrap around the meadow and snake between the buildings, creating a seamless connection between nature and the manmade. + Herzog & de Meuron + Piet Oudolf + LOLA Architects

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Herzog & de Meuron are upcycling a historic gasometer into a stunning residential tower

Visionary eco-resort design for the Philippines features rotating seashell towers

September 19, 2017 by  
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Visionary eco-architect Vincent Callebaut has just unveiled images of his latest ecological masterpiece and it’s jaw-droppingly stunning. Nautilus is a futuristic 27,000-square-meter eco-resort designed for Palawan, Philippines. The beautiful self-sustaining complex, which would include various research centers, shell-shaped hotels and rotating apartment towers, is designed to be a shining example of how resilient tourism can allow travelers to discover the world without destroying it. Callebaut designed Nautilus to be a resilient, self-sustaining community that includes a series of rotating apartments and luxury hotels, along with a elementary school and sports center. Also on site would be a scientific research and learning center for travelers who’d like to collaborate with engineers, scientists, and ecologists in actively taking part in improving the local environment. It’s a pioneering collaborative concept focused on using real-world education to foster and spread the idea of responsible ecotourism –  or as the architect describes it – “a voluntary approach to reimburse ecological debt”. Related: Vincent Callebaut’s Twisting Citytree Towers Generate More Energy Than They Consume Using the principles of biomimicry , the design is inspired by the “shapes, structures, intelligence of materials and feedback loops that exist in living beings and endemic ecosystems.” The construction and operation of the complex would work under a “zero-emission, zero-waste, zero-poverty” ethos, using 100 percent reused and/or recycled materials from the surrounding area. All of the materials used in the construction would be bio-sourced products derived from vegetable biomass. Microalgae and linseed oil would be used to manufacture organic tiles, while any wood used would be locally-sourced from eco-responsible forests. Even the luxury lodgings would be self-sustaining, playing a strong role in the design’s net-zero energy profile. The main tourist village would be built on telescopic piles that produce ocean thermal energy as well as tidal energy. This energy, along with photovoltaic cells , would produce sufficient energy for the the village, which will also be installed with vertical walls and green roofs to increase the buildings’ thermal inertia and optimize natural temperature control. To the west, twelve small spiral towers with a total of 164 units are designed to be built on rotating bases that turn on their axis according to the course of the sun, fully rotating 360 degrees in one day, providing optimal views of the surrounding environment and taking advantage of a full day of natural light. On the east side, the complex would have 12 small snail-shaped “museum-hotels” constructed with recycled concrete . The hotels will feature various exhibition spaces on the bottom floors and guests rooms on the upper floors. At the heart of the resort will be Origami Mountain, slated to house a scientific research center and nautical recreation area. The building would be constructed using a Cross Laminated Timber framework that would be layered to create a number of undulating ramps that fold out like a massive origami structure. + Vincent Callebaut + Nautilus Eco-Resort Images via Vincent Callebaut

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Visionary eco-resort design for the Philippines features rotating seashell towers

America’s largest urban farm to be planted in Pittsburgh

September 19, 2017 by  
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Pittsburgh , once a site of heavy industry, could soon be home to the biggest urban farm in the United States. The 23-acre Hilltop Urban Farm will be located in the city’s Southside, an area underserved by supermarkets , where it could help supply nutritious, fresh produce to those who otherwise would have little access. Coal, steel, and manufacturing once boomed in Pittsburgh, until the city experienced an industrial decline in the 1950s. The healthcare industry has recently helped revive the city, but neighborhoods on Pittsburgh’s outer ring have yet to see a comeback. That’s where the Hilltop Alliance , the group behind the Hilltop Urban Farm, is working. The city is also home to the largest percentage of people living in areas with low-supermarket access for cities with 250,000 to 500,000 people, according to a 2012 report from the United States Department of the Treasury. Related: 20 kids transform a rough Pittsburgh neighborhood with solar art & charging station The Hilltop Urban Farm could offer an answer to the issues these Pittsburgh residents face. The farm will occupy space that was once filled with low-income housing – and according to Aaron Sukenik, Hilltop Alliance executive director, the land “was just kind of sitting there, fenced and looking very post-apocalyptic.” Soon it will be home to a farm where people will grow winter peas and other produce. There will be a fruit orchard, and an almost one-acre youth farm. There will be a 3.36-acre farmer incubation program, and a 57 plot community garden . There will also be a 3.31 community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm. Also part of the urban farm will be a 200-person events barn and a farm market building, where a seasonal farmer’s market will occur. According to the Hilltop Urban Farm Facebook page , green infrastructure, energy-efficient buildings, stormwater management , and native plants will be part of the design. Hilltop Urban Farm is slated to open in 2019. Via Reuters Images via Hilltop Urban Farm Facebook

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America’s largest urban farm to be planted in Pittsburgh

Dozens of Japanese cities and towns quietly go off-grid

September 19, 2017 by  
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Dozens of cities and towns in Japan have quietly shifted from traditional utility-based grid power system to a more local, resilient model of generating and storing energy where it is used. After significant damage caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, many Japanese municipalities rebuilt to be more equipped for the 21st century through the country’s National Resilience Program. The Program offers 3.72 trillion yen ($33.32 billion) in funding each fiscal year to be distributed to local communities seeking to become more self-reliant and locally empowered. “Since Fukushima , there has been a gradual elaboration of policies to realize that kind of local autonomy, local consumption paradigm,” said Andrew Dewit, a professor of energy policy at Rikkyo University in Tokyo. Although the Resilience Program was designed for recovering from and adapting to natural disasters, it has blossomed into a powerful tool in the fight against climate change . “At the time of the Great East Japan earthquake, we couldn’t secure power and had to go through incredible hardships,” said Yusuke Atsumi, a manager at HOPE, a utility created to service this new localized energy model. Under the old system, a “blackout at one area would lead to wide-scale power outages. But the independent distributed micro-grid can sustain power even if the surrounding area is having a blackout.” Related: Japan’s new mushroom solar farms produce sustainable energy and food In its recovery from the earthquake , which destroyed 75 percent of its homes and killed 1,100 of its residents, the city of Higashi Matsushima constructed micro-grids and decentralized renewable power generation that currently allows the city to produce 25 percent of its power needs without tapping into the main grid . Additionally, the city has installed batteries capable of storing enough energy to run the city for three days without access to the grid. “We are moving towards a day when we won’t be building large-scale power plants,” said Takao Kashiwagi, renewable energy luminary who serves as head of the New Energy Promotion Council and designed Japan’s first smart city . “Instead, we will have distributed power systems, where small power supply systems are in place near the consumption areas.” In light of the program’s success, the Japanese government seeks to increase funding for the Resilience Program by 24 percent in the next fiscal year. Via Reuters Images via Save the Children Canada/Wikimedia ,  DepositPhotos , and Pavel Ahmed/Flickr

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Unique temporary shelter in Greece offers an elevated camping experience

September 19, 2017 by  
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Well, this is different. Studio Genua and hiboux  ARCHITECTURE designed this contemporary wooden shelter , which acts as a short-term residence for farmers and harvesters—or a summer beach lodge. Called Tragata, the elevated lodgings provide a place for people to relax and enjoy panoramic views of the natural surroundings. Located in Cephalonia, Greece , the structure functions as a transformable space raised from the ground. Its permanent timber frame and detachable panels are made from locally-sourced materials and were assembled on site. Related: Temporary Wooden ‘Hangout’ Provides Shelter for Festival-goers in Eindhoven Parts of the roof can be folded open to offer views of the night sky and provide shading during the day. A hidden storage space sits underneath the floor plane and can be used to store mattresses and other equipment that is not easy to transport. A hammock is placed between the ground and the deck. Related: 14 amazing timber structures explore the future of wood as a building material The modular structure is easy to construct, opening up the opportunity to build similar structures that offer such elevated camping experiences. Tragatas are designed to combine the feeling of isolation and openness while adapting to the needs of their temporary inhabitants. + hiboux ARCHITECTURE + Studio Genua Via Archdaily Lead photo by Marianna Xyntaraki

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