To our capacity for self-reflection we owe the possibility of admiring the processes, structures and forms of what surrounds us. Especially, the human being is characterized by the ability to mean everything that is related to in order to live in community.
It is quite a surprise to discover that, to those meanings that we have created, we belong to them as much as they belong to us. They are metaphors that think us (Lizcano, Emmanuel; 2006). Nature as a mentor, as a model or as a measure. That is the proposal of biomimicry through which ideas and techniques have been transformed. This science uses nature as an ecological standard to judge our creations or innovations; Therefore, it is dedicated to studying the structures, processes and forms of nature to imitate or be inspired by them; thus, design proposals that address human challenges.
Above all, it takes up a constantly innovative way of evaluating and looking at nature; recognizing that there is wisdom in it; seeking to stop extracting from it and rather learning from it. That is, besides being a science, it is a way of interpreting the world; a re-application of a metaphor that helps us to relate to the other symbiotically.
Based on Vélez de León, D. & Téllez García, M. (2017). Biomimicry: Architecture and its relationship with nature. (Based on Benyus, 2002) Photo: Palenque – Chiapas. Courtesy of Paúl Contreras Corona.
Applications of biomimicry
Both living beings and inert beings function in a complex network; emulating how it works involves working with complexity. This stance opens up questions. How to change industrial processes so that work and the abundance of resources are maintained without affecting the environment? What does biomimicry offer in this regard? What does it teach us about nature?
Some current examples of disciplines and socio-economic activities that have applied biomimetic work are biomedicine, bio-construction, biometrics, biomechanics or agroecology. Janine Benyus, co-founder of the Institute of Biomimicry, innovation consultant and author on natural sciences, disseminates research and proposals that contribute to these disciplines, understanding human challenges such as food, energy sources, material design, models of learning, doing business and taking care of our health. We propose examples with which each discipline, which does not necessarily apply biomimicry but does seek sustainability, can take advantage of biomimetic tools.
Manage publications according to the principles of sustainability. Here biomimicry invites publishers to lean on projects that emulate natural cycles in their plan for book origination. Within the scope of paper production, in which eco-publishers must take into account the forest certification system (PEFC or FSC), which ensures and certifies that forests are managed in a responsible way, and that the use of paper made by a company or an industry comes from these forests; there is an interesting biomimetic proposal that contributes in this regard.
2018 Ray of Hope award winner Nucleário, a new, faster way to restore forests that can make paper greener. It is a device inspired by the operation of leaf litter, which regulates the humidity in the soil and protects the seeds from invading ants and grasses.. The device also mimics the water uptake of bromeliads, generating a microclimate that attracts biodiversity. All these capacities ensure that the seeds planted are preserved and that the forests regenerate faster. With methods like this, the publishing industry could promote sustainable processes based on biomimicry.
Nucleário, a Brazilian project to reforest Brazilian forests.
The techniques used with the fundamentals of sustainability can be called eco-techniques. They have existed for a long time and are affirmed through constructive traditions. They respond to the environmental conditions to which a building is exposed and therefore learn from the climate and the ecosystem. Even so, in architecture we can find ingenious and innovative solutions by observing the functioning of other living beings or natural materials.
Biomimetics in architecture gets noticed with a second-place winning example of the 2018 Ray of Hope award: BioThermosmart. A team of Mexicans and Americans who were inspired by how elephants, alligators and toucans regulate their temperature through their circulatory system to make a building with a circular thermal management system.
BioThermosmart, Mexico City.
It uses biological systems and living organisms, based on creating solutions by imitating ecological processes to help protect the environment. For example: soil sanitation, sewage treatment, purification of exhaust gases and polluting gases, as well as the recycling of waste and residual substances.
In the case of Mexico, consortia of bacteria have been introduced for cleaning tasks in rugged areas, activating a natural process. For example: the hydrocarbon spill at the El Cuchillo dam due to the passage of Hurricane Alex in 2010, where this technique was implemented for the cleaning and rehabilitation of the dam.
Likewise, it was used to rehabilitate the San Juan river, Cadereyta, Jiménez, since, in 2015, a clandestine intake of one of the gas pipelines caused the overflow of hydrocarbons.
Image of bacterial colonies, taken from Gray Biotechnology: The Most Unknown of Biotechnology Applications
Agriculture has been refined over time to improve its adaptability to each context. The improvement of these processes comes from observing nature and from trial and error, or experimentation, but when we analyze how ecosystems behave to imitate them, these practices are radically transformed. Agroecology, innovative and traditional in its own right, can benefit from biomimicry. The invitation is overwhelming: the food industry must embrace the biocultural diversity implicit in agriculture and understand it to the point where we can recreate abundance networks and nutrient chains.
This is the case of the investigations that have been carried out around the meadows, from which we want to learn their complementary functionality, thanks to which the ecosystem supports itself in the long term.
Photo by Ryan Stone on Unsplash
Perhaps, stop believing that self-reflective capacity separates us from the rest of living beings help us to find other metaphors that help us to reach different states of balance and that our model of life does not lead us to self-destruction.
Biomimicry and ecological thinking have nurtured the human mind making it clear that It is essential to understand biological processes, not only to emulate them, but also to build our values.
It opens up a range of possibilities with which we can rethink our way of approaching design, making proposals, projects and ways of interacting with our environment. It is an umbrella concept, which within the world of the complex, the systemic, the interdisciplinary and the intersectional, must include divergent voices, to think together and strengthen biocultural diversity.
Although biomimicry demonstrates the intelligence of many human groups that have already developed biomimetic abilities and reconstructs the potential of science, we must not stop asking ourselves: for whom it is? And how is it benefiting or not building a better socio-ecological fabric?
Andrea Pliego and Beatriz Acevedo are members of Contaminantes Anónimus.
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Main Image: “Termitary house”, by Angélica Cadena Irizar. This house reminds us of the example of the buildings that are inspired by the ventilation that termites implement in their constructions and in their incredibly stable structures made with organic matter.