Category: biomimicry

28
Dec
2015

Low-energy solutions

We humans, occupants of the habitat we call The World, find ourselves in a predicament – confronted by a changing environment, we must adapt and do so quickly, achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 (See Ed Mazria’s 2030 Challenge). Advocates of biomimicry point to nature, with 3.8 billion years of R&D, as a source for cost-effective, low-energy strategies.  I recently read about the “Ripe Chair,” a project by Andreas Konradsen, part of the DON’T RUN OUT exhibit held in Paris this week, where a steel frame chair was submerged in salt water to naturally weld the joints.  ripe_chair

This process recalls one the Romans used in the production of concrete – they compacted volcanic ash and lime in forms submerged in sea water.  The mix, when in contact with sea water, underwent a chemical reaction to form concrete more durable than today’s.

Those of us architects focussed on sustainability think a lot about creating zero-energy use buildings.  The energy that goes into the production of materials used in buildings is equally important with the embodied energy associated with materials attributed to many years of a building’s life cycle costs.

Among the many materials buildings employ, concrete is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases (an estimated at 7%).  The Roman’s knew how to produce low-energy concrete, how is it we continue to produce high-energy Portland Cement when there are solutions?  Research into alternatives, such as Belite Cement, is underway and Drexel University has produced a low-energy concrete.  There are other researchers exploring low-energy solutions.  Once these alternatives are on the market, I’m hoping the building industry can move quickly embrace the DON’T RUN OUT philosophy to integrate these technologies into new construction.

 

 

27
Feb
2015

adaptation

Lichen grows on the sunny side of the bark of a tree, capitalizing on the warm of the environment. I’m fascinated by the compass termite amitermes meridionalis, native to northern Australia, that builds its nest like a sundial.  The long axis of a nest (which look like a tombstone) runs north to south to minimize exposure to intense mid-day rays.  The south face of the nest is made of a higher thermal mass material – cob, the north face made with straw bale.  Its air conditioning system involves small capillaries as intake and a large central chimney as exhaust, a wonderful example of thermoregulation. 

With 3.8 billion years of R&D, nature proliferates in well-adapted solutions — solutions solved in context and the context is EARTH.  Learning from nature, taking nature’s advice, is the premise for the book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, authored by Janine Benyus.

25
Nov
2014

the not so big apartment

Nature has more to teach us on size: Scientists are observing radical changes in body size in countless mammals, birds, insects, flowers… as a result of climate change. The arctic fox, adapting to a reduction in food supply, is getting smaller, allowing the population size to remain stable.

Hong Kong presents an interesting corollary to this problem of population density relative to habitat size.  How to live well in a small setting.  This is a pressing question and the architect Gary Chang posits an intriguing answer.  His 330 square foot Hong Kong living quarters, the apartment equivalent to the Swiss army knife, transforms into 24 different spaces: wall of books slides away to reveal a linen closet, which in turn slides away to reveal a soaker bath, a bed folds down over the soaker bath to transform into sleeping quarters and so forth. What I love about Chang’s idea is that a room is only a room when you’re in it; when you’re not cooking, the kitchen disappears behind the wardrobe where you slip into a smoking jacket. Clever man.

hk1 hk3

29
Jul
2014

shape in context

Bermann’s Rule (1847) – members of species are larger in colder parts of their range attributed to surface to volume ratio.

Bermann’s Rule (1847) – members of species are larger in colder parts of their range attributed to surface to volume ratio.

The natural world has many examples of adaptation to climate. The northern white-tailed deer has a lower surface area to volume ratio than does its more diminutive southern cousin and radiates less body heat per unit of mass, allowing it to stay warmer in the colder climate.  The southern white-tailed deer has a higher surface are to volume ratio facilitating heat loss through the skin, helping to cool the body.  The former is built to retain heat, the latter to cool.

vtvaThe advent of heating and cooling systems coupled with improvements in the building envelope and cheap energy have led to the homogenization of homebuilding. Compare the floor plan of a developer home in Vermont to one in Arizona. Apart from a little white cladding here and stucco there, the blueprints are the same. I grew up in a 1770’s home in Vermont that was four rooms over four (more volume to surface area). The traditional home in Virginia (where I now reside, apparently I can only live in states that start with “V”) is two over two (more surface area to volume). The former built to heat, the latter to breathe.  Vermont has 6006 heating degree days (measurement that reflects the demand for energy needed to heat a building), Virginia has half that number, 3304.   Vermont has 747 cooling degree days while VA has 1422 (twice as many).  Without air conditioning, modern heating, homes from the 18th century were adapted to conserve or reject heat — a strategy seen in nature and one which, when applied to the building industry, has low first costs. This is a strategy the Developer-Builder can easily adopt. It’s called Regionalism.

16
May
2014

safety in numbers

In Aristotelian terms, techné, craftmanship, craft or art, was considered the imperfect practice of nature.  Nature was regarded as teacher and keeper.   In the three millennia that have elapsed since the Greeks first pondered the making of things, techné has been replaced by technology which sees nature as something to harness, nature is conceived in subjective (human) terms.  We have much to learn from nature, from the birds and the bees, as we consider how to retool our thinking.  Take for instance the penguin that survives extreme cold by huddling, thereby creating a microclimate.  Living in a community, apart from the social benefits, creates a microclimate where the free exchange of heat and cold is sanctioned; in winter the upstairs neighbor benefits, in summer the gift is exchanged (through radiation and surface transfer). Happily, this is a strategy the Developer-Builder can embrace because party walls equals less expensive perimeter equals lower costs.   Safety in numbers.

04
Feb
2014

architecture of the fittest – 01

Belvedere Civic Core

Belvedere Civic Core

Fossil records support a theory on evolution whereby isolated populations, subjected to a new environmental pressures adapt rapidly, often within several or a dozen generations. We humans, occupants of the habitat we callThe World, now find ourselves in a like predicament – confronted by a changing environment, we must adapt and do so quickly, achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 (See Ed Mazria’s 2030 Challenge).

According to the Punctuated Equilibrium theory described above (the debate continues between these adherents and the Gradualists like the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys), the isolated population, having adapted to the new environment, now reintroduced to its original habitat, out-competes its sister lineage.  The homebuilding industry is developer-builder driven (20+ percent of the market is built by the ten top builders). In evolutionary terms, the Developer-Builder is the general population which operates on the premise of stasis.  We, let’s call us Team 2030 – the Ecohome-read’in, LEED-A.P.’in, xeroscap’in, carbon-sequester’in, Greenspec-tot’in, , Biophiliacs — those committed to changing the business-as-usual of the industry — must define a new species of building, one that operates at scale.