biomimetics | milano | 2016
with Prof. Alessandra Zanelli and Nebojsa Jakica
There was always a great observation about the use of minimum energy in nature. Animals and plants have used the least amount of resource to survive. On a deeper level, the development of the bone is a fascinating engineering miracle. Technology has already adopted these biomimetic suggestions from nature and improved the state of the art in building systems and especialy the use of a reduced amount of structure to assembe a building. With computational design, optimised, compartmentalised and prefabricated materials should be used to fascilitate temporary structures that in any given time could adapt, change, removed and moved in the needs of the user. I have attended a really interesting lecture by Prof. Chris Williams at Smart Geometry conference (SG16) which he demonstrated the development of the bone with an algorith that he wrote in C# in Visual Studio. He talked about the debate whether one should imitate natural forms in the design of man-made objects for aesthetic reasons and engineering optimisation before production.
This fabrication of surfaces and structures deriving from nature goes back thousands of years, on of the earlier examples is the silk making in china which began over 3000 years ago. An earlier example as the book Deployable Structures state is the 2014 Research Pavilion designed by the University of Stuttgart ICD which is based on the natural morphology of the bettle elytra. Strenght and lightness, two main aspects that designers should consider when designing structures temporary or not.
There are two development principles that derive from living organisms, the non-reversible movement that comes from growth and the reversible which means it can occur several times.
Radiolaria and bones have a particular appeal. Pettigrew, Cook and others have remarked on the persistence of curvilinear and spiralling formations in plants and animals, insisting that it is proof of design in nature. Architects and engineers have for centuries been inspired to use natural forms as a source for creativity in design, Gaudi is a primary example and his design of Sagrada Famiglia. Although an architectural and engineering masterpiece that utilises biomimetics at it’s grand scheme, in my opinion nowdays we can’t afford of a structure to take 128 years to finish.
The process and the development should be condenced and with the use of technology we should get inspired and not copy these masterpieces. As Bassegoda writes: “Looking toward the future, the lesson of Gaudí is not to copy his solutions but rather to look at nature for inspiration [...] nature does not go out of fashion.”
Gaudi did not travel much himself but was a well read personality, he desliked the artificial gothic arches so he found a way to complete the old style without the support of extra supporting structures or columns, and their designs are stable under their own weight.
In another era, D’Arcy Thompson was concerned with the science of form. The central theme of the book “On growth and form” is that biologists of its author’s day overemphasized evolution as the fundamental determinant of the form and structure of living organisms, and underemphasized the roles of physical laws and mechanics. He advocated structuralism as an alternative to survival of the fittest in governing the form of species.
On the concept of allometry, the study of the relationship of body size and shape, Thompson wrote:
“An organism is so complex a thing, and growth so complex a phenomenon, that for growth to be so uniform and constant in all the parts as to keep the whole shape unchanged would indeed be an unlikely and an unusual circumstance. Rates vary, proportions change, and the whole configuration alters accordingly.”
Going even earlier to Aristotle’s “History of Animals” translated by D’Arcy Thompson Aristotle finds himself talking about the bones in animals:
[...] The bones in animals are all connected with one single bone, and are interconnected, like the veins, in one unbroken sequence; and there is no instance of a bone standing apart by itself. In all animals furnished with bones, the spine or backbone is the point of origin for the entire osseous system. The spine is composed of vertebrae, and it extends from the head down to the loins. The vertebrae are all perforated, and, above, the bony portion of the head is connected with the topmost vertebrae, and is designated the ‘skull’. And the serrated lines on the skull are termed ‘sutures’. [..]
This leads to the question as to how one might design bone-like shapes and produce information for fabrication using the advanatges of present day computer technology. There are a number of possibilities which
b. real physical models using surface tension, threads, fibers etc.,
c. numerical or analytical models based upon some physical model or law. The physical model may have the properties of a real-life situation or might be imaginary,
d. purely analytical methods where mathematical functions are chosen to produce the sort of shapes that are desired,
e. use of parametrical solutions with algorithms, mathematics and physics that are mebeded into components for easy use to reach the level of design and simulation.
In the case of smart and intelligent materials, that need to interact with the environment and the user, the designer must consider it’s various ways of end product that will result in a responsible footprint; if a footprint is needed.
Comparing the design philosophy of nature with the engineering at the present time is what makes biomimetics in architecture stronger over time. At the Smart Geometry conference one of the clusters were using a swarmbot which consist of large numbers of simple physical robots. It is supposed that a desired collective behavior emerges from the interactions between the robots and interactions of robots with the environment. This approach emerged on the field of artificial swarm intelligence, as well as the biological studies of insects, ants and other fields in nature, where swarm behaviour occurs.
Information technology has introduced new potentials for building designers and designers and engineers should be at the forefront in the exploration of this territory. Computational design and digital manufacturing are creating changes in the design process, often shifting the boundaries of disciplinary roles. Perhaps more fundamentally, as the tools of design change, so does the cognitive structure of the architect’s own mind.
In the words of Julian Vincent:
Nature is smart, are we smart enough to learn it’s lessons?
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Prof. Alessandra Zanelli
Associate Professor at the Architecture, Built Environment and Construction Engineering Department of Politecnico di Milano.
She is a member of SPACE (Experimental process for architecture and life cycle of building products) Research Unit at the same Department.
Her main interests deal with role of technological innovation in architecture and in industrial design. In particular, she has focused his attention on: temporary systems (tents, minimal units for emergency; mobile homes, ect.); adaptive systems (smart, extensible, foldable, pivots systems, ect); application of lightweight systems and demountable buildings for dwellings. She is professor of building technology in the degree courses in Architecture, Environmental Architecture and Building Construction at the Faculty of Architecture and Society and at the Faculty of Civil Architecture, both of the Politecnico di Milan.
She is Associate Member of TensiNet Association, the thematic network for upgrading the built environment in Europe through tensile structures and since 2004 she is the Regional Representative for Italian Universities.
She founded in 2008 a Multidisciplinary Research Cluster entitled “Innovative Textiles” (clusTEX) in order to connect different competences of Structural Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Nautical and Internal Design, Chemical and Material Sciences and finally Building Technology and Environmental Design already available inside of various Departments at the Politecnico di Milano.
The aim of this action is to promote an integrated approach for designing with textile materials and lightweight structures and become visible as complete team of work, able to propose innovative techniques for designing, manufacturing, building up and testing all kind of membrane, textile and flexible foil.
I am an architect holding a PhD in a field of sustainable building design.
I am particularly interested in integration of architectural design and building engineering, closing this gap by creating innovative performance-based design methodologies.
As an expert and member of International Energy Agency PVPS Task 15 - Enabling Framework for BIPV Acceleration, I work in Subtask A on BIPV database and Subtask E on Research and Development of BIPV facilities.
Area of expertise:
-Solar Design and simulation (Daylighting, Building Integrated Photovoltaics)
-Architectural rendering (scientific visualisation)
-Building energy simulation and optimisation
-Sustainable design for Zero Energy Buildings
-BIM and parametric/computational modeling
-Photogrammetry/3D reconstruction from photographs
Prof. Chris Williams
Chris Williams is a structural engineer who worked for Ove Arup and Partners prior to joining the Department.
Chris has a particular interest in the relationship between geometrical form and structural action as applied to bridges, shells, tension structures and tall buildings. This leads to the use of specially written computer programs to generate complex, often organic, forms for architectural and structural applications. His work has been applied in practice with architects and engineers including Foster + Partners, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Branson Coates Architecture, Shigeru Ban Architects, Wilkinson Eyre Architects, Edward Cullinan Architects, Atelier One and Buro Happold.
Chris’s teaching interests include design project work with students of both architecture and engineering, structural analysis, computer programming and continuum mechanics.
Sir D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson
(2 May 1860 – 21 June 1948) was a Scottish biologist, mathematician and classics scholar. He was a pioneer of mathematical biology, travelled on expeditions to the Bering Straits and held the position of Professor of Natural History at University of Dundee for 32 years, then at St Andrews for 31 years. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, was knighted, and received the Darwin Medal and the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal.
Thompson is remembered as the author of the 1917 book On Growth and Form, which led the way for the scientific explanation of morphogenesis, the process by which patterns are formed in plants and animals.
Thompson’s description of the mathematical beauty of nature stimulated thinkers as diverse as Alan Turing and Claude Lévi-Strauss; and artists including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Salvador Dalí and Jackson Pollock.