Last Monday evening at the Italian Cultural Institute in Los Angeles, architect Ilaria Mazzoleni and evolutionary biologist Shauna Price tag-teamed a lecture on their joint-work, Architecture Follows Nature, a collection of architectural proposals inspired by various animal skins. It’s a pleasure when architecture publicly acknowledges and celebrates its inspiration from other disciplines, and by sharing the stage Mazzoleni and Price showed their commitment to this cross-disciplinary research, beyond analogy and into the depths of the design process.
Of the twelve proposals detailed in the book, Mazzoleni and Price presented two -- one inspired by the insulating properties of a polar bear’s fur, the other referencing the iridescence of bird feathers. All of the projects were designed by students in Mazzoleni’s SCI-Arc studio (her practice, im studio, is also invested in biomimicry and sustainable design). Calling these projects “biomimetic” is problematic for Mazzoleni and Price, as the end result is more about emulating the processes behind certain natural phenomenon than creating an architectural analogy that mimics fur or feather. Architecture has its own structural “biology”, that can benefit from eons of evolutionary development in the natural world to be conceived in its most sustainable form. This doesn’t automatically make biomimicry architecture’s sustainable salvation, but it may lead to novel design methodologies and forms that are more connected (literally and aesthetically) to the surrounding environment.
For example, the proposal inspired by iridescence in hummingbird feathers does not formally resemble those feathers, but instead creates a system that reflects light in ways to allow for the appearance of different colors, in the same way the bird's feather does. When the structure does happen to resemble its bio-inspiration, it's more than skin deep.
While this particular collaboration between architect and biologist was pretty unidirectional, the biology serving as a background to the architect’s foreground, Price noted that her own research perspective had also been influenced by Mazzoleni’s design approach. As the architect-as-generalist notion expands, interdisciplinary representatives must be treated as collaborators, rather than consultants, opening the gates for influence in all directions.
More information on Architecture Follows Nature - Biomimetic Principles for Innovative Design can be found here.