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Biomimicry: New directions in sustainable design

October 20 — 24, 2008

Michael Pawlyn, Julian Vincent, Neil Thomas, Graham Dodd, Andy Middleton

Already booked on this course? Click here for course resources

Proponents of biomimicry contend that many of the solutions that we will need during the sustainability revolution are to be found in nature: super-efficient structures, high strength bio-degradable composites, self-cleaning surfaces, zero-waste systems and low-energy ways of creating fresh water.

Course Overview

Design professionals who wish to make sustainability an integral part of their work need inspiring examples of how it can be done. This course engages participants in how we can learn from natural processes to create products and buildings that are models of resource efficiency and beauty. Participants will explore the principles of biomimicry in depth and look at a number of architectural and engineering applications that have used this discipline to achieve radical improvements in resource efficiency. They will also study the Cradle to Cradle concept developed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart which demonstrates the potential to design out the whole concept of waste and to eliminate toxicity. Participants will explore how these principles can be applied to the design of buildings and their own projects.

This course is intended for: those who want to find new directions in sustainable design in order to produce architectural and engineering solutions that go well beyond conventional approaches. Also relevant for other design professionals.

Course Details

Increasingly design professionals are recognising that learning from nature is the most effective way of making their work genuinely sustainable. This course will look in depth at the ways that biomimicry and the Cradle to Cradle concept can be applied within architectural, engineering and design contexts.

Biomimicry is a rapidly developing discipline that finds inspiration in the startling solutions that natural organisms have evolved over the course of the last 3.6 billion year. Proponents of biomimicry contend that many of the solutions that we will need during the sustainability revolution are to be found in nature: super-efficient structures, high strength bio-degradable composites, self-cleaning surfaces, zero waste systems, low energy ways of creating fresh water and many others.

The Cradle to Cradle concept developed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart presents a compelling case for how we need to rethink the way we make things. The Cradle to Cradle model clearly demonstrates the potential to design out the whole concept of waste and to eliminate toxicity. While McDonough and Braungart’s book concentrates mainly on examples from industrial / product design, the course will explore how the same principles can be applied to the design of buildings. As with biomimicry there will be opportunities to learn from examples of building design that embody C to C principles.

The five presenters on this course between them will address all the issues that need to be considered when seeking to make construction, design and engineering truly sustainable, including the design process itself, the fundamentals of engineering and why it can fail, materials and structures, and the broader applications of biomimicry that extend to include management, industry and society. As well as lecture sessions, the course will include opportunities for group work where participants will have the opportunity to discuss in greater detail how sources of inspiration from the natural world can be applied to real-life projects.

Participants will gain conceptual and practical tools which will enable them to introduce or extend the role of biomimicry, resource efficiency and Cradle to Cradle design within their professional practice.

Michael Pawlyn will discuss examples of the design process with particular reference to schemes that he worked on while at Grimshaw, such as the Eden Project, as well as current Exploration projects, focusing on:

Julian Vincent will focus on materials and structures in biology, their relevance to current architecture and ways in which they could inform the development of architecture. Specific comments will cover prestressed tensile structures, protective structures made by animals (“homes without hands”) and some of the processes by means of which animals make such structures. Participants will gain an appreciation of the design and construction of durable lightweight structures; the importance of scale in the transfer of design from one context to another; the skills needed to define and solve problems of technology transfer.

Graham Dodd will look at different strategies for achieving a desired performance function such as colour, rigidity or warmth, i.e. system, composite and structured material strategies with examples of each in nature and in design. He will consider the advantages and disadvantages of alternate strategies in terms of parameters such as resource use, information requirements, design complexity, development costs, performance, adaptability, and re-use and introduce practical exercises in the analysis of natural and designed objects to explore the strategies employed and discuss the likely reasons. Graham will also discuss in detail ways in which the Cradle to Cradle model can be applied to the construction industry.

Neil Thomas will consider the role of engineering in everyday life and objects and how it can go wrong, giving examples of failures as well as triumphs in the history of structural engineering. He will show how different ideas in nature (wind, sun, free energy) have been applied in real projects around the world.

Andy Middleton will look at the role of the design industry within business and society: How did we end up getting ‘lost’ in design? What’s the past and present role of perverse incentives? Where’s the current front edge for business and government in relation to re-design? He will work with participants to identify their points of highest leverage and understand the principles of Triple Top Line design.

Teachers

Michael Pawlyn is Director of Exploration Architecture Ltd. He was instrumental in the design development of the Eden Project. Julian Vincent is Professor of Biomimetics at the University of Bath. He is Associate Chief Editor of the Journal of Bionic Engineering. He speaks and writes about Biomimetics internationally.

Julian Vincent is Professor of Biomimetics at the University of Bath. He is Associate Chief Editor of the Journal of Bionic Engineering. He speaks and writes about Biomimetics internationally.

Neil Thomas is a structural engineer. Projects of Atelier One, of which he is Director, include the Singapore Arts Centre and Federation Square in Australia.

Graham Dodd is a materials consultant. He is an Associate Director at Ove Arup & Partners and leads teams of facade engineers involved in glazing design and contracting activity on international projects.

Andy Middleton (course facilitator and contributor) is a management consultant and coach. He is Director of TYF EcoSapiens.

Course Fees

For businesses: 1 week £1,200
For individuals, NGOs & Educators: 1 week £700
These include accommodation, food, field trips and all teaching sessions.

How to make an application – click here

For further information about Schumacher College please see About the College

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