Next to a tranquil lake in southern Columbia, Keith and Cathy Miller’s home stands on the grassy shore. Several large glass windows compose the exterior of the home, and natural light manages to enter and create a peaceful and open space inside the house.
These architectural fixtures allow views of the lakefront and adjacent trees. Even though understanding nature and creating good design may require different disciplines, they accomplish much the same purpose: benefiting humanity.
“It’s totally possible to integrate nature with the modern world.”
For Keith Miller, the principal architect at Columbia Associates Architecture, integrating traits of the natural world into the design, as well as taking into account how his blueprints shape the psychology of those inside, is essential in the construction of buildings that make the occupants feel at ease and connected with the natural world.
“Architecture is creating the environment where people live and work 24/7. We serve to create spaces that are safe, comfortable and inspiring,” Miller said. “We house the human body and work to extend life, create curiosity of the space around us, promote interactions between people, create places of worship and governance and create memories, design business icons and make for a safe and nurturing home. As the human race becomes more urbanized, the connection with nature is critical.”
In the connection between the designs of mother nature and those of humankind, designers use biomimicry, the replication of unique singularities in nature, to their advantage. Whether a building is on a waterfront or on top of a mountain, the ecosystem provides inspiration for architects, engineers and biologists on how buildings can be designed to integrate with the environment around them.
University of Missouri—Columbia sophomore and 2017 alumna Stephanie Tarr specializes in biology and the study of biomimicry. Tarr said she believes the evolution of plants and animals can be replicated in modern designs, but the quest to create technology that imitates nature is a cycle of failures and successes.
“I don’t think architecture changes. It just evolves with us. We change trends, and architecture does the same thing.”
“When I think of mimicry, I think of emulating the successes of one organism in order to confer success to yourself. They say that imitation is the best form of flattery. Animals have evolved to display traits that have worked for other organisms,” Tarr said. “Humans learn from the billions of years of trial and error that is natural selection, shows us the characteristics that are and aren’t advantageous, and this can give us insight into what design ideas do and don’t work.”
Designs that are able to protect occupants and withstand the elements are becoming more needed as the effects of climate change, such as storms and floods, become more severe. Miller said aesthetics are not the only design element that can mimic parts of nature; the safety measures of the buildings themselves can, too.
“A good design takes into account nature, the nature of the land it grows from while protecting the building occupants from the effects of nature,” Miller said. “Nature can be very cruel and unforgiving, high winds, flooding, earthquakes, severe cold and heat. Our job is to recreate an internal environment that protects its inhabitants.”
As the climate morphs and weather becomes more severe, future architects will have to look at and understand qualities in nature they can replicate and to examine those traits to create sustainable, environmentally friendly designs. Some aspiring architects, like senior Edwin Fonseca-Perez, believe architecture as a whole won’t totally do a 180 per se, but that as the world transforms, trends in design will evolve.
“Architecture does branch out from a natural phenomenon. You can design a building that can blend into the environment. Like, you can’t design a tree house in the middle of New York. It just makes sense to go the natural route and create something which fits in as opposed to stands out,” Fonseca-Perez said. “I don’t think architecture changes. It just evolves with us. We change trends, and architecture does the same thing. For example, you don’t see Victorian houses being built anymore. Instead, you see houses with more geometric shapes. Architecture just changes along with our mindset.”
Real life processes in nature, such as photosynthesis, have been able to provide answers as to what architects and engineers can do to lessen the effects of climate change. Biomimicry experts continue to struggle with the issue of whether or not it is possible to integrate the principles of nature with the constructs of mankind.
Tarr, personally, said it is completely feasible for humans to coexist with nature, starting with designs, the greatest example of this being renewable energy.
“Any building with solar panels is inspired by nature. Solar panels act like photosystems in photosynthesis in that they harvest light energy from the sun to power an entire building or organism,” Tarr said. “It’s totally possible to integrate nature with the modern world. Solar panels are a way to do both, in that they draw off the light-harvesting technology from photosystems while also using green energy.”
Where do you see nature’s influence in design and architecture? Let us know in the comments below.