How Buildings That Imitate Earth’s Creatures Could Save Us From Ourselves | Haiti


Ultimately, the goal is to shift our designers’ perspectives from self to place. HOK’s team used this approach while working with biologists at Biomimicry 3.8 on an urban commercial center in Brazil. This project had a glass building facade outfitted with slanted blades offering shade from the sun. We wanted to develop a system that, like the Brazilian rainforest, would reject heat while returning water to the atmosphere. When we realized that changing the horizontal blades to spirals would atomize cascading water, sending it back into the surrounding environment, it dawned on me: the building could reject heat and conserve water. This multifunctional capability is ever-present in nature but often ignored or even rejected in our compartmentalized world.

5 thoughts on “How Buildings That Imitate Earth’s Creatures Could Save Us From Ourselves | Haiti

  1. One of the most salient points of Thomas Knittel’s lecture was a point that he made early on: it is critical to seek a global perspective on sustainability in order to get an accurate picture of the state of the industry. If I noted it down correctly, while there have been 1 billion square feet of LEED buildings built since the program was started in 2000, there was 20 billion square feet of non-LEED construction in China in 2011 alone. This statistic points to the importance of looking beyond just one nation, region, or metric for an understanding of the state of green building.

    It also motivates one to think about ways in which sustainability can be more widely disseminated through the global building industry. To that end, one might call upon another point made in the lecture which is that research does not have to be proprietary. It can be actively shared through lectures and publications, but it can also just be made publicly available for those who seek it. I think that the fact that HOK has made their report for the Temperate Broadleaf Forest biome available on their website shows an even greater commitment to sustainability than just the research alone. However, in the case of publicly available resources, I think it is important to always consider who is behind them. (I thought it was interesting that, a database of biological function, is funded by Autodesk, which is a for-profit company that sells AutoCAD software and other design tools. I’m not saying that their involvement is bad; in fact, I appreciate when companies have a conscience. However, I argue that it is always important to be aware of when they could potentially have another motive to make information available.)

    I asked the question about points-based rating systems because it is one that has come up frequently in my past experience with architecture firms and systems like LEED. I think it is important to consider the fact that accumulating a certain number of points does not necessarily mean a project will be sustainable. (The classic example is that a highly-rated LEED building could be built out in the middle of nowhere, requiring all of the occupants to drive there – that would certainly not be a sustainable approach.) I concur with Thomas Knittel’s answer that building ratings do not always correspond to occupant wellness and satisfaction, so the holistic design of the building should be considered in order to create good architecture, but that LEED and other rating systems have helped to move the industry forward and to create public demand for more sustainable architecture.

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  2. Not only do I think it is important to have buildings that imitate Earth’s creatures, forms, and patterns. As I study landscape architecture, I think that it is also important to borrow those same forms. I was actually quite inspired during and after Thomas’s presentation of the research and projects that HOK has and is doing. Talking mostly about architecture and how through biomimicry designing buildings and the spaces around them (i.e. the roof and inner courtyards spaces) to be more in tune and better for the environment. He also referred to using traditional wisdom in many of their projects as well. When designing spaces there are always precedents that can inform you better on how to deal with your site. When I mention precedents I do not just mean design projects done by professionals that works for a renowned firm. Observing spaces in much older cities where the conditions are comfortable and the spaces function. The issue of consumption and water storage was also touched on. In the future as a society we are going to have to think of different ways of dealing with water as well as building materials. Thomas also touched on a few resources that sounds amazing one through HOK’s world biome resources, AskNature, and another that shows wind study patterns and flows. He seemed or presented the idea that he enjoyed his job and what he does for a living. That he appeared quite proud to be presenting work that HOK is doing.

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  3. Some of the statistics Thomas Knittel of HOK brought up in his lecture really point out the major flaws in our current mode of development. Our rampant use of materials is primarily a result of bad design to begin with. Cheap, mass-produced but non-renewable materials are used in anticipation of a short life span. It’s a sad trajectory, and due largely to economics not factoring in the true costs of materials. My hope is that one day it becomes cheaper to ‘build smart’- that is when we will see locally responsive building strategies and materials in widespread use.
    I also understand that as a designer our influence primarily comes one site at a time. In this regard a large corporation like HOK has a relatively significant impact. On the other hand, the scale of how much other stuff is being built (as Knittel pointed out) is overwhelming.
    I overall thought their comparison to ecological services as a prerequisite for success and interest in local traditional wisdom is a step in the right direction.

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  4. I found this presentation by Thomas Knittel to be very insightful. The idea of incorporating traits found in the natural environment into the design of buildings is a wonderful innovation. What better place to look for efficiency than our natural environment. As Knittel explained, every year buildings are made out of non-renewable materials, and that poses as a challenge in the future if we are to run low on the materials used to build these spaces. Thus, the idea of using bio-mimicry and incorporating it to the design of a building would make these buildings Eco-friendly, efficient, and even aesthetically pleasing.
    Another point that Knittel touched upon was the idea of traditional wisdom. By using old designs from past civilizations we can really create buildings that are more efficient in terms of its use rather than if it is aesthetically pleasing. Also these old ways of design were more successful in using their natural environment and noticing patterns in their environment. I can only imagine how we can make these old designs more successful by combining them with our technology. Overall, I found this presentation very interesting and is a great start to building sustainable buildings that are beneficial for both the environment as well as for ourselves.

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  5. The lecture on bio mimicry was fascinating and discussed a form of architecture I had not been too familiar with in the past. The gross levels of resource consumption in our world coupled is completely unsustainable, and this type of building offers the world a chance at changing things.
    Currently we are using over 10 metric tons of non-sustainable resources ever year, and the use of construction materials has increased massively. In China alone there is about 20 billion non-LEED certified construction going on every year. Her discussion centered on different types of construction like biophyllic, biomorphic, biodesign, and biomimicry. The goal is to work nature into our construction and make it more sustainable. Their organization is already helping to design buildings like this in Haiti and other countries around the world. Their goal is to try and start a trend in these areas that encourages construction to better nature, while also using resources more effectively. Their designs help to reduce water consumption and use natural energy sources like solar to encourage clean energy.
    I thought her lecture introduced a fascinating way to approach environmentalism through architecture. I wish she had gone into more depth with the advantages that certain types of buildings have versus others. Particularly the talk about the Bird’s Nest in China as an example of biomorphic design. There was not a great deal of discussion on how these buildings serve the function of making them more friendly and benefiting the earth. I understand the desire for resource sustainability, but I am curious if the design of the building has any effect on the creatures or birds in the area, and if they are more drawn to the design.


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