Tuesday, March 24, 2009


A few days ago, I wrote about Janine Benyus and her Biomimicry lecture at Wash U. This weekend, I was able to participate in a Biomimicry Masterclass offered here through the architecture school. It was a pretty amazing experience, in a variety of ways. Here are my thoughts on the class, Benyus, Biomimicry, and the sustainable movement, as a whole.

Our class was charged with the task of taking a biomimetic approach to both the Skinker-Debaliviere neighborhood and Missouri Botanical Garden's Earthways Center (The Earthways Center is currently located in Grand Center, but they are looking at relocating to the Skinker-Debaliviere neighborhood). The class was divided into six groups. Two groups studied the neighborhood, as a whole, two looked at the building the Earthways Center might relocate to, and two examined a sustainable exhibit inside the center.

We were asked to examine the neighborhood, at these various scales, always adding "how would nature..." or "why would nature..." when asking questions or thinking of possible solutions. The class, as a whole, was very helpful in terms of instilling a new way of thinking for young and energetic designers. We are generally taught to be very solutions-oriented designers. That is, we jump from problem to solution as quickly as possible, rarely ever examining the hows and whys of the design process. In this respect, the class taught me to take a more socratic approach to design. Overall, there were some interesting ideas proposed for the neighborhood, but because of the time constraints of working within a single weekend, they were not as fine tuned as they could have been. But that's okay, the class was a good first step towards a broader conversation about biomimicry and our relationship to nature.

My problem with biomimicry, however, is that it is quite one dimensional. The topic was presented to us by people who fervently believe in the power of biomimicry as a way of helping our species sort itself out. We need people like them to communicate the desire for a sustainable world. I do not question their intentions, merely their methods. Ultimately, I want more than just sustainable products and industry. Using nature as a model when designing industrial products does not inherently imply a sustainable future. That is because these products and processes are being design to fit into a consumer-oriented society.

And ultimately, that is why we are unsustainable, no? Consumerism and our overwhelming need to want. It isnt that cars or carpet tiles or shoes are unsustainable, it's the way in which we view and consume these products- as deserved and necessary- that ultimately means that as a society, we take more than we give, eat more than we grow, drink more than it rains. And so, even if the ways in which we get, make, and do things are modeled after nature, unless the way we view and want things don't follow suit, we will continue to perpetuate the enjustices of our forebearers on our own progeny.

Biomimicry represents only half the question. We indeed need someone to go around telling us what we don't want to hear, that we need to consume less. We cannot be sustainable until we have adpot cultures that do not take a hostile or gluttonous view towards nature. Until then, this is all just wishful thinking and false promises,

Antonio Pacheco


Matt said...

I am surprised biomimicry doesn't include the three-dimensional sense of symbiosis (which I think is what you are getting at).

Also, I wish she would have done a similar lecture for Mechanical Design students.

I think the E school spent all of their money on chili dogs however.

Antonio Pacheco said...

I think the talk was open to everyone, it just wasnt terribly publicized.

chili dogs are worth the money

i have no idea what three dimensional sense of symbiosis is. ill look it up.

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