File #103207

Learning from nature

11 / 26 / 2019

Bionics can be defined as the application of biological solutions to architecture, design, engineering and modern technology systems. It is a good tool that has contributed to the formation of design, either by providing natural models as examples of several concepts, or through the application of many design solutions in different fields: material engineering, medicine, technological implements and architecture, among others.

This connection can be developed in many different ways, from an analogy to the design object through the analysis of natural entities considering the context, the form, the structure and the function, to very complex elements like the ones found in bionic engineering. Thanks to its often unexpected solutions, nature hides riches that designers try to assimilate in their designs.

A good example of this are the prostheses used by the athlete and model Aimee Mullins –whose legs were amputated at the age of one– inspired by the extremities of the leopard. With them, Mullins has achieved the 3.5-meter mark in the long jump and has run 200 meters in 34.60 seconds.

The plant kingdom, on the other hand, is a constant source of inspiration for designers: from the emblematic and no longer existing Crystal Palace, designed by the gardener Joseph Paxton for the Universal Exhibition in London in 1851, who was inspired by the structure of the leaves of the Victoria amazonica plant–so resistant they can support the weight of a child–to build the over 90,000 m2 without any pillars or bearing walls–a feat at the time–to state-of-the-art robots with the aim of “planting” them in Mars to obtain samples of the soil and land of the red planet.

In order to design the aircraft of the future, Airbus has been researching bionic solutions to solve some important matters such as, for instance, changing the wings in mid-flight to adapt to weather conditions or how to obtain a lighter cabin. The first step to achieving this last goal is already here: it is a bionic partition whose design is based on a single-cell organism: sludge mold, an organism that spreads in different directions and creates redundant connecting networks between its body and all the food sources around it. At Airbus they use exactly the same behavior to seek structural connections inside a partition and thus obtain partitions inside the cabin that are equally resistant but 45% lighter than current designs.

Some universities are already offering bionic design courses to allow designers to learn the resources offered by nature. In fact, a few of the projects by the participants in the Roca One Day Design Challenge have already taken the first steps in this sense, like for example the project by Miguel Ángel Fernández and Alicia Simón, winners of the Madrid 2019 edition with Hiedra, a system that consists of silicone models and bottles in different sizes, which replicate the shape of ivy to collect water and avoid unnecessary waste while it is heated.