Biomimicry is defined as the “design and production of materials, structures and systems modelled on biological creatures and/or processes”. It’s not a new thing, despite it being a term you may not have heard before, as humans have been inspired by nature for thousands of years.


In fact, nature has been running along, doing its own thing in a mostly successful manner for billions of years now, so why wouldn’t enterprising humans, past and present, look to nature for inspiration or for ways to improve on what we’re making and how we make it.


Biomimicry is not limited to construction either, you can see inspiration from nature in everything from robotics (spider-like robots that can craw into rubble to search for survivors after disasters) to energy (flower inspired solar panels that tilt to follow the sun) and right through to fashion.


The interior of the Sagrada Familia, for example, is inspired by a forest, with large, tree-like columns separating into arching branches that support the leafy decorations and coloured glass skylights that form the ceiling. There’s the infamous building at 30 St Mary Axe in London, known to everyone across the UK as the Gherkin, which is inspired by a gherkin sea sponge, and has a complex air filtration system that runs throughout the building, and is like the system a sponge or anemone might use for filtering water.

The interior of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, designed by Antoni Gaudi, and possibly one of the most argued about structures on the planet.

And a little more recently in Germany there’s the BIQ house in Hamburg, which incorporates algae into transparent panels along the south-facing side of the building. This algae grows over the summer months, providing shade for the building and allowing any heat generated at this time to be stored for later use.


Additionally, once the level of algae in the tanks passes a certain level, the excess is harvested to produce bio-gas, which is then used to heat the building in the winter months. It seems to have been a certain level of success as the building has been occupied since 2013.

CO2 produced by the algae is also collected, preventing release into the atmosphere. (Source)

A similar project was displayed as part of a 2017 Copenhagen art fair, created this time by IKEA’s research lab. This project though was an algae-hosting, four metre high pavillion, within which the algae was to be used as a food source rather than an energy source.

The algae dome in action. (Source)

As quoted in the Dezeen article, “Packed with vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids, microalgae contains 50 times more iron than spinach and more than twice as much protein as meat.”

Notwithstanding the fact that I sat here muttering “soylent green is people” whilst reading the article, this is actually really cool.

Yes, I do know that reference, no I haven’t seen the film. These days if I want to see or hear things about a dystopian world I just switch on the news. (Source)

Ideas based in nature don’t have to be the size of buildings either. The City Tree is a biological filter that uses moss to filter out air pollution as well as to produce additional oxygen.

It’s been suggested that such a system can filter as much air as 275 trees, though this figure is clearly dependent on a lot of different factors. It also does not retain as much CO2 as 275 trees despite some media claims.

The City Tree 2020. (Source)

I’m also, personally, not a fan of the early version with only one small seat on each side, but that is a whole other post.

Sustainability was defined by the Brundtland Commission as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. And with Climate Change in full swing and evident to all but the most stubborn deniers, everyone is looking towards sustainable applications for everything from agriculture to manufacturing.


The construction industry is no different in considering sustainability to be an ethical imperative as we go forward, especially as we consider the changes we will need to make to our building styles and methods as climate change affects the world around us.

Image of a green, slightly sunny, British countryside view. You can almost smell the mud.

It’s a situation made a little more complicated by the fact that there is never going to be a “one size fits all” solution within the construction industry — one site will always be different to another, no matter how subtle the changes might be.


For example, prefabrication has been cited as being more sustainable than some other construction methods, with the reduced time on site and reduction of potential fabrication mistakes amongst the factors that makes it a tempting prospect.


However, this method isn’t without its downsides. Prefabricated sections are usually large and require specialised transport to site, which can significantly increase the carbon footprint of a project, plus the additional provision of ways to manoeuvre the sections into place.


This has led, within the construction industry as well as within many others, to an increased level of creativity and innovation when considering ways that we can become more sustainable.


For example, a Scottish company founded by an Professor Gabriela Medero, an engineer from Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, is currently working with a design for a brick that is made from construction waste.

The K-Briq is recycled and has a low carbon footprint (image copyright Dezeen.com)

The K-Briq (yes, I know) is comprised of 90% recycled material and is unfired, meaning that it generates a much lower level of carbon emissions than regular bricks. It is said by it’s creator to look, weigh and behave like a clay brick, however, we note that this is stated in an interview in DeZeen magazine and, at the time of writing, no supporting research is publicly available.

And this is by no means the only research into more environmentally friendly ways to form building materials.


Research is ongoing by Suzanne Lambert at the University of Cape town to create a zero-waste brick which is hardened at room temperature using bacteria and human urine.

The blocks use loose sand, bacteria & human urine to create a solid building material (image copyright Dezeen.com)

Following on from this use of bacteria, there was a post that caught my eye last year, largely because it combines construction with one of my hobbies, which detailed work by London-based architect Bastian Beyer who had been using bacteria to calcify knitted materials to form solid columns. They have a wonderful, almost DNA-like structure to them due to the solidification of the knitting structure.


It was interesting largely because, like 3D printing, it could be carried out, with an appropriate advancement of technology, on site with minimal space. And it has the potential for a much simpler repair process if the structure is damaged.

The column is knitted from jute and polyester fibres impregnated with bacteria which form a calcite coating (image copyright Dezeen.com)


Of course, the idea of a calcified structure in an era of climate change, pollution and acidic rainwater is certainly something that would need to be worked upon. As would the way in which the new structures would interact with the surrounding ecosystem and wildlife.


Likewise there would need to be rigorous testing on how these new methods of construction would work at a larger scale, especially with the potential ability to change the loading capacity of the structure by simply changing the knitted pattern.

However, a combination of technology like this with 3D printing and more traditional construction methods suggests that introducing sustainability to the construction industry may not be as far off, or as expensive, as many have stated.