Biomimicry, Biophilia, and Regenerative Design: an Architecture-Biology Collaboration

What happens when you invite biology students into the architecture studio? This spring, students in an MArch biomimicry module expanded their knowledge, vocabulary, and design toolkits by collaborating with graduate students from the College of Biological Sciences.

Blaine Brownell and Marc Swackhamer have taught the seven-week Hypernatural studio in past semesters, but this spring was the first time they invited biologists to class on a regular basis. Brownell was “surprised by how well they assimilated into our quirky design culture. Originally, I thought we would have to explain our design methods or the critique process more, but the biologists jumped right in and found a natural fit with our group.”

He added that teaching this studio has trained him to expect the unexpected. “Because students work with such a wide range of precedents, we have to be nimble in the guidance we offer them. Since we are not trained scientists, we are also continuously learning about the natural models the students are researching.”

MArch student Savannah Steele drew on past chemistry classes and an ongoing fascination with plants and animals as her team developed a design using live bamboo rather than conventional building materials. “We proposed lots of ideas; there were many failures! We had to surrender to bamboo, and the vast complexity of biological systems more generally,” she explained. “Learning so much from the CBS students was humbling. It was surprising to see biologists really thinking on their feet. It was fun to hear their thoughts. We met the welcome challenge to work with new tools on the project.”

Brownell agreed that the interdisciplinary approach pushed the students’ projects to new heights. When asked whether such collaborations occur outside of academic, he responded, “not many architects work directly with biologists, although the Biomimicry Institute is encouraging more of this interaction. The rapidly growing interest in approaches such as biomimicry, biophilia, and regenerative design suggests that architecture-biology collaborations will be more frequent in the future.”


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Image credit: Ryne Nichols, Hannah Roth, and Savannah Steele

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