When was the last time you effectively stopped and observed nature around you? Maybe it was on your last holiday or whilst watching a nature show on National Geographic. What would you think if someone asked you to observe nature as a way to solve a complex challenge you’re facing at work? If this hypothesis is enough to make you feel sceptical or uncomfortable, it may mean that you need to learn about biomimetics, which is the science of getting inspired by nature in order to resolve problems.
To speak further about this subject, I interviewed Alessandra Araújo (picture below) – a biologist with a professional background in sustainability, urbanism and innovation. Araújo studies biomimetics at Biomimicry 8.0 and has been applying her knowledge on the subject to many professional aspects of her career.
NF – Can you tell us a little about your professional background?
AA – I normally say that I am a biologist for two reasons: firstly due to my been sprout that made me absolutely amazed at the sight of life happening, and secondly due to my grandfather, that used to take me fishing and looking after the animals at our family’s country home; he taught me to look at everything that is alive with love. My incessant desire to learn combined with my enormous curiosity always made me expand into other areas to apply my knowledge (Araújo was Expansion Manager at Walmart, worked for a major telecom company and was also a partner at an architecture firm). In 2007 I went to Schumacher College in England to study Urbanism & Sustainability, and it was there where I first learn about biomimetics. In 2012 I went to Biomimicry 8.0 to do a specialisation course in biomimetics, and in 2015 I did another specialisation course, this time at The University of Arizona. After that, I developed a sustainable hotel project called Votu Hotel and felt like it would no longer be possible to “deactivate” the biologist in me. I left the architecture firm in 2017 and launched Bio-Inspirations, a company that works with education and consultancy for “bioinspired” innovation.
“I believe in life’s intelligence, and biomimetics helps us to manifest our creative abilities as it can be applied when creating products, materials – tangible structures – as well as intangible things such as communication strategies, management plans and service ideation.”
NF – What is biomimetics?
AA – It is creation and innovation inspired by nature; a mash-up of science, creative journey and a challenge to be solved. I like to say that biomimetics is a pair of new lenses to see life; a curious and inquisitive set of eyes. It is important to observe and study how nature accomplishes its many processes – the “how” bridges science and creation, which means understanding how nature does what you want your design to do. The understanding of the “how” has, of course, many levels of complexity and a fresh perspective sometimes brings amazing solutions to the table. I believe in life’s intelligence, and biomimetics helps us to manifest our creative abilities as it can be applied when creating products, materials – tangible structures – as well as intangible things such as communication strategies, management plans and service ideation.
NF – How does it relate to design and innovation?
AA – Creativity and curiosity are Biomimetics’ raw material. It invites people to go back to childhood, to observe the “hows” and the “whys”. The biggest resemblance between Biomimetics, Design and Innovation is the deconstruction of the challenge to understand the problem better – the problem is always more complex than the client’s assumption. It is through this process that of looking at a challenge in depth that we obtain the essence to solve a problem. When you ask yourself “how?”, you can find a connection with nature and find inspiration. It is a process that is better lived than explained. Our feelings are our way to communicate with life.
“Our feelings are our way to communicate with life.”
NF – Do you have any examples?
AA – When I was a partner at the architecture firm, I worked on the Vutu Hotel project – a hotel based in Bahia, Brazil, that used solutions from the fauna and flora to promote temperature comfort in the premises causing minimal environmental impact. The concept was based on the prairie dog*, on cactuses – that have the ability to create shadows – and on the toucan – a bird that uses its large beak to thermoregulate. There are many other examples: there are the whale inspired turbines that produce 32% less friction than a regular turbine. A very famous one is Japan’s bullet train that was inspired by the kingfisher bird, in order to reduce noise pollution.
*Burrows help prairie dogs control their body temperature as they are 5–10 °C during the winter and 15–25 °C in the summer. Prairie dog tunnel systems channel rainwater into the water table which prevents runoff and erosion, and can also change the composition of the soil in a region by reversing soil compaction that can result from cattle grazing. (source: Wikipedia)
Pictured: Australia’s Biomimetics icon; Sydney’s One Central Park with its vertical gardens and gravity-defying extensions
NF – How can Biomimetics tackle intangible challenges creating innovative solutions for companies?
AA – Nature is inclusive, and that is the main learning. Nothing is “out” of nature; nothing doesn’t belong in nature’s system. What we perceive as “things that don’t belong” is based merely on human judgment. All the intangible aspects of a company – such as communications and engagement – have to do with connection and, therefore, ask for this type of inclusion. Using Biomimetics to work these themes helps us shift our mindset and create innovative solutions.
NF – What are the biggest learnings you personally had working with Biomimetics and innovation?
AA – The more you are connected to life’s flow, the more present you are, the better your intuition will be. Intuition is a natural phenomenon; it is its version of insight. Not many companies value intuition because the educational model we have now is quite obsolete. Neuroscience believes that learning is related to one’s feelings, experience and body. The second thing is to create a collaborative space that is happy. Every time you get inspired by an organism to create something, happiness emerges because people have a collective memory that links them to nature, to childhood, to life. Finally, you need to leave the obvious and the linear behind. In Biomimetics we look at the essence and not at the surface.
NF – What are the main pillars of Biomimetics?
AA – There are three: ethics, that requires for you to create following nature’s mantra: life creates things in a propitious way for life to continue; reconnection, which is the knowledge that we are nature; and life principles, which is a set of values that help maintain life.
“Every time you are about to create something, ask yourself if nature hasn’t already created that very thing – in 3.8 billions of life, chances are nature has already solved your problem somehow.”
NF – Do you have any tips for people that want to use Biomimetics in projects?
AA – Every time you are about to create something, ask yourself if nature hasn’t already created that very thing – in 3.8 billions of life, chances are nature has already solved your problem somehow. Life conditions change at all times, but nature operates well in impermanent conditions.
*This article was originally written by Natália Figueiredo. It has been translated, edited and adapted by Rani Ghazzaoui Luke.
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