Nelly Ramzy is Studying Historical Architecture to learn about Biomimetic Models with Biophilic Qualities
Architects have long taken inspiration from Nature. They borrowed the shapes and proportions of natural forms ever since as they strived to achieve aesthetic perfection. In Ancient Egypt columns were modeled on palm trees and lotus plants, so were classical orders modeled after Acanthus leaves, spiral shapes and human proportions. Nature is also still an inspiration source for contemporary architects, who keep trying to connect with it and learn from it; taking different pathways, bio-mimicry, bio-gnosis, bio-philia, and bio-morphology all have the same concern, but with different priorities, weightings, and principles. Biomimicry, as developed by Janine Benyus in 1997, is one of these approaches that encourage the transfer of functions, concepts and strategies from natural organisms or systems to create a resilient built environment and improve its capacity for regenerative systems (El Ahmar, 2011). A lot of buildings today started to incorporate such features in a pure functional format that, unfortunately, lack any natural expression and with components that mostly look unpleasing. As present in Nature, design is not a collection of parts, but a synthesis of a whole. To respect and care for Nature, people have to obey, not only its functions, but also its patterns and forms. Not surprisingly, this way of thinking may lead to buildings that are more sustainable, where sustainability goes hand-in-hand with a respect for Nature. In explaining this concept, Salingaros says: “Part of humans’ perceptive system looks for information, whereas another part looks for meaning…. By imposing an artificial meaning on the built environment, contemporary architects contradict physical and natural processes, and thus create buildings and cities that are inhuman.” (Salingaros and Masden, 2008) Therein, on the other part of Nature-based design spectrum, Biophilia or biophilic design stands as a way of integrating Nature’s own characteristics, principles, and patterns into the immediate environment of human beings. Applicable to all kinds of buildings, where people live, work, or learn, Biophilia is referred to by S. Kellert, as “the missing link in sustainable design”, which “aims not only to reduce the harm that stems from the built environment, but also to make the built environment more pleasing, enjoyable and healthy”. (Kellert et al., 2008) But, contrary to biomimetic design; in biophilic design the building itself does not necessarily function cohesively with Nature, although its architectural expression is derived from it. An exclusive focus on biophilic interventions is not also an automatic guarantee for a higher level of well-being, as long as it is to remain apathetic for ecological issues. The origins of the theory of Biophilia lies in the 1980s-writings of Edward O. Wilson, but the earlier roots of this theory is to be traced in the works of Christopher Alexander. In his 1977-book A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander and his colleagues tried to answer the question of “quality” in space by gathering examples of buildings and places throughout the world that evoke a sense of order, robustness, and comfort; identifying and explicating 253 physical qualities, or patterns, that they considered to be the essential ways to solve architectural basic design challenges. They called this “a language” because they form a type of grammar, where the patterns were linked to one another, showing which ones worked well together and arranged hierarchically from large to small. As Grabow explains, this “pattern language phase” centered on the “a particular quality of space that one can actually see as well as feel” (Grabow 1983). In his 2002-05-four volumes of The Nature of Order, Alexander paid further effort to incorporate life-evoking geometry and step-by-step construction process that sustains environment and place well being in the architectural space. In The Nature of Order, Alexander amended the mostly static patterns of A Pattern Language by more dynamic sequences. He advocates “wholeness”, as the “source of the coherence” (Alexander, 2002). Wholeness, he says, is integrally related to other lived qualities like beauty, eloquence, good health, well being and -most integrally-vitality and “life”. He attributes life in any system, to the wholeness of this system, identifying 15 properties of centers that contribute to achieving wholeness and life in architectural composition; these are: levels of scale, strong centers, clear boundaries, alternating repetition, positive space, good shape, local symmetries, deep interlock and ambiguity, contrast, gradients, roughness, echoes, voids, simplicity, not separateness (Alexander, 2002).
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Akshay Ashok Salunkhe
IRIANS- The Neuroscience Institute