by Abu Lido


In the reading room of the Johns Hopkins University Library there is a huge placard with the writing: “KEEP THE IDEAS, RETURN THE BOOK”. It explicitly invites us to take ideas but not to steal their source, namely the books.

Biomimicry is a new science (this term first appeared in the early 1990s) that moves away from nature: it imitates and emulates it and also establishes procedures to mimic it. It draws ideas from nature, looking at its models, systems and operating principles for the purpose of solving complex human problems when constructing buildings, tools, works of art and devices that make things work. Nature is considered in all its forms: bees, bacteria, geraniums, dormouse, orang-utans, corals, snow, clouds, forests, ecosystems… Every organism or ecosystem achieves operational excellence (a sort of “technological” miracle) by using almost only the sun’s energy. Biomimicry is an endless opportunity for any kind of creativity.

Biomimicry can help mankind. Capturing drinking water from fog is a technology copied from the Namib Desert beetle. The Eastgate building in Harare, Zimbabwe has no air-conditioning, yet stays cool thanks to a termite-inspired ventilation system. It is modelled on the self-cooling mounds of termites that maintain the temperature inside their nest constant, day and night, while the external temperature varies between 3 °C and 43 °C. The ventilation fan imitates the airflow patterns and so it uses less 50% energy. Walls, made from resins that change their shape according to light and temperature they receive, give the buildings the value of change. Imitating the very complex microstructures of the wings of the butterflies of Borneo makes it possible for the printing industry to produce notes difficult to counterfeit. Walking on air is possible thanks to fabulous art installations that mimic cobwebs.

So much for the “KEEP THE IDEAS” but where is the “RETURN THE BOOK”? It is in the moving towards an ecologically sustainable economy, in the taking root of a scientific and artistic culture devoted to mankind and nature, along with a behaviour change at individual level. It’s difficult to take ideas if we don’t leave nature alone (THE BOOK).


“The more our world functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone.”  
Janine Benyus


Photo credits

1/6/12 | Studio Tomás Saraceno: In Orbit at Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, K21 Ständehaus, Düsseldorf 2013
2 | Julie Dodd: Blood cells
3 | Breuer Schwartz Labs
4 | Julie Dodd: Butterfly collection
5/8 | Haseltine series: La Boheme
7 | Kostas Karakasiliotis
9 | Eastgate Building, Harare
10 | Life Ristroph creation
11 | Haseltine series tintinnid champagne

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