Spreading the Biomimicry DNA in NEO

Submitted by Susan Miller on Fri, 01/25/2008 - 07:30.

drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci -- (the first?) Biomimetic Designer

Biomimicry – "The practice of using solutions to problems found in nature to solve human challenges.”

“The answers are all around us,” says Janine Benyus, founder of the Biomimicry Institute. Maybe you did or didn’t make it to the Biomimicry talk Janine Benyus gave here back in September sponsored by E4S (Entrepreneurs for Sustainability), but that was not intended as edutainment. No, E4S wants the DNA of Biomimicry to spread in the region like milkweed seeds on a fall breeze or like the underground connectors of a mushroom colony. So they have launched a series of "collaborative workshops" designed to allow folks who attended the follow-up Biomimicry Workshop in early January a chance to practice and learn how to become "Biomimicry Ambassadors".

Benyus has launched two arms of her seed idea and they are reaching around the world and now right into our own Cuyahoga Valley: they are The Biomimicry Guild, designed to consult with businesses and organizations offering a wide array of thought provoking processes and services designed with a back to nature point of view and the Biomimicry Institute – the nonprofit arm of the idea that offers ways to expand and revolutionize the way we think about design. E4S‘s website says it targets the next generation of “biomimics”. Next generation?!? Does this imply that the current generation is somehow lost to new ideas? Probably not. However, it does beg the question; is this a new idea really? It seems a reinvigoration and deeper reach into what designers like Da Vinci and Buckminster Fuller have already found successful, but let's hang in there because our knowledge of biology has deepened and much can be gained by taking a closer look at how plants and animals, even ecosystems can teach us to operate more efficiently. Set aside that egoistic dominion over nature stuff for a few hours and consider how nature would or has solved your particular dilemma.

Benyus would say, “Ask a biologist” as one tenet of her work is to ask a scientist (or more specifically a biologist) to be "at the table" when new designs or redesigns are being considered. Given a design challenge she might suggest that a collaborative “biologize” the question. It involves stepping back, being dedicated to the process and not so determined to get to the solution that you miss the obviously simple or necessarily complex solution that could have already been “invented” in nature. Instead of asking “What would Jesus do?” designers utilizing the tenets of Biomimicry might ask, “What would nature do?” Is this the dawning of the Age of Aquarius? I’m not kidding. Remember that we are at the millennium shift even though our computers didn’t stop on December 31, 1999 at the stroke of midnight. Paul Hawken refers to this as the new great transformation, and I tend to believe that theory. Biomimicry though is not a Euell Gibbons, camp out and go to Woodstock sort of group (though I cannot speak about what Benyus did in her early days); instead it is a no nonsense approach to design that does not presume that the human solution is the be all and end all. In fact, that ant, that bee, that blade of grass may indeed have a better solution that you would have thought. It may never have occurred to us that the system observed in the natural world, i.e. a termite’s ability to be comfortably at “room temp” while inside the nest despite the outside temperature, or the nacre – the stuff we recognize as “mother-of-pearl in mollusk shells is the epitome of hardness (just how does it achieve said superlativity?) or billions of other natural applications indeed could help us to design our products, organizations, and working systems in a more sustainable, more suitable for life on earth and more economical way. “Jeez”, you might be saying, “I could learn something from seaweed?” You bet, and scientists are collaborating across lab lines in some high-powered places like MIT, Stanford and CalTech and more.

So how will E4S help to seed the field here in Northeast Ohio to cultivate the current and next generation of biomimics? Well, here’s where you may make your grand entrance. They have gathered an ongoing group of the interested – many who attended the workshops they offered with Benyus and crew to continue the practice. These folks representing business, planning and education all gathered this evening at the E4S offices to discuss next steps. Watch for upcoming gatherings on the near term horizon for your chance to wander in, and learn a new way of thinking. If they let me know, I’ll post the times and places here at realneo.

How will the biomimcry DNA spread in our region? I kept thinking of the mushroom, an incredibly efficient fruiter. Is the blogosphere like the honey mushroom found in Oregon? This plant’s underground portion covers the area of 1,000 football fields – the small mushrooms that appear are only the tip of the iceberg. Are there thousand’s of us ready for a new way to design or consider that innovative product, killer business plan, organizational structure or even that government, community, or family issue? Are we like the mushrooms that are silently awaiting a gentle rain to sprout? Visit the next E4S Biomimicry Collaborative workshop and find out how to think like the animals (and plants), perhaps even to think like an ecosystem -- we are all part of one after all.

With practice, you might become so good at it that you could enter and win the Buckminster Fuller Challenge.

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sustainable design in NH

I wish I had a picture of his house to post here, but you'll have to imagine a Buckminster Fuller type geodesic dome on a south facing hillside in Southern New Hampshire. My sister and brother-in-law live in Rindge, New Hampshire literally on the Massachusetts border. They both teach at Franklin Pierce College. On my visits there, they have introduced me to some very interesting characters. One such is Leandre Poisson. Here's his story from New Independent Home by Michael Potts.

Here's his bio from Franklin Pierce College:
Leandre Poisson is an industrial designer, solar architect, writer and painter. He studied at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) where he majored in Industrial Design and minored in Architecture and Sculpture. He attended the Royal College of Art in London where he focused his graduate studies in Industrial Design Engineering. He studied with Zadkine, the sculptor at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris, France and completed his architecture studies at I.C.S.
His work has been exhibited at The Louvre Museum, Paris, France, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Currier Museum in New Hampshire, The City of New York Museum, the museum at RISD, and at Keene State College.
Leandre has authored and coauthored three books: “Solar Gardening”, “The Solar Greenhouse”, and “Solar in Four Climates” for the US department of HUD. He is currently writing two additional publications, one concerning streamline design and one on building a solar culture.
For the past thirty years he has focused on the solar energy field. He has designed over thirty solar structures and has invented and patented several solar devices.
He also has an extensive collection of 20th century American designs and these are utilized as teaching tools in his classes and which are loaned to museums and schools for instructional purposes.

Here's his book: ISBN 0930031695 : $24.95 ($29.95 Can.)
Poisson, Leandre, 1935-
Solar gardening : growing vegetables year-round the American intensive way ; illustrations by Robin Wimbiscus and Leandre Poisson / Leandre Poisson and Gretchen Vogel Poisson ; illustrations by Robin Wimbiscus and Leandre Poisson. The Real goods independent living book. White River Junction, Vt. : Chelsea Green Pub. Co., c1994.

Here's an excerpt...

Leandre also has a tremendous collection of mid-century American industrial design. It appears that Leandre has been at this for some time as evidenced by this design: the Boston Solar Home. You just never know where you'll find brilliant ideas. Sometimes they are up a winding dirt road on a hillside in the backwoods of New Hampshire.