Biomimicry and the Fourth Industrial Revolution / by David Mather

I recently attended the Specifi London event at The Crypt on the Green. The event format included networking and two presentations. The venue was certainly novel with exhibitors and networking in a vaulted crypt whilst the presentations took place in the church above.

The first presentation was from Michael Pawlyn of Exploration Architecture and was about how architecture (and engineering) can take inspiration from, and indeed mimicking, nature. This is summarised in the term bio-mimicry. The second speaker was the founder of WikiHouse, Alastair Parvin. Alastair discussed the systems and process which have developed to bring us new housing, and how this system has failed to deliver the required number of new homes year after year.

Both of the speakers were eloquent and had engaging presenting styles with well-structured and rehearsed presentations. The audience was encouraged to consider their own experiences in industry, and their future within it. How will open sourcing housing affect the construction industry for example. Both talks asked some challenging questions regarding the current state of the industry and potential future we face, be it design philosophy, regulation or procurement.

I found the themes thought provoking, in particular the concept of biomimicry. Michael delivered numerous examples where nature has optimised a solution through natural selection and evolution for problems which are also faced in building design, albeit at a different scale. The inclusion of these concepts in these designs often became the influential driver for the shape and massing of the building. The approach of optimisation results in both lower embodied carbon and operating carbon, and also, perhaps more importantly, can improve the environment within the building in turn increasing productivity of occupants. The use of building occupant productivity improvement to financially offset capital expenditure is an interesting financial model too, and certainly not a standard approach!

In the second session, which focused on WikiHouse, we learnt how half of new homes are constructed by the big ten developers in the UK, and how the UK consistently needs more new homes. The potential solution is becoming established in Berlin: self-building from opensource kits. These designs are published by WikiHouse but in a collaborative opensource arrangement where anyone can download the kits, purchase each component from small factories with CNC machines and construct a house for a fraction of conventional build cost, and in less time. This is another example of how technology is changing our present, and our future. It was suggested that this will be the fourth industrial revolution.

In summary the event was well organised and entertaining. Both presentations were thought provoking. If you are interested in hearing more from the speakers both of them have given TED talks which can be found below.

Michael Pawlyn's book, Biomimicry in Architecture has recently been republished in a 2nd edition, incorporating changes and updates between 2011 and 2016. The book can be found on amazing here.

Biomimicry in Architecture
By Michael Pawlyn