Just imagine a future where self-healing concrete not only saves untold millions in repairs but also sequesters CO2... or where living lamps respond to changes in the ambient temperature or humidity. These are just some of the potential applications of biomimicry, or the application of biological processes to innovation in design. Dating as far back as Leonardo da Vinci, who studied bird wings in the interest of human flight, designers and architects are increasingly looking to flora and fauna for inspiration, experimenting with living materials to both humanize and harmonize with nature.
Here are just a few of the trends that may soon bring the unfathomable richness of the natural world inside.
1. Building Products
Sometimes, beauty is skin-deep—but you might need a microscope to see it. Introduced in 2006, Interface 's TacTiles are likely one of the first explicitly biomimetic building products to hit the market, and the company boasts that 39 million square yards of the modular tiles have been installed since then. Inspired by the gecko, a lizard known for its wall-climbing ability, the glue-free installation system offers a more environmental, easy-to-use alternative to traditional adhesives.
But skin can also transmit information, a property that could well translate to two-dimensional materials. Textile designer Elaine Ng Yan Ling 's Climatology series of smart veneers, which change shape based on temperature and humidity, is the result of research into the desert plant Selaginelia Lepidoplylla .
2. Growable Forms
Cultivating a plant is one thing, but what about a chair? While it may sound like something out a fairy tale, designers and researchers are pushing the boundaries of mushrooms' as a growable raw material. Eric Klarenbeek 's Mycelium Project is looking to perfect a mix of spores and organic material (including waste) to make a 3D-printable bioplastic that is strong enough to build a chair. (See also: The Living 's famous "Hy-Fi" architecture installation at MoMA PS1, which was partially constructed from Ecovative mushroom bricks.)
Meanwhile U.K.-based Gavin Munro has experimented with literally growing chairs on trees—or rather, growing trees into chairs. Whereas a network of mushrooms can be grow to maturity over the course of a few days, Full Grown chairs take years to create—an heirloom object par excellence.
Bioluminescence is among the more accessible trends in the broad spectrum of biomimetic design, not least for its visual appeal. Since that glow-in-the-dark rabbit that made headlines a couple years ago, several designers and companies are working to develop a viable means of illumination by microorganism. Some, such as Teresa van Dongen , have created prototypes that mark a promising start for further development, while others, like the Kovac Family , are still in the research and development phase.