BIO-MIMESIS IN ARCHITECTURE, Integration of Information in the Designing Process

The past year, I had the opportunity to be the external tutor of Christina Iliopoulou Master Thesis. basically I helped her with Rhinoscript. So we were sometimes at starbucks to discuss about code, nature, emergence, information and in general about complexity theory. My impression was to see how fast Christina comprehend these concepts and how fast her scripting skills grew.

This week I received her Master Thesis. Here an extract of this interesting work:

Sustainability is the capacity to endure on time and to maintain functionality under diverse circumstances. In Architecture, Sustainable design is embracing an entire philosophy, which is aiming to maximizing the qualities of the built environment, while simultaneously reducing and if possibly eliminating, the negative impact on the natural surroundings. The objective is through skillful and sensitive design” to create viable settings where resources’ use is minimized without sacrificing the comforts of modern life. The widespread acceptance of Sustainable Design, initially bound to economic reasons,has made people realize the importance of the Natural Capital. Current society has long stopped considering Nature as a mere source of material and energy. It has now, as prior to the industrial revolution, attributed it with the properties of a surrounding with which it needs to be in equilibrium for its own well-being.

Trying to find balance between the natural and the artificial world we commonly turn to technology for answers to our current and imminent problems. The technologic laboratory has productively provided new materials that give higher performance rates and upgraded ways of exploiting renewable sources that drive to the reconfiguration of energy exploitation and consequently consumption, making it clear that technology holds a key position to the way towards a less polluted and energy-safe future. However, apart from the feats of mankind we could also turn to another laboratory that has been successfully active for billions of years and profit of its results; we can look into Nature.

Natural creations are the epitome of sustainability, as they are resistant and self-maintained in an individual, a local and a global level; they are in balance with their surrounding and manage to survive in very different environmental conditions. In our pursuit of sustainability, it is obvious that technology is setting the guidelines towards an economic and viable status were “negative environmental impact can be completely eliminated”, however if we intent to be in balance with our surrounding, we should also examine it and find a common ground. As Nature is the biggest and clearly the most successful auto-regulating mechanism, it is on our interest to turn our attention to her, study her closely and learn from the way she is treating everyday problems.

pages 7-8

Analyzing Nature’s way to create and sustain life there are basic principles that can be deduced:

–Living organisms are open systems in constant interaction with their environment. They exchange energy and matter with their surroundings, while through Homeostasis, manage to keep their internal environment constant.
–Organisms are susceptible to change when influenced by external factors. They are adaptive and robust systems that may reconfigure their internal support and partially their shape, when and where it is needed, to avoid harmful stress effects.
–Nature economizes on the elements of the periodic table and opts for the combination of materials to benefit from the collective properties of the sub-elements. Natural structures are  fibrous composites with anisotropic properties that present higher performance than homogeneous materials.
–Nature applies fractals, symmetry and single-simple rules as strategies to economize on information needed for construction.
–Life is organised on hierarchical levels that give rise to emergent characteristics and self-organisation is vital for it.
–Evolution in Nature is constant as organisms adapt to the ever changing environment by making small changes in a large time span.

Nature uses cautiously any available energy source. Since all organisms are limited by their surroundings they are all obliged to perform a strict economy on material use and energy consumption, to survive in an unstable and constantly changing environment. Structures in Nature are not isolated agents, but open systems which acquire energy from their surroundings and use it to maintain their internal equilibrium. Bound to their environment and in constant battle for survival, these structure need to be highly efficient in terms of performance, resistance and energy use, to stay alive. Natural structures are robust systems that adapt to external factors by reconfiguring their shape and by adding material where more support is needed. They are extraordinary complex arrangement of four basic polymer fibers that are combined in innumerable ways to produce a specific solution to a specific demand of mechanical requirements. These anisotropic structures have a fine tuned interior arrangement and it is the combination of their sub-elements which gives rise to the form and the characteristics of the structure itself.

Natural constructions respond dynamically to external stimuli and are able to do so, thanks to their capacity of evaluating the factors in play. They have the capability to change by reacting to the demands of their surroundings and their entire design is dictated by their ability to evolve. Evolution is driving the design in Nature, producing adaptable forms that best exploit their surroundings. Nature’s characteristics are context specific and change continuously in response to external factors, thus survival is ensured.

Information is the most crucial aspect with regards to survival, in terms of initial instructions as well as in continuous evaluation of the milieu. Nature endows structures with basic information transmitted by the DNA, which indicates the principles of design. The elements in the natural world manage to auto-regulate themselves by laying levels of hierarchy in their structural organization and by processing the information given by their environment. Information is the drive force in natural structures and the most crucial factor in Nature’s design. Embedded in the genes, it indicates the best way an agent may cope with difficulties, assuring its survival and propagation…

A very popular survival technique among many animals is packing in large groups. They assure safety in numbers by staying close together and they develop a communication network that propagates collective decisions. Packs of gazelles, schools of fish and flocks of birds, move, pause or stop altogether in a synchronized manner, without any central control and with no apparent guidance. They develop swarm-intelligence, a behavior where each member interacts locally with few others of its species and with its environment, while by following simple rules a decentralized collective decision may be taken…

… Our body cells resemble an ant colony, in the sense that each one is adjusting its behavior according to its neighboring ones and to its milieu. Every cell is endowed with embedded information, the DNA, which bears a resemblance to a master planner and a blueprint that cells can follow. However, cells draw selectively upon the DNA that contains the entire genome for the organism, and only read a tiny segment of the data. This is done through the Homeobox (HOX) genes, which act as a kind of genetic switch that turns other genes on or off. They are regulatory genes that start a chain reaction of other genes, to grow the different parts of the organism…

Self-Organized Systems are Complex Adaptive Systems that display Emergent Behaviors. Even though ants only interact in their vicinity with few other agents and have no general view of the whole, they demonstrate a collective behavior perceived in the level of the colony, since their local interactions result in a discernible macro-state…

Self-organized systems move from low-level rules to high-level sophistication and the simple agents are able to cooperate by paying close attention to their environment. They monitor their surroundings and they re-estimate their activity according to the latest update concerning their neighbors’ state. In addition, they constantly inform their neighbors about their proper condition and the surrounding agents consequently re-evaluate their own activity. In order to reach a more orderly structure, self-organized systems use feedback mechanisms. They apply negative feedback that helps them reach an equilibrium point despite unpredictable and changing external conditions. “The negative is what keeps the system in check”10, since by reassessing its own outputs and by using them as future inputs, attenuating any perturbation in the environment, the entire system is driven towards a more stable and organized state…

The ability Natural structures have to self-organize and auto-regulate is the most important factor in terms of survival. Through feedback mechanisms natural structures manage to adjust to their environment and the changing demands of their surroundings. Adaptation and Evolution are inter-related as the best fitted individuals are the ones who will propagate and pass their characteristics to their offspring. Nature deals with the constantly changing external conditions by pushing the individuals to adapt, selecting the best fitted ones and recombining their genetic code. “Natural selection relies on a brilliantly simple but somewhat tautological criterion for evaluating success: your genes get to pass on to the next generation if you survive long enough to produce a next generation”. Evolution is the result of mating individuals with the higher fitness abilities.

Pages 52 – 60

Generative Design can be applied to create forms and variations of a form following a set of rules. We will use it to create models of a habitable space with the following characteristics:

->The floor surface of the space will be approximately 30m2.
->An opening will be placed on one of its walls, facing south.
->A protection from solar radiation will be positioned on the top edge of the south wall.

During the procedure, various models will be produced and the algorithm that dictates the creation of form may be altered. The factors that change the characteristics of the forms will be manipulated and selection according to preset criteria among the different individuals will be done. Eventually we will end up with forms different from the initial one that have been created economically, from the same set of rules.

We will create a set of instructions for a computational program to execute. Our Algorithm will indicate the following actions.

1. Create a parallelogram / (-P-)
2. Give Volume to -P- / (-V-)
3. Place elements (-E-) on its south face / (-S-)
4. Perforate face -S- with elements -E- / (-W-)
5. Place a volume perpendicular to face -S- /(-Pr-)

Volume -V- will represent the habitable area, -W- the window and -Pr- the solar protection. The programs that will be used to right the code and execute it are Rhinoscript and Rhinoceros respectively that allow us to observe on real time the creation of the model.

Our Algorithm comprises of 5 steps. When an action is complete the program will move to the next step. If for some reason an action cannot be executed then we will get the indication of an error. This is the feedback the program is giving us which is very important for the further steps of the experiment. To be able to produce various forms, we need to set the Essential Variables. These are the factors that affect the shape and that can be modified and controlled in each step individually. The variables can be independent or bound to others, even on different steps of the process.

The Essential Variables by Step are the Following:
1. Create a parallelogram / (-P-)
_Set the Length
_Set the Width
2. Give Volume to -P- / (-V-)
_Set the Height
3. Place elements (-E-) on its south face / (-S-)
_Define South Face
_Divide the surface into segments – Set the number of divisions on both directions (X, Z)
_Make a grid – Set the extremes of the grid based on the above division
_Set the type and the values for the elements to be put on the grid
4. Perforate face -S- with elements -E- / (-W-)
_Define the –S- surface and the elements to be subtracted
5. Place a volume perpendicular to face -S- / (-Pr-)
_Place slabs on the top of the new –S- face – Set the ratio between Slab’s height and the height of the face.

The above are the Essential Variables, upon which the model will be created. However, since we want to explore form finding, we will have to add Factors that will enhance changes of the shape and will give unexpected results. The form of the opening is manipulated from the very beginning by factors that control the size of the elements, the number of their sides and the percentage of
selection among them. On a further step we will increase the complication of the form by introducing new factors that affect the appearance of the Volume and the shape of the Window. These factors may be introduced separately or in combination and their results will determine our further actions. The shade will also be subject to a factor that affects its length in total and every individual’s slab as well.

Selection among the numerous individuals is very important for the success of the process. For that reason criteria have to be set and they have to be respected in order to get a valuable result. In our case, as the model is abstract and has no environment that confines it, the selection will be made on an aesthetical basis. The individual elements have to be functional: the Volume has to be habitable, the Opening has to be able to serve the function of a window and the Protection has to be able to provide shade. Furthermore, the elements have to comprise a whole that is not just a mixture of elements, but rather an entity with a character of its own. Selection is the action that will lead the evolution of our form.

After the selection is done, an analysis of the factors is necessary, to assess their values. That way we will be able to find the range on which the factors present their best results and be able to adjust to it. The process can be repeated, based this time on the selected individuals. Thus the next generation is created with its factors tuned to the previous values. That way we narrow the range of values and can find the optimal for each factor. By selecting the best individuals, evaluating their performance and adjusting the values of the factors for the next generation we can create infinite number of offspring, all related to the initial parent, but attributed with the optimal set of information, tuned to the best frequencies.

Pages 75-79


  • Adolfo Freyermuth Dec 10, 2013, 11:37

    I am currently working on a relatively similar thesis about the use of harmonic data found in nature (such as orbit’s, tides, etc) for the development of geometry therefore i found this very useful and interesting,I thank you for sharing. Is there anyway i could get my hands on a digital version of Christina Iliopoulou Master Thesis?

    I would like to read more on it, and possibly have one or more citations to her thesis.

    I would really appreciate it.


    -Adolfo Freyermuth

  • carlos delab Feb 2, 2014, 1:35

    Hi Adolfo,

    You can find Christina contact through LinkedIn.
    Christina Iliopoulou Master Thesis

  • Ignasi Pérez Arnal Mar 8, 2014, 1:15

    In May 2015, in Barcelona, all of you are invited to come to the first Biomimetic Summit, where we will explore connectios between Nature and Industry, Art, Architecture, Health, etc.

  • Hasbro ZESTAW 12 STRZAŁEK ELITE Sep 12, 2014, 12:17

    Have you ever considered about including a little bit more than just your articles?
    I mean, what you say is valuable and everything. However think about if you added some great images or videos to give your posts more, “pop”!
    Your content is excellent but with images and video clips,
    this website could certainly be one of the best in its niche.
    Awesome blog!

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