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Building walls like animal skin

David Beach  |  04/06/12 @ 3:00pm  |  Posted in Green buildings

Through thousands of years of evolutionary trial and error, animals have developed skins with remarkable properties to regulate temperature, manage water, provide protection, and communicate with the surrounding world. What if we learned from animals to design building envelopes that functioned as elegantly as nature?

More architects are doing just that. At a lecture last night at the University of Akron, Italian-born architect Ilaria Mazzoleni described how she and her students at the Southern California Institute of Architecture are applying the principles of biomimicry to design better buildings. Among the concepts: Arctic homes inspired by polar bears that are like dens under the snow, with above-ground projections covered with fur-like glass tubes that focus solar energy to an underlying strata of insulation. Walls inspired by the skin of banana slugs that collect and use rainwater for building functions. Walls like lizard skins that flex and react to environmental conditions to improve the efficiency of energy collection and thermoregulation.

"While offering protection, shelter should work with natural systems rather than separating us from nature," she said. "We are seeking a relationship with nature that is collaborative, not exploitive."

The lecture was sponsored by Synapse, a collaboration of science and art faculty at the University of Akron. A second lecture on biomimicry, science and architecture will be held on April 26 at the Akron Museum of Art.

Northeast Ohio is becoming a center for biomimicry as a result of programs in Akron, at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and at Entrepreneurs for Sustainability. In March, Northeast Ohio hosted national experts for a workshop on biomimicry and the future of design.

For more information, check out the Biomimicry NEO Network.

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