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Biomimetic design for climate change

adaptation and mitigation
Maibritt Pedersen Zari
School of Architecture, Victoria University , Wellington, New Zealand
Published online: 09 Jun 2011.

To cite this article: Maibritt Pedersen Zari (2010) Biomimetic design for climate change adaptation and
mitigation, Architectural Science Review, 53:2, 172-183

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Biomimetic design for climate change adaptation
and mitigation
Maibritt Pedersen Zari*
School of Architecture, Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand

This article examines biomimicry, where organisms or ecosystems are mimicked in human design, as a means to either miti-
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gate the causes of climate change that the built environment is responsible for, or adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Different biomimetic approaches to design are discussed and categorized, and a series of examples illustrate the benefits
and drawbacks of each approach. Biomimicrys potential role in addressing climate change in the built environment over
the short, medium and long term is examined. Specific principles of ecosystem biomimicry for architecture have been
deduced through a comparative cross-disciplinary review and are presented. It is posited that the incorporation of a thorough
understanding of biology and ecology into architectural design will be significant in the creation of a built environment that
contributes to the health of human communities, while increasing positive integration with natural carbon cycles.

Keywords: Adaptation; architecture; biomimicry; climate change; ecosystem; mitigation; regenerative

poorly understood and applied analogies or metaphors. By

INTRODUCTION looking at the living world, there may be organisms or
As the impacts of climate change increase, policies and systems that can be mimicked to create and maintain a re-
actions to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must silient and adaptable built environment, and improve its
expand rapidly. This will be particularly crucial in the capacity for regeneration of the health of ecosystems (Peder-
urban built environment. Not only is the built environment sen Zari and Storey, 2007). Ecosystem biomimicry provides
responsible for approximately a third of global anthropo- the means to determine achievable goals for development
genic GHG emissions, leading to climate change (de la based on physical reality. It also provides the method to
Rue du Can and Price, 2008), it will also have to adapt to achieve these goals, and at the same time points to numerous
climate change impacts, as the main site of human economic, examples that can be emulated.
social and cultural life. More than half of all humans now In light of the conclusions reached during the course of
live in urban built environments, and people spend more this research, a long-term biomimetic solution is proposed
than 70% of their time indoors (Chan and Cheng, 2006; that mimics ecosystems and utilizes synergies between miti-
Grimm et al., 2008). The Intergovernmental Panel on gation and adaptation strategies in relation to climate change.
Climate Change states that buildings offer more opportun- The foundations of the theory to support this are also
ities for cost-effective GHG mitigation than any other presented.
sector, although significant changes in current practice are
required to achieve such an aim (IPCC, 2007a).
Parallel to this, the definition of cutting-edge sustainable
architecture is changing. Aiming for neutral or zero Biomimicry is the emulation of strategies seen in the living
environmental impact buildings in terms of energy, carbon, world as a basis for design and is a source of innovation, par-
waste or water is a worthwhile but difficult target. It is ticularly in the creation of more sustainable architecture. It is
becoming clear, however, that the built environment will the mimicry of an organism, an organisms behaviour or an
need to go beyond having little negative environmental entire ecosystem in terms of its form, material, construction
impact in the future, to having net positive environmental method, process strategies or function. This categorization
benefits. Such architecture is termed here as regenerative framework is explained in more depth by Pedersen Zari
design after Reeds (2007) definition. Key to regenerative (2007). A growing body of international research on bio-
design is a transfer of knowledge from biology and mimicry identifies various obstacles to the employment of
ecology into architectural design in a way that transcends biomimicry methodology in design. One barrier of particular



doi:10.3763/asre.2008.0065 #2010 Earthscan ISSN: 0003-8628 (print), 1758-9622 (online)
Biomimetic design for climate change adaptation and mitigation 173

note is the lack of a clearly defined approach to biomimicry however, that there are opportunities to move beyond seman-
that architectural designers can initially employ, particularly tics to incorporate a thorough understanding of ecology into
if the goal is to increase the sustainability of the built architectural design.
environment (Vincent et al., 2006). Contributions to addres-
sing this have been made by several authors (Vincent et al.,
2006; Hesselberg, 2007; Pedersen Zari, 2007). The theory CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE BUILT
presented in this article is intended to further contribute to
Mimicking living organisms or ecosystems involves a Changes to the climate, and therefore related impacts on the
process of translation into suitable solutions for the human built environment, are expected to increase in intensity in the
context. This process of translation often results in designs future, suggesting that a re-evaluation of the built environ-
that are not immediately similar to the organism or ecosys- ment is necessary (IPCC, 2007a). Established responses to
tem that inspired them, but utilize the same functional con- climate change in the built environment broadly fall into
cepts. Biomimicry is not the same as biomorphic or two categories. The first is mitigating the causes of climate
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zoomorphic architecture, for example, which is mostly con- change by reducing GHG emissions. The second is adapting
cerned with the mimicry of organic form (Feuerstein, 2002; the existing and future built environment to predicted climate
Aldersey-Williams, 2003). It is important to acknowledge change impacts. Even if all GHG emissions were immedi-
that not all solutions arrived at through evolutionary pro- ately halted, the climatic change caused by past emissions
cesses found in organisms will be perfect, or suitable for a would still be experienced due to the slow response of the
human context. Despite this, as professionals of the built planets atmosphere, oceans and other carbon sinks (IPCC,
environment need to solve more urgent and difficult prob- 2007b). Despite international climate change protocols
lems related to the impacts of climate change, it is appropri- and initiatives, global GHG emissions are also still increas-
ate to examine examples of how the same problems have ing. Building sector carbon emissions, including those
been solved by other living organisms or ecosystems in the from energy generation used to power buildings, have
same climatic conditions as humans. If not providing full increased annually by 2% since 1970 for example, while
and easily transferable solutions, it may at least provide emissions from commercial buildings have increased by
new areas of exploration. 3% annually since 2002 (IPCC, 2007a). It is important
Several noteworthy contemporary examples of bio- therefore that built environment professionals are not only
mimetic architecture or technologies that can assist the built able to work towards mitigating the causes of climate
environment in adapting to climate change will be examined change, but are also able to devise strategies to adapt to
in the following sections. Additional historic examples the impacts.
are detailed by Vincent et al. (2006), Vogel (1998) and Changes in the climate that will affect the built environ-
Benyus (1997). It is not the authors intention to reinvent ment are numerous and, although difficult to quantify,
classifications for responses to climate change in the built have been explored by several researchers (Koeppel and
environment, but rather to use these established frameworks U rge-Vorsatz, 2007; Wilby, 2007). The impacts that
to critique common current approaches and to illustrate how climate change will have on the built environment are both
biomimicry can be used to address climate change. direct and indirect. Direct impacts will affect the actual phys-
Examining the qualities of ecosystems that enable them to ical fabric of the built environment. The results of a review of
be robust and resilient will also offer potential avenues to international research examining the main direct impacts of
follow. Several authors advocate methods for incorporating climate change on the built environment are summarized in
an understanding of ecosystems into architectural design Table 1. The impacts will vary greatly, depending on the
(McHarg, 1992; Bejan, 2000; Kibert et al., 2002; McDon- location and local quality and density of the existing built
ough and Braungart, 2002; Van der Ryn and Pena, 2002; environment.
Graham, 2003). Kibert (2006) cites a number of these Many technologies and established design techniques
authors and criticizes this kind of approach to design, assist in mitigating the causes of climate change. The poten-
however, because of the difficulty in understanding and tial of well-known design methods such as passive solar
modelling ecosystems. He asserts that . . .the mimicking of design is well understood and documented, for example.
nature in human designs is one dimensional [and] non- Despite this, there is not a large body of work that discusses
complex. . .. Ecosystem biomimicry differs from many of how one can strategically adapt new or existing buildings to
these ideas, however, in that it suggests strategies based on climate change, beyond a discussion about how to make
a transfer of scientific knowledge from ecology rather than buildings more adaptable in general through design tech-
design based on the metaphor of ecosystems as defined by niques such as design for deconstruction, materials recycling
designers. Architectural and urban designers have, for and reuse, and lightly treading foundations (Steemers, 2003;
example, been successful in adopting terminology from life Fernandez, 2004). New techniques or technologies that are
sciences such as metabolism, genetic design and evol- able to contribute to mitigation and adaptation to climate
utionary design (Gruber, 2008). Biomimicry demonstrates, change with significant other economic, social and


174 Pedersen Zari

Table 1 | Direct climate change impacts on the built BIOMIMICRY TO MITIGATE GHG
Potential direct climate Consequences for the built ENVIRONMENT
change impacts environment
Changes in temperatures Increased overheating and Several examples of new technologies illustrate biomimicry
(likely to increase in most air conditioning load that is focused on mitigating GHG emissions, and can be
areas) Decreased winter space divided into three categories. The first approach is mimick-
heating ing the energy efficiency or effectiveness of living organisms
Decreased water heating and systems. The impetus is that by being more energy effi-
energy cient, less fossil fuel is burnt and therefore less GHGs are
Intensified urban heat island emitted into the atmosphere. The second approach is to
effect devise new ways of producing energy to reduce human
Increased intense weather Damage to buildings and dependence on fossil fuels, and therefore prevent additional
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events infrastructure GHGs from being emitted. These strategies are the most
common approaches to mitigating the causes of climate
Changes in precipitation Damage to foundations, change associated with the built environment (Steemers,
patterns underground pipes/cables, 2003), and therefore are only discussed briefly in this
article. Various biomimetic technologies and products have
Increased inland flooding
been developed for the purpose of improving energy effi-
Damage to facades and
ciency, and exploring new energy generation possibilities
internal structure due to rain
are detailed by Pedersen Zari (2008).
Increased subsidence (clay A third biomimetic approach to mitigating GHG emissions
soils) is investigating organisms or ecosystems to find examples of
Increased erosion, landslips, processes within them that are able to sequester and store
rock falls carbon. Mimicking this comes with the intention of preventing
Changes in aquifers and GHGs that are emitted through human activities from reaching
urban water supply and the atmosphere and causing additional climate change.
Increased pressure on urban Biomimicry for energy efficiency
drainage systems There are numerous examples of living organisms and
Increased storm water systems that are highly energy effective and that could
run-off and leaching of yield an understanding of how humans could carry out
pollutants into water ways or
their activities without dependence on fossil fuels. Several
well-known and even iconic examples of biomimicry fit
Thermal expansion of Increased coastal flooding into this category, such as DaimlerChryslers prototype
oceans and changes in the Increased erosion Bionic car (2005) and Mick Pearces Eastgate building in
cryosphere (ice systems), Changes in sedimentation Harare, Zimbabwe (1996).
such as retreating snow patterns The large volume, small wheel base concept of the Bionic
lines and ice packs, and Changes in water tables and car was based on the aerodynamic and strength character-
melting glaciers possible infiltration of istics of the boxfish (Ostracion meleagris). This resulted in
aquifers the design of a more fuel-efficient car with a low drag coef-
Relocation from coastal
ficient of 0.19, and panels with 40% more rigidity (Annon,
2005). The chassis and structure of the car were also bio-
Loss of inter-tidal areas
mimetic, having been designed using a computer modelling
acting as buffer zones
method mimicking how trees are able to grow in a way that
Changes in wind patterns Changes in wind loading on minimizes stress concentrations. The resulting car structure
and intensities buildings looks almost skeletal. The total weight was reduced by a
Increased air pollution Increased ventilation needed third, as material was allocated only to places where it is
Damage to building facades most needed (Vincent et al., 2006; Pedersen Zari, 2007).
The Eastgate building was designed to have a relatively
Source: Pedersen Zari (2008).
thermally stable interior environment that uses minimal
mechanical cooling (and therefore produces less GHG emis-
environmental benefits can be revealed by a careful study of sions). Pearce based the design in part on principles of
how certain organisms and the ecosystems they create, or are induced flow and the use of thermal capacity to regulate
part of, are already able to do this. temperature as observed in Macrotermes michaelseni


Biomimetic design for climate change adaptation and mitigation 175

(termite) mounds of southern Africa (Turner and Soar, and the development of ocean energy technologies that
2008). This resulted in reductions in the use of energy of mimic how sea kelp moves efficiently in water. Australian
between 17 and 52% compared with similar buildings in company BioPower has developed underwater power gen-
Harare (Smith, 1997; Baird, 2001). In another building erators that oscillate in ocean waves and currents rather
Pearce contributed to, Council House 2 (CH2) in Melbourne than rotate like turbines. Through the use of permanent
(2006), water is mined and cleaned from the sewers beneath magnet motors, the low-speed high-torque oscillation is con-
and is then used to condition the air. This is reminiscent of verted into high-speed low-torque rotation. Units are
how certain termite species use the proximity of aquifer anchored to the ocean floor by the use of a series of small
water as an evaporative cooling mechanism (Pedersen Zari, root-like devices to avoid extensive, damaging and compli-
2007). In CH2 some of the mined water is passed through cated drilling and installation. The generators rotate freely
shower towers on the outside of the building. This cools to orient themselves towards currents and, in the same
the water, particularly at night when temperatures are way, can lie flat in storm events to avoid damage (Finnigan
lower. The water passing through the shower towers also and Caska, 2006; BioPower Systems, 2009). A 250kW pilot
cools the surrounding air, which is then used to ventilate study of the technology is being conducted in Tasmania,
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the commercial premises on the ground floor. The water con- Australia, in 2010 (Leary and Esteban, 2009).
tinues on to the basement where it passes through a system Finding methods to replace fossil fuels with renewable
that maintains the cool temperature by using phase-change energy sources is an approach to mitigate the causes of
materials. The water is then used in a closed loop in climate change conducive to a long-term solution. Signifi-
chilled beams. These beams provide cooling to the building cant time and resources need to be applied to develop or
interior. In combination with the effects of several additional implement such technology however. While replacing the
sustainability features, CH2 is reported to use 85% less use of fossil fuels may prevent some additional GHG emis-
energy and 70% less water than typical comparable buildings sions from being created or released, biomimicry also offers
(Tan, 2007). The limitations of the termite mound analogy ways of addressing excess carbon dioxide already present in
are examined in detail by Turner and Soar (2008). While the atmosphere in an attempt to remediate high GHG levels.
both Eastgate and CH2 are thermally successful buildings
in many respects, in-depth scientific analysis since the build- Biomimetic sequestering and storing of carbon
ings were designed has revealed that termite mounds interact There are several organisms and processes in nature that are
with the environment in a much more sophisticated way to able to store, sequester or recycle carbon, which are being
regulate temperature than was previously thought. This has investigated in the development of technologies that can be
led to suggestions that a new generation of living biomi- applied to industrial processes and the built environment. In
metic buildings could utilize a more accurate understanding Quebec, CO2 Solutions is developing carbon sequestration
of the termite mound as a multipurpose extension of termite technology that mimics certain chemical processes that
physiology (Turner and Soar, 2008). occur in the bodies of mammals, which enables them to
Improving energy efficiency in general is an important manage carbon dioxide during respiration (Geers and Gros,
part of addressing climate change, but it should be regarded 2000). The CO2 Solutions technology mimics the enzyme car-
as an intermediate step. Improving efficiencies helps to bonic anhydrase, which is able to convert carbon dioxide into
reduce the intensity of GHG emissions, but does not chal- bicarbonates. The process works at atmospheric pressure and
lenge assumptions about how and why technologies are ambient temperatures, and thus does not require large amounts
made and used. Nor does it address the underlying causes of energy (Fradette, 2007). The process generates bicarbonate.
of climate change such as dependence on fossil fuels, the This can be used to neutralize certain industrial wastes, or can
burning of which emits GHGs into the atmosphere. Several be converted back into carbon dioxide for storage or can be
researchers in the field of economics also detail increased transformed into carbonate compounds such as limestone to
rather than decreased energy use as a result of energy effi- be used in industrial processes in cement works or paper
ciency initiatives. This is referred to as the Jevons mills. The aqueous solution, where the conversion of carbon
paradox (Jevons, 1865). Simplistically, as efficiencies dioxide to bicarbonate occurs, is reused in a closed loop.
increase, the price of a technology goes down, often resulting The technology can be retrofitted onto existing facilities
(paradoxically) in a net increase in consumption. such as power plants, cement works, aluminium smelters
and oil sands operations, or integrated into new ones (Atkin-
Biomimetic energy generation for mitigating the son, 2007; CO2 Solution, 2008). Initial testing on an Alcoa
causes of climate change aluminium smelter in Deschambault, Quebec, indicated
Several biomimetic technologies or systems aim to replace removal of 80% of carbon dioxide that would otherwise
the use of fossil fuels as the primary energy source that have been emitted into the atmosphere (Hamilton, 2007).
humans use in an attempt to mitigate GHG emissions. The utilization of detritus, or waste, is an important part of
Examples in development include mimicking the process the process of cycling nutrients and is a fundamental part of
of artificial photosynthesis in solar energy cell technology maintaining the health of an ecosystem. In using biomimicry
(Davidson, 2003; Moore et al., 2004; Collis et al., 2005), to address excess carbon in the atmosphere, it may be


176 Pedersen Zari

possible to use it as a resource rather than consider it a source significant contribution to mitigating the causes of climate
of pollution or waste. An obvious example from biology is change or even to lowering the levels of atmospheric
how plants utilize carbon dioxide during the photosynthesis carbon over the long term if combined with other initiatives.
process, converting it into the products needed for plant
growth and development such as cellulose. For plants,
carbon dioxide is a necessary resource in the correct quan- BIOMIMICRY STRATEGIES FOR
tities, rather than a pollutant. A company formed out of ADAPTATION TO CLIMATE CHANGE IN
research from Cornell University, called Novomer, is exam-
ining mimicking this aspect of carbon sequestration in plants,
by using carbon dioxide as a resource for carbon-based poly- Biomimicry offers strategies that professionals of the built
mers. The resulting plastics are made up of 30 50% of trans- environment can harness to adapt buildings to climate
formed carbon dioxide in weight and could be used as change. The first and most common is responding to antici-
coatings for building materials or foam insulation, among pated direct impacts of climate change on the built environ-
other applications (Fister Gale, 2008). The zinc-based cata- ment (see Table 1). The second is a comprehensive approach
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lyst that is needed for the process also works at ambient to altering the built environment so that it becomes more
temperature and low pressure (150psi), and is therefore adaptable and resilient as a whole system.
less energy intensive than bio-plastics production (Greene-
meier, 2007). The use of carbon dioxide and carbon monox- Responding to the direct impacts of climate change
ide as feedstock, rather than corn or starch as is used in the The living world is made up of numerous organisms that
production of bio-plastics, means that the carbon-based effectively solve the same problems that the built environ-
plastic does not compete with food production, and both cap- ment will face as climate change continues. While the poten-
tures and stores carbon. Ongoing research suggests that the tial impacts of climate change are numerous and dependent
stored carbon in the plastic is released upon decomposition, on local conditions, the list of organisms and ecosystems
although depending on the exact nature of the feedstock and that effectively manage similar issues is also long. There
catalyst, the biodegradability of the carbon-based polymers are approximately 1.8 million species that have been
can be varied to enable longer term storage of carbon (Gern- described and categorized. Estimates of the total number of
gross and Slater, 2003; Patel-Predd, 2007). species range, however, from 2 to 100 million, with a best
An issue with this approach to addressing climate change guess at 14 million (Purvis and Hector, 2000). There are
impacts is that sequestering carbon does not examine or organisms and ecosystems that effectively manage overheat-
solve the problem of excessive burning of fossil fuels. Nor ing, high winds and erosion, for example. Several architec-
does it take into account the depletion of oil reserves. tural biomimicry projects respond to the direct impacts of
Rather, sequestration is another interim step in the develop- climate change. The architecture discussed here may form
ment of a more sustainable human society and economy, and a suitable response to changes in precipitation patterns and
creates more time to develop technology that does not projected water shortages, for example.
pollute less, but instead does not pollute at all. There are Grimshaw Architects, in collaboration with Charles Paton
several additional logistical, economic, technological and of Seawater Greenhouse, have taken their understanding of
environmental problems with current attempts at carbon how the Namib desert beetle (of the stenocara genus) is
sequestration, as detailed by Schiermeier (2006). able to survive and have proposed a unique desalinization
The benefit of the approach, however, is that such tech- process that will form a large outdoor theatre called Teatro
niques or technologies may help to retrofit and adapt existing del Agua on the shore of the Canary Islands. The stenocara
building infrastructure while addressing GHG emissions in beetle lives in deserts, where there is little rainfall but
the short to medium term. The existing built environment where short infrequent morning fogs occur. It is able to
will need to be part of a long-term solution to climate capture moisture from the swift moving fog by tilting its
change because of the relatively long life of buildings and body into the wind. Water condenses on the surface of the
the slow rate of renewal compared with consumer items beetles back because its shell is cooler than the surrounding
such as clothing or electronic equipment. Most buildings air. Droplets form on the shell, and the alternating hydrophi-
that will make up the built environment in the coming lic, hydrophobic surface of the beetles back enables the
decades, as climate change impacts become more intense drops to roll down into its mouth (Parker and Lawrence,
and the need to mitigate the causes of climate change 2001; Garrod et al., 2007). Research conducted in the
becomes more urgent, have already been built. Furthermore, United Kingdom has also shown that surfaces based on the
the built environment uses approximately 40% of the beetles shell are several times more effective at harvesting
materials consumed by the global economy (Rees, 1999). fog than the typical methods using nets (Trivedi, 2001),
Building materials that store carbon over the long term, and could be useful in improving the design of
therefore, or those that are made from carbon dioxide and de-humidification and distillation equipment (Knight, 2001).
do not release the same amount of carbon dioxide on bio- Teatro del Agua mimics aspects of the beetle by passing
degradation, if appropriate, durable and safe, could make a seawater over a series of evaporative grilles. As the sea


Biomimetic design for climate change adaptation and mitigation 177

breeze moves through these grilles, some of the water evap- the rapid changes that may come about due to climate
orates, leaving salt behind. The moist air then continues until change is difficult to predict however (Walther et al.,
it hits pipes holding cool seawater, pumped up from the 2002). Despite this, mimicking ecosystems can offer insights
nearby ocean. As the warm, moist air touches the cool into how the built environment could function more like a
pipes, condensation occurs and clean fresh water trickles system than as a set of unrelated object-like buildings, and
down the outside of the pipes to be collected for use. The sea- thus become better able to adjust to change. An aspect of
water pumps are powered by wind turbines using the same ecosystems that enables them to successfully adapt to con-
uni-directional sea breeze. The building is projected to be stant change comes from the fact that they are made up of
self-sufficient in water with a large surplus that can be trans- organisms and processes that are in close relationships. A
ferred to neighbouring buildings and landscapes. high diversity in terms of these relationships between organ-
Responding to the direct impacts of climate change has a isms typically leads to increased system redundancy, and
number of associated benefits and difficulties. It is helpful results in a greater ability for the whole system to adapt to
for a gradual response to the impacts of climate change, par- change.
ticularly if the financial resources needed to research, Bio-inspired buildings are typically likely to have better
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develop and test technologies continue to be available. sustainability outcomes if they mimic the process strategies
However, it requires accurate knowledge of what the (how they work) and/or the functions (what they do) of eco-
impacts of climate change will be for a given site, which is systems rather than simply the form or material properties of
difficult to accurately predict in many cases. A benefit of individual organisms (Reap et al., 2005; Pedersen Zari,
such an approach is that technologies and architectural 2007).
responses to the direct impacts may be transferable to other
places that must address similar issues. The biomimetic Mimicking the process strategies of ecosystems
system based on the stenocara beetle may, for example, be By mimicking process strategies in the living world,
useful for small island communities or coastal areas that designers have a successful model to follow in devising
have difficulties sourcing fresh water, exacerbated by how systems in buildings or urban environments should be
climate change. An additional benefit of the process of put together and how they should work. In aiming to
developing technological solutions for individual buildings capture a cross-disciplinary understanding of how ecosys-
is that it fits into the current method of extending and tems work, a comparative analysis of related knowledge in
renewing the built environment, which is typically a the disciplines of ecology, biology, industrial ecology, eco-
building-by-building or addition-by-addition process over logical design and biomimicry was conducted to formulate
time. This means that it may be suitable for a gradual retro- a group of ecosystem process strategies (Pedersen Zari and
fitting of the existing built environment. Storey, 2007). Although many aspects of ecosystems are
Developing individual technologies or even whole build- suitable for designers to investigate in the creation of regen-
ings to deal with the myriad of direct climate change impacts erative built environments, features of ecosystems that make
on the built environment does not, however, ready the built them resilient are useful in the context of climate change.
environment for unpredicted changes or indirect climate These were identified as use of renewable energy sources,
change impacts. Although beyond the scope of this article, optimization of the whole system rather than single parts, a
indirect impacts are no less important and will affect the responsiveness and dependence on local conditions, diver-
economic, social and environmental context that the built sity in types of organisms and relationships, a capacity for
environment operates in. For example, the number of decentralized organization, interdependence of organisms,
environmental or climate refugees is projected to increase, benign functioning, complex information feedback loops,
human health may decrease due to poorer air quality, and and a capacity for self-healing or self-correction.
more frequent extreme weather events and the loss of Research into intensive aquaculture systems stretching
coastal property will have economic and social impacts back several decades demonstrates in several cases, the
(OConnell and Hargreaves, 2004; Robertson, 2006; advantages of mimicking ecosystem processes to create re-
Wilby, 2007). Focusing solely on adapting the built environ- silient and effective systems. Typically, such systems mimic
ment to the direct impacts of climate change also does not the aspect of ecosystems where waste becomes a resource for
address multiple impacts concurrently. Understanding local another component of the system, or where energy is shared
built environments as whole systems in terms of their ensuring the system itself becomes cyclic and eliminates
strengths and weaknesses and utilizing these to create duplication of effort. The Happy Shrimp Farm in the Nether-
greater resilience is a more effective way of planning for lands, for example, is strategically located next to E.ON
unpredictable future climatic changes. Benluxs pulverized coal-fired power station in Rotterdams
Maasvlakte (a part of the citys harbour and industrial area).
Systemic improvement of the built environment Greenhouse-enclosed basins for raising shrimp are kept at a
Ecosystems are typically resilient and many are able to move steady 308C due to a 2.5km pipe, which transfers the power
through infrequent abrupt changes while still supporting plants waste coolant water (608C) through an exchange
organisms to survive. The ability of ecosystems to adapt to system to the farm. Previously this coolant was discharged


178 Pedersen Zari

directly into the surrounding sea. The 5000m2 farm also sup- climate if it is to integrate with existing ecosystems and con-
ports the growth of algae. These algae feed on the nitrogen- tribute to health rather than deplete it.
rich waste produced in the shrimp farming process and The services that humans receive from ecosystems can be
become, in turn, feed for the shrimps, while helping to divided into provisioning services such as food and medi-
keep the basins clear. This results in productivity of up to cines, regulation services such as pollination and climate
200 times higher in the system than if traditional feeds regulation, supporting services such as soil formation and
were used (Braungart et al., 2008). Samphire (a fixation of solar energy, and life-fulfilling services such as
name given to several species of edible coastal growing artistic and spiritual inspiration. Daily (1997) provides scien-
plants) and sea lavender (of the Limonium genus) thrive in tific details of each function. It is commonly known that the
the conditions and are grown in the shrimp waste in cases built environment has a large negative effect on these ecosys-
suspended above the shrimp basins. The growing of tem services (Graham, 2003). One way to reduce this is by
orchids may also be added into the system in the future uti- creating built environments that mimic or provide these eco-
lizing more of the waste as resource and creating further system services and therefore reduce pressure on ecosys-
revenue streams (Koeleman, 2007; Baas, 2008). Well- tems, as the urban environment grows and as the climate
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known examples of successful industrial ecology such as continues to change. This is different from design methods
Denmarks Kalundborg industrial region also illustrate how such as industrial, construction or building ecology, or in
the process of cycling materials in ecosystems can be fact process-level ecosystem biomimicry, because it moves
mimicked even between diverse companies. In Kalundborg, beyond mimicking ecosystems as a metaphor, which can
this resulted in a reduction of 30 million metres cubed of easily be misunderstood. Much like process-level ecosystem
groundwater used, and a reduction of 154,000 tonnes of biomimicry, biomimicry at the function level becomes the
carbon dioxide (CO2) and 389 tonnes of mono-nitrogen overall theoretical concept and goal generator for the devel-
oxides (NOx), emitted. Five companies and one local muni- opment, while specific methods to achieve these goals can be
cipality make up the industrial park where 20 different drawn from a wide range of design techniques and tools.
bi-product exchanges occur (Jacobsen, 2006). Ecosystem biomimicry at the function level also defines cri-
Analysis of further ecosystem processes other than teria that ensure that technologies or systems to be integrated
cycling of wastes or sharing of energy suggests additional in a development are appropriate in terms of overall environ-
strategies for the built environment to mimic. The elimin- mental impact.
ation of toxins and degradation of ecosystems are important Not all ecosystem services can be mimicked by the built
issues that are also addressed with such an approach. Table 2 environment, such as pollination and regulation of species
focuses solely on the process strategies most relevant to diversity for example. However, contribution to or positive
addressing climate change however. The table lists ecosys- integration with several important ecosystem services
tem processes and suggests existing design techniques or could become goals for new developments. The ecosystem
methods that may be useful as starting points in determining services that the built environment may be most able to
how such processes could be integrated into the built mimic are summarized in Table 3. The built environment
environment. This is not an exhaustive list; however, it already provides some of the same functions as ecosystems,
makes implicit the further potential of ecosystem biomimicry particularly life-fulfilling services such as artistic inspiration,
and demonstrates that the development of new technologies recreation and tourism, and hence these have been left out of
might not be needed to create regenerative built environ- the table.
ments. Instead, ecosystem biomimicry at the process level A comprehensive analysis of how these ecosystem func-
provides a clear and logical framework to apply existing tions could specifically be supplemented by the built
technology or design strategies for a more thorough environment is the subject of ongoing research. Such a list
approach to increasing sustainability. suggests, however, that similar to the functioning of an eco-
system, a building or development could be designed to form
Mimicking the functions of ecosystems a system, or be part of a system that produces food, produces
Several ecologists detail ecosystem goods and services that renewable energy, produces raw materials for the future built
humans utilize, referred to here as ecosystem functions environment where possible, collects and purifies water,
(Daily et al., 2000; de Groot et al., 2002; Alcamo et al., purifies air and soil, regulates climate through mitigating
2003). These ecosystem functions are fundamental to GHG emissions and the heat island effect, controls erosion
human survival. Constanza et al. (1997) estimate, for and moderates extreme weather events on surrounding eco-
example, that although humans would not be able to systems, contributes to soil formation and fertility through
replace the currently free ecosystem services that are utilized, careful cycling of biodegradable wastes and recycling of
if these had to be paid for in monetary terms, the cost would non-biodegradable wastes, and deliberately provides
likely be almost twice the entire global gross national habitat for species suitable for co-inhabitation with humans
product. Mimicking the functions of ecosystems enables in the urban built environment. Such new developments, in
design teams to know what the quantifiable ecological turn, act as filters, producers and generators for the rest of
goals should be for a development in a given location and the built environment, which is still degrading ecosystems.


Biomimetic design for climate change adaptation and mitigation 179

Table 2 | Ecosystem process strategies for the built environment to mimic

Ecosystem process strategies for the built Existing related design Climate change implications
environment to mimic techniques or technologies
1. Ecosystems are Source energy from current Active and passive solar design; Reduction of GHG emissions
dependent on sunlight, or other renewable renewable energy generation used to operate buildings and
abundant sources increased energy effectiveness
renewable energy
2. Ecosystems Cycle matter and transform Industrial ecology; construction Reduced need for mining/
optimize the energy effectively. Materials and ecology; design for growing/production of new
system rather than energy should have multiple deconstruction and reuse; materials and energy; reduced
its components functions cradle-to-cradle design; use of energy and materials;
permaculture; general and reduced waste, all leading
engineering to reduction of GHG emissions
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and less ecosystem

3. Ecosystems are Source and use materials locally Permaculture Reduced transport-related
attuned to and and use local abundances or GHG emissions. More robust
dependent on unique features as design local communities
local conditions opportunities
4. Ecosystems are Increase diversity to increase Participatory design; integrated More robust built environment
diverse in resilience. Create and foster a design methods; eco-revelatory and community able to adapt to
components, variety of relationships in the design; ecological design climate change. Decisions
relationships and development and with groups based on a broader knowledge
information outside of it. Utilize opportunities base are likely to be more
to create self-organizing and sustainable (Wahl and Baxter,
distributed systems 2008)
5. Ecosystems Production and functioning Green chemistry; life-cycle Healthier ecosystems mean
create conditions should be environmentally analysis; carbon balance; better life-support systems for
favourable to benign. The development should regenerative development; humans and greater potential to
sustained life enhance the biosphere and cradle-to-cradle design; adapt as the climate changes
community as it functions voluntary behaviour change
6. Ecosystems Plan for and allow constant Development over long time Allows for rapid, effective and
adapt and evolve change. Build feedback periods; flexible deign methods; participatory change. Planning
at different levels mechanisms into the post-occupancy evaluation; for change allows for easier
and at different development to allow some decentralized energy generation adaptation
rates ability for self-correction
Source: Pedersen Zari and Storey (2007).

If these regenerative nodes became part of the built environ- The Lloyd Crossing Project proposed for Portland,
ment and started to perform even small aspects of ecosystem Oregon, demonstrates aspects of the concept. The design
functions, the causes of climate change that the built environ- team, including Mithun Architects and GreenWorks Land-
ment is responsible for would be mitigated, and at the same scape Architecture Consultants, investigated how the sites
time the built environment would become more adaptable to original ecosystem functioned before development in order
climate change. Such ideas are discussed in part by propon- to determine appropriate goals for the ecological perform-
ents of eco-effectiveness (McDonough and Braungart, 2002) ance of the development over a 50-year time period. The
and regenerative design (Reed, 2007). The difference here, stated goals of the project included preserving urban
however, is that measurable targets, such as emissions density, achieving carbon balance, achieving a water
levels, carbon storage, water catchment, energy production neutral development, and living within the sites solar
and resource production, are determined through an under- budget in terms of energy production and use. The ecosys-
standing of suitable ecosystems or the pre-development eco- tem analysis proved it was possible to meet such goals at
system of the site, and thus are based on ecological reality that location and also provided a successful example to
rather than human political needs or trends. emulate in achieving them. Projected benefits include


180 Pedersen Zari

Table 3 | Ecosystem functions for the built environment to mimic

Ecosystem functions for the built environment to mimic Existing related design Climate change
techniques/technologies implications
1. Provisioning services: Development should provide Green roofs; vertical farms; More self-reliant and
food, materials, fuel/ food, raw materials for future design for deconstruction, therefore robust urban
energy, fresh water developments and fuel. Fresh recycling and reuse; environments in the face of
water should be collected renewable energy change. Reduced transport-
and distributed generation; active solar and
design; rain water collection; energy-generation-related
grey/black water recycling GHG emissions
2. Regulating services: Development should Storage of carbon in building Reduced rate of global
(shorter time scale) climate contribute to regulating structure; green roofs; urban warming. Safer and healthier
regulation, prevention of climate where possible by forests; porous paving built environment. More
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disturbance and sequestering carbon; surfaces; general healthy communities and

moderation of extremes, providing protection from engineering; living machines; ecosystems can adjust to
purification decreased ozone and phyto-remediation and change more easily. Healthy
remediating the heat island bio-remediation; filtration ecosystems may be better
effect. Development should techniques able to continue to provide
prevent disturbance and services to humans
moderate extremes such as
wind/wave forces, erosion
and floods/droughts for
surrounding ecosystems.
Water/air/soil should be
purified before return to
non-human ecosystems
3. Supporting services: Development should actively Black/grey water recycling; Healthy soil means greater
(longer time scale) soil contribute to soil formation composting techniques; potential for healthy biomass
formation, retention and and the renewal of fertility. cradle-to-cradle design; and food production and
cycling of nutrients, Nutrients (materials) should recycling and reuse therefore human health and
provision of habitat be biodegraded or recycled techniques; wildlife corridors; resilience. Reduced need for
and retained in the system. green belts; urban mining/growing/production/
Habitat for non-human permaculture transport of materials and
species should be planned energy leading to reduction
for in GHG emissions, waste
and ecosystem disturbance.
biodiversity may have links
to increased ecosystem
resilience, and allow for
better adaptation to climate

increased local biodiversity, reduction of the heat island architecture or urban design, and biology or ecology would
effect, reduced demand for new potable and waste water also be required. Challenges with such an approach include
systems, increased quality of public infrastructure, and the current competitive economic context of the built
increased local renewable energy generation including environment in many places in the world, as discussed by
10mW of photovoltaic and 1.4mW of wind turbine capacity, Hunt (2004). Encouraging greater interdependence and the
making it a net energy producer (Portland Development sharing or exchange of resources or knowledge between
Commission, 2004). buildings or neighbourhoods requires, for example, a differ-
That a greater understanding of ecology and systems ent economic, legal and attitudinal framework. Because this
design is required on the part of design teams is implicit approach requires communities to become interdependent
with such an approach. Increased collaboration between systems, coordination and cooperation from land owners
fields that traditionally seldom work together such as and authorities are needed to enable progress at a large


Biomimetic design for climate change adaptation and mitigation 181

scale. The built environment varies greatly between different

climatic, economic and cultural contexts, and systems that
are appropriate to specific places will therefore also vary
greatly. Although each differing geographic region will
have to evolve its own unique system over time, knowledge
of how to create or evolve such systems can be transferred.
Although there are some drawbacks to a whole-system
adaptation of the built environment, it is a suitable solution
for a longer-term response to climate change impacts,
because it addresses many of the underlying issues with Figure 1 | Time line of biomimicry approaches to address cli-
current urban environments that are in need of re-evaluation mate change
(Grimm et al., 2008; Wahl and Baxter, 2008). The difference
can be likened to a long-term treatment of the underlying
cause of an illness in an individual rather than a short-term
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Pedersen Zari, 2009). In terms of economic benefits, there is

treatment of symptoms, which may in fact aggravate the ample evidence of sustainable buildings demanding premiums
underlying condition. In this case, the condition is the fact over conventional ones (Fullbrook et al., 2006). As GHG
that the majority of human urban settlements are dependent emissions are increasingly being regulated, buildings that do
on fossil fuels to heat, feed and transport people in a linear not meet legal or performance expectations may be more dif-
system, which creates pollution leading in part to climate ficult to sell, lease or insure and may have higher financial life-
change. This system also causes the degradation of water- cycle costs. If buildings do become capable of providing
ways, air quality, soil and human health and at the same ecosystem services, this may in turn become an additional
time consumes non-renewable resources in such a way that revenue stream for owners or tenants. Links with increased
they cannot be reused. A whole-system approach to the human productivity in commercial buildings and educational
built environment acknowledges that human developments institutions that demonstrate aspects of bio-inspired design
and therefore humans are not in any way separate from the have also been documented, providing further economic
ecosystems they exist in. benefits of biomimetic design (Heerwagen et al., 1998).


TO ARCHITECTURE OVER TIME The built environment is increasingly held accountable for
As demonstrated by the aforementioned examples, different global environmental problems, with vast proportions of
kinds of biomimicry form various short-, medium- and long- waste, material and energy use, and GHG emissions attribu-
term responses to climate change, some of which are more ted to the habitats humans have created for themselves. It is
effective than others. While existing technologies and tech- becoming clear that substantial changes must be made in
niques will be crucial in the short and medium term, biomi- how the built environment is created, inhabited and main-
metic approaches could form an important part of long-term tained in order to avoid further damage to climate and ecosys-
solutions to climate change. This is particularly relevant in tems. Long-term responses to adapting the built environment
the development of technology to replace the use of fossil to the impacts of climate change are urgently needed.
fuels, in the development of technologies to address direct Mimicking living organisms, as well as the complex inter-
climate change impacts on the built environment and in the actions between them that make up ecosystems, is both a
systemic improvement of the built environment using eco- readily available example for humans to learn from, and is a
system biomimicry (Figure 1). This goes beyond encour- source of inspiration for creating future built environments
aging an understanding of ecological process over time, as that may be able to integrate with ecosystems in a mutually
is increasingly advocated in new publications and in edu- beneficial way. Such positive integration with ecosystems
cational institutions. It is instead the thorough integration leading to a regenerative rather than a damaging effect on
of ecological knowledge in architecture to fundamentally them will contribute to maintaining biodiversity and the eco-
alter how buildings function in relation to ecosystems and system services that humans are dependent on for survival,
to each other. Buildings are expected to become filters, particularly as climate change continues.
cleaners and providers rather than remain unresponsive and The ideas posited in this article demonstrate that the great-
ultimately agents of ecosystem degeneration. est potential of biomimicry to assist in the mitigation of
In addition to a reduced or negative carbon footprint for the anthropogenic GHG emissions and to adapt to climate
built environment, other significant social and economic change impacts is in the mimicry of ecosystems. This is
benefits of biomimicry exist. Several authors investigate the also the least explored aspect of biomimicry in built form.
relationship between bio-inspired design and improved By devising principles for the application of ecosystem bio-
psychological and physical health (Kellert et al., 2008; mimicry to the built environment, it is anticipated that


182 Pedersen Zari

designers can begin to understand how to utilize ecology necessarily, but by the adoption of new mindsets and goals
knowledge beyond the level of metaphor. It has also been for how built environments can and should function. Ecosys-
demonstrated that ecosystem biomimicry is a way of tem biomimicry provides just such goals as well as methods
giving order and coherence to the myriad of methods used that are grounded in the physical ecological reality of the
in the creation of sustainable architecture. The change planet and are proven to be achievable. In that regard,
needed will not come about through new technologies there is a whole living world to examine as proof.

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