Art mimics life

January 9, 2017

Design Studies faculty member highlights biomimicry in his courses

What’s more sustainable than nature? Design Studies faculty member Carlos Fiorentino asks his students this question often.

The answer? Nothing.

Biomimicry is a design principle centred around the concept of design inspired by nature. It focuses on functionality, as opposed to aesthetics. Velcro, for example, was designed to mimic burrs, which cling to any soft material they come in contact with. On the other hand, a Volkswagen Beetle, which imitates the look of an insect, fails to imitate a natural function.

In design, the pursuit of projects that imitate natural processes is gaining traction, as these designs are often incredibly innovative, practical and most importantly, sustainable. Carlos integrates this concept into his courses by using earth’s oldest teacher as an assistant: mother nature.

"At the core of any natural system, what you see is the best possible solution after billions of years of trial and error," he says, highlighting how biomimicry pairs human ingenuity with the natural selection process. “If we pay attention to nature, we can learn how to do things better.”

By implementing sustainability into the design curriculum, Carlos encourages students to use biomimicry as a mentor, model and measure for the success of their designs. By linking the teachings of biomimicry with those of the broader field of sustainability, Carlos hopes to encourage his students to pursue design concepts that make the world a better place.

"It's hard to think about a future without including sustainability,” he says.

Carlos believes biomimicry is a game-changer in the design world because it promotes a deep appreciation for and connection to nature—it promotes sustainability. While the behaviour change associated with sustainability is admirable, Carlos says the word “sustainability” isn’t perfect.

“For designers, when we talk about sustainability, we're talking about change,” he explains. “It's not about a goal, per say. It's about a change in direction.”

In order to get to a point where we can live sustainably, several adjustments to the way humans behave and interact with the environment need to be made first, he says. Some of those changes can be made by going back to the basics and using nature as a teacher to inspire innovate design..

“We don't know exactly what sustainability will be,” he says, “but we are heading to a better way to do things in order to achieve that prospect."

By encouraging students to use biomimicry as a tool to promote sustainability, Carlos hopes to help move the design community in a more sustainable-minded direction.

Read more stories from the Office of Sustainability:

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