Velcro was invented based on the way burrs interlock with clothing fibres to achieve their tenacious cling. A Zimbabwe office and shopping centre designed its natural ventilation system to emulate the airflow through a termite mound. And floating islands built entirely of recycled plastic bottles imitate the filtering and buffering effects of wetlands in the bodies of water where they’re placed.
Biomimicry is the term for these kinds of nature-influenced design, and the field has grown markedly in the past decade. More than biomorphism, where designs simply reflect natural aesthetics, biomimicry takes structural and performance lessons from nature to create better versions of things we already have – or to create entirely new solutions for everyday life.
The examples of these solutions in product design and development is dizzying – and fun. Nissan has explored “swarming” cars that utilize algorithms similar to those used by massive schools of fish to move swiftly while avoiding collision. Engineers study the wings of butterflies for clues.