Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Gardner of the World

  Great is the sun, and wide he goes
Through heaven with repose;
And in the blue and glowing days
More thick than rain he showers his rays.

Meantime his golden face around
He bares to all the garden ground,
And sheds a warm and glittering look
Among the flowers inmost nook.

(modified from "Summer Sun" by Robert Louis Stevenson)

75 and S U N N Y on this twenty-seventh day of April.  I cannot believe it is the fifth week of observations and the last week of class.  As I look back, I see how I have grown to become more passionate about all nature has to offer.  I have always been intrigued and looked closely at the surface of nature (and organisms) but today I find myself wanting to know “how it works” (referring to nature)!  I utilize AskNature everyday and am extremely interested in biology!

This observation assignment has taught me to relax a bit, enjoy soaking everything in, and also the value of reflection.  Everyone needs that time in his or her day/week to just relax.  And... what a better way to due so then in nature...God’s beautiful creation!

It is so amazing to me to see how self-sustaining nature really is! Everything is for a purpose, the beautiful cycles and networks implemented in nature are amazing to me.  It is really a pleasure to learn the sustainable principles directly from nature and from this I see how my designs and teachings have become that much more sustainable.

These past Wednesday mornings have been an wonderful time of reflection. I feel that in order to learn from nature, one must constantly be in nature.  But also believe that the more people learn from nature’s mentors, the more they’ll want to protect them!

Five weeks ago on that Wednesday morning, when I first started my nature observation it was windy but beautiful.  As the weeks passed, the seasons have certianly changed.  We are now encroaching summer.  The temperatures have warmed, the winds died down, and the flowers are blooming. The colors are more vibrant and the landscape is thicker and fuller than ever. 

Below I have showcased a variety of blooms I photographed on my way to my observation location today. I thought it would be fun to paint my interpretation of the flowers along side to capture their mood. Sooooo, I leave you with these ... 

In this new season, there is change, and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.
Have a wonderful day everyone!

Friday, April 22, 2011

"...where the rubber meets the sustainability road..."

“EVALUATION is the final phase of the spiral and, arguably, the most important phase.  This is where the rubber meets the sustainability road, so to speak…”
(Excerpt taken from MCAD, Biomimicry for Designers, Week 4: Lesson 3)

This week, I took the challenge to evaluate a proposed biomimetic design using the “Life's Principles”. Below you will see a great diagram explaining the Life’s Principles.  It was created by Jessica Jones of the Biomimicry Guild:

The design I choose to evaluate was “Hercu-Crete”. The image below explains the product concept:

While evaluating this design I asked myself:
1. How does the design idea compare to Life’s Principles?
2. How might I identify novel ways to improve the designs by incorporating Life's Principles?
3. Where can I observe Life's Principles being carried out by natural models? 
4. How can I use Life's Principles to generate innovative design ideas?

As I began to evaluate the above design according to the top six Life’s Principles the first principle I tackled was about being “locally tuned and responsive”.  I feel the product above posses traits that help tune in to local conditions and respond to relevant changes (Eg. As the daily, weekly, seasonal weather changes the Hercu-Crete also changes).

This idea really uses shape and material (Eg. Layering) thus a high response level to environmental information it receives.  Another positive to this product could be the material in which it is made, the above image and explanation did not state specific materials used to compound the layer, but  it could certainly be developed from local and abundant materials!  The other benefit is that this a.k.a. “humidity sensor” would not need electricity to run, as it is triggered by weather.

The second area I evaluated the design was it’s “cyclic process”.  Nature is full of cyclic processes that allow it to establish feedback loops, regulate titers of specific chemicals and rebuild or retool itself.  This product is one that certainly changes over time and in a way resets itself as the environment changes. As I think further about the design, I would definitely try to build this product with recycled materials and if and when the building was torn down I would think of a way to reuse the material; by doing this there will be waste reduction.

The third area I evaluated the above design was, “resilience”. This evaluation comes with a variety of questions: Can it withstand disturbance while maintaining function? Does it heal after disturbance? Does it incorporate diversity by design? Does it incorporate redundancy by design?  Are information and resources decentralized and distributed? Are there opportunities for cross-pollination and mutation? Are mistakes encouraged for continual idea generation? Can it co-evolve with other parts of the system? Does it increase the rate of adaptation?. 

More details would need to be developed to the above design to evaluate it’s “resilience” properly, but by possibly including a layer over concrete or applied to existing concrete (with this same idea of color changing) rather than an entire foundation structured on  these color changing properties, the design would allow for those “just incase it breaks” instances.  If one area would fail or work poorly, it could be replaced, or some other area can step in to compensate, either briefly or for the long term. By building as an applied or layer over existing concrete you would reducing the need for an entire new foundation and still keep those cracks and leaks away…all and all solving major homeowner issues!

The fourth area, “does the design optimize rather than maximize?” was evaluated and with the proposed idea above (possibly including a layer over concrete or applied to existing concrete (with this same idea of color changing)rather than the entire concrete foundation ) the design can be disassembled, reused, and reconfigured thus optimizing rather than maximizing!

The fifth evaluation came as I looked at the products, “benign materials and manufacturing”.  One great biological example of this principle comes as we see Mollusks make colorful, ornate and incredibly strong shells at ambient temperatures using simple, biologically friendly building blocks such as protein and calcium carbonate.  The product showcased above did not specifically mention specific products used to make but what if the materials used in the layering were all natural…possibly three-dimensional crystal like structures? Thus requiring natural fabrication methods at natural temperatures and pressures.

The sixth and final Life’s Principle used to evaluate was, “does the design leverage its interdependence in the system?”.  The system here being the housing structure and its accompanying parts. Again, the above design needs to be further detailed but if it cooperated with other parts of the overall building system to make the most of what is available would be the best bet! With this, the optimal way this product would work would be to create opportunities (niches) for more life.  I was talking with Cindy Gilbert, MCAD, “Biomimicry for Designers” Instructor and she thought, “what if the product idea was turned on its head and the warning was if a system became to dry (like plant pots) or a way to monitor humidity in the home, etc.” Now that would be how the product could foster an integral relationship!

After evaluating the above design I see how it takes the biomimicry design principles beyond form and into process. Based on this evaluation there are many areas for improvement and refinement in the design, but it is a solid start! It would be interesting to continue onto a second “spin” according to above “Design Spiral” to see where this design could go and thus a second evaluation would occur.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Today as I was settling into my observation location, and just as I almost sat on the ground, there they were….FIRE ANTS ! ! !

Initially, I wanted to move locations, but then I began to think about this weeks observation topic “life’s principles”, and realized that in order to capture the innovation inspired by nature and the sustainability aspects inherent in natural designs I must understand the principles and strategies that ALL OF NATURE (including fire ants) uses to sustain life on Earth.  With this, I stayed and observed the fire ants at work.

I had seen ants burrow and work in the past, but as I refined my observation I saw something I had never send before…an ant carrying another ant. Was it a result of a battle? Was it sympathy? What was going on? I don’t know, but below I captured what I saw.

***Note: It is here, in this moment, I wish I had one of those professional cameras to capture the finest details nature has to offer.

Upon further research(after I returned home) I found out when fire ants die, “worker ants” remove the bodies and body parts from nests. Nest hygiene is a key to disease prevention in social insects such as bees and ants. Trash piles, called middens, accumulate in underground chambers during weather that inhibits above-ground activity, and are then moved to the surface after spring and summer rains when ants rebuild galleries and clean house.

The more I researched these fire ants, the more I found.  The bodies of fire ants are divided into three sections: the head, the thorax, and the abdomen, with three pairs of legs and a pair of antennae. Fire ants can be distinguished from other ants by their copper brown head and body with a darker abdomen.  I learned fire ant colonies produces large mounds in open areas.  The red imported fire ant builds mounds in almost any type of soil, but prefers open, sunny areas such as pastures, parks, lawns, meadows and cultivated fields(exactly where I was today!).  They feed mostly on young plants, seeds, and sometimes crickets. Unlike many other ants, which bite and then spray acid on the wound, fire ants only bite to get a grip and then sting (from the abdomen) and inject a toxic alkaloid venom (piperidine). This is a painful sting for humans and the aftereffects of the sting can be deadly to sensitive individuals. Fire ants often attack small animals and can kill them. When these ants invade an area, they do it with a vengeance; you will see them in enormous numbers.
I also learned that the violent death of a   will emit an alarm pheromone that in high concentration sends other fire ants in the vicinity into attack frenzy, but in lower amounts, attracts them. A few fire ants use what is referred to as propaganda pheromones to confuse their enemies. 

Soo interesting!

My second stop was to  Here I found how these ants adhere to “Life’s Principle’s”.  Life’s Principles are strategies that living things use in order to survive in balance with their surroundings. They are fundamental to the persistence of life on this planet. Life’s Principles are organized around two main themes: 1) Life adapts and evolves, and 2) life creates conditions conducive to life.

Below, I have listed the top six Life's Principles: 

Life creates conditions conducive to life
1. Optimizing Rather than Maximizing
2. Leveraging Interdependence
3. Benign Manufacturing

Life adapts and evolves
4. Locally Attuned and Responsive
5. Integrates Cyclic Processes
6. Resilient

Fire ants are wonderful organisms and many of Life’s Principle’s can be found in there lifestyle. Below I have listed examples: 

*Ants move efficiently in large numbers by maintaining three lanes of traffic; two outer lanes travel opposite the inner lane and are governed by behavioral differences related to possession of food. Thus by forming three lanes of traffic during hunting expeditions, ants come close to achieving the maximum possible rate of traffic flow. Ants returning from a successful hunt are less likely to deviate when bumped. Weighed down by their prize, they simply continue to march in a line, guided by the pheromone trail of the ants in front of them. Ants traveling away from the nest carry no food, and are more likely to get out of the way. The result is a middle lane of food-toting ants moving in one direction, and two outer lanes of unburdened ants moving in the opposite direction.

*Colonies of fire ants survive floods by forming a raft using collective hydrophobicity. "Superhydrophobic surfaces do not necessarily need to be a layer of a single materials. By massing together, some ants effectively form a superhydrophobic raft." (Nature's Raincoats 2009).  “’Fire ants do form these living rafts of ants, when they get flooded,' [Goodisman] explains. 'They basically float on their young and they'll cannibalize each other to some extent until they hit land. Ants die but the colony survives, that's what it is all about. The colony survives, the queen survives.'"

*Colonies of social insects such as ants function efficiently because swarms are flexible (the colony can adapt to a changing environment), robust(even when one or more individuals fail, the group can still perform its tasks);, and self-organize(activities are neither centrally controlled nor locally supervised).  If you think about business executives and how they relate readily to the first two attributes, but they often balk at the third, which is perhaps the most intriguing.

* Air scoops on the sides of ants cool them through evaporation. Another reason ants succeed so well is that they're superb lawn-traversing machines. When this first one backs away from the shadow of the giant human and reenters the main part of the sunny, hot lawn, little air-scoops on its side automatically switch on. A mist of cooling water vapor puffs upward from them. That keeps the ant's temperature down, but it could also mean that the ant's nitrogen--the equivalent of our urine substances--would become over concentrated." This can be very useful when trying to self-cool buildings, machines, and heavy equipment tires.

*The bodies of some ants enable them to glide and steer through the air when falling thanks to long, flattened legs and flanged heads that may act as a rudder.

This list goes on and on. I find it so amazing to see how these tiny fire ants actually exhibit Life's Principles in so many ways. If you want more info check out AskNature.  

Thanks for visiting my blog post this week!

Friday, April 15, 2011


What is this?
What you see above is
Slime mold”.  This common name refers to part of some of these organisms' life cycles where they can appear as gelatinous "slime".

There are three main types of “Slime molds”.  What these three groups have in common is a life cycle that superficially resembles that of the fungi. However, slime "molds" are now known to be quite unrelated to the fungi.

Did you know, ”Slime molds” were once considered to be animals due to their creeping phase. However,  DeBary, one of the founders of mycology, called them Mycetozoa, from the Greek words myketes (fungi), and zoon (animals).

Also, “Slime molds” have been classified in a major group called the eukarya (or eukaryotes), which includes plants and animals.

What do they look like?
As seen above slime mold have many shapes and textures. The most common forms resemble small purple or black ball attached to a blade of grass and the really noticeable creamy-white, yellow-orange, purple, or gray jelly-like mass situated on the lawn. The colonies of slime mold living on logs and bark mulch can be strikingly colorful in yellow, orange or red.

Where do they live?
The slime molds live in cool, shady, moist places on decaying wood, leaves or other organic matter retaining abundant moisture. Bark mulch in a flower garden or shrub bed certainly fits that description. The same type of organism is often seen in the woods on decaying logs. Over 700 species are reported as existing.
However Slime mold can attach and live on anything!  
What is a typical Slime mold life cycle?
The molds form spores, the spores spread (upon the release of a chemical signal), the spores turn into amoebas and then they become slime and spread more!

Check this video out: 

You have just witnessed "Slime mold" in full effect!!!  
....ewa GROSS, but sorta COOL, right?!?!

What do they eat?
Slime molds feed on decaying organic matter, bacteria, protozoa, and other minute organism which it engulfs and digests. In rare instances the slime molds have been known to creep over ornamental plants, causing suffocation.

“Slime molds” loooooove OAT FLAKES!!!
The "Slime Mold" Case Study
I heard about this a year ago when I attended UC-Berkley CED(College of Environmental Designs) 50th Anniversary Lecture Series.  Janine Benyus was speaking one evening and as she discussed the many ways in which nature seals leaks, stores energy, repeals bacteria, quiets noises, and insulate t h e n she began talking about… slime mold!

This seemingly gross organism has a lot we can learn from! A Japan-based research team found that if they placed bits of food (oat flakes) in the same location as 36 outlying cities around Tokyo, the mold communicated and grew! This growth and spreading created a network connecting the food sources that looked rather similar to the existing Tokyo rail system and it only took the mold 26 hours to develop!

In fact, the researchers wrote that this slimy single-celled amoeboid (a.k.a. Slime mold) can, “find the shortest path through a maze or connect different arrays of food sources in an efficient manner with low total length yet short average minimum distances between pairs of food sources, with a high degree of fault tolerance to accidental disconnection” AND all without the benefit of “centralized control or explicit global information”. In other words, slime mold can build highly efficient connective networks without the help of an urban planning board.

Below I have clipped some progress shots from the 26 hour experiment:

WOW, this "slime formula" could really help engineers, urban planners, architects and designers alike develop better, more efficient designs, with energy efficient transportation and better communication and circulation networks.  For more information head here, to AskNAture.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

EVERY ROSE HAS ITS' THORN ...but wait... so do palm trees, wild bushes, pine trees, and grasshoppers!!!

This week I set out to my observation location and relaxed, soaked in nature, and observed for an hour or so.  I had some really great observations from my still location, however, on the way back I walked through my neighborhood and saw all these wonderful roses at full bloom! So of course, “I stopped to smell the roses”. 

While I was smelling (a.k.a. observing)  I examined their vibrant colors, the petal synchronization, the stems, and growth patterns. 

It was here the I began to notice other things ------> BIG THORNS!

I thought my observation time was over when I was finished “smelling the roses” but as I made my way back to my house I observed that …

… palm trees had thorns (saw-like teeth) !

… … wild bushes along the sidewalk had thorns (prickles) !

… … …pine trees have similar thorns (needles) growing outward !

… … … … even grasshoppers have thorns (spikes) along their back extension parts !

So as I tackled the “function of nature” this week my understanding is that the all these thorns, prickles and spines are a means for protection (a defense mechanism) to the plant or organism.  I guess we can look to thorns as our natural barbwire! We could use plants with thorns as a security blanket around our homes to keep others out OR around fences that house chickens(other animals) to keep predators away. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Nature: Builder, Organizer, Recycler, and Re-Creator

Get your magnifying glass out and inspect the ground you walk.
Lay on that grass and look to the big blue sky.
Crawl through the garden and stop to smell the flower.
Sit with your back nestled against a tree trunk and look directly up through the sprawling branches.
Climb to the top of the tree and look to the mountains, watch the birds soar overhead.
. . .
What great truths are we missing? 
What can we see if we look with new eyes?

     View the small details, the proportionate pieces, the vast panorama, look at the process, the structure, and understand the natural systems. To see all life has to offer, to see all life has in common, to see life as a whole, we need to shift our views.  In the book, “The Way Life Works: The Science Lover's Illustrated Guide to How Life Grows, Develops, Reproduces, and Gets Along” by, Mahlon Hoagland and  Bert Dodson you can read about sixteen patterns very commonly seen in nature.

     Today I will discuss one of the sixteen patterns: “how life works in cycles”.  Below you will see how I have taken the notion that “life works in cycles” and re-designed an 11 week college level interior design studio.   

     Interior design studios 11 weeks long are based on the quarter system (with four quarters a year).  Through the 11 weeks a "typical" interior design studio slowly proceeds through the “interior design process”: programming, schematics, design development, construction documentation (*see image below showing the design process unfolded).  There is a "typical" midterm presentation at week 6 and a "typical" final presentation at week 11…the “oh-so-typical” cumulative quarter.


     I have seen how nature works and decided to look to nature as my mentor and developed a new interior design studio.  Instead of working linearly for 11 weeks, I will work in a spiral shape which coincides with the notion that, “life works in cycles”.  


     Using this natural pattern will improve the course structure and student learning.  Typically students learn one new items each week and with 11 new items being thrown at them, by week 11 they forget what they learned in week 1!  Through the use of nature’s cyclic behavior the course content will be touched upon multiple times allowing the students multiple encounters with the same material.  With each spin they will deepen their knowledge as well as their project development.  Also, if students do not understand a concept the first time they are introduced to it, then on their next cycle (or spin) they will have a chance to better understand.  


     I have discovered that the patterns occurring in nature are useful when it comes to designing sustainably.  Knowing this, I expect the students in this 11 week interior design studio to design more sustainable on every level from programming to construction documentation.  The spiral and the cyclic behavior of nature implemented in this new class design will allow the students multiple attempts to think about sustainability on new levels at each level

What do you think?  

 I welcome your feedback!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Pattern Lens

N  A  T  U  R  E

wonderfully designed repetition...
 …over and over and over again!

Shhhhhhhhhhhhh listen ... ... ...

(tweet, tweet, tweet, whistle, whistle, whistle, chirp, chirp, chirp,
tweet... whistle... chirp...)

... ... ...did you find the pattern of distinguished bird chirps?

This week I focused on nature observation through the “pattern lens”. It was about 12:30pm on Wednesday April 6th, 2011 when I headed to my observation location.  The weather was overcast and the temperature was 68 degree.

I was able to find examples of branching (fractal) patterns.  The branching of veins in our arms is the same forked or splitting pattern ("fractal") seen in leaves and trees and it is the same pattern we observe in tributaries of rivers. Below, you will find the examples I captured of fractal patterning:

-Tree Roots
-Tree Branches
-Plants growing along the ground
-Tumble Weed

This investigation lead me to study individual leaves.  Below, I have provided you images of the fractal/branching/veining found on a variety of leaves within my observation location. It is so interesting to see the variety of leaf shapes, sizes and colors with such a similar pattern instilled.

The above images serve as the perfect example to how nature "transcends scale". Meaning, what works at the cellular level (micro scale) works at the macro scale and even systems scale.

H O W      A M A Z I N G      I S      N A T U R E     !!!
I was also able to find examples of a spiral patterns. Below you will see what I found today:

-Snail Shell
-The Center of a Sunflower

Other recognizable patterns I noticed were the drooping effect to which things grow as well as the pointing effect to which things grow. Below you can see how I documented those patterns, again transcending scale (from a small plant to a large tree)!

As I was observing I was also able to understand how abiotic (non-living –such as air, water, etc.) conditions create patterns. I saw many trees bent to the southwest (roots slowly pulling out of the ground) telling me those winds flow north to south/west off the mountains each day.

What a great day of natural pattern discovery. I sure hope you enjoyed my discoveries!

...until next time