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.

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