Nature has always been a source of inspiration for humans. Long before the term "biomimetics" was coined, we had invented aircraft, submarines, and radar systems by observing birds in flight, fluid dynamics of swimming fish and echoes of bats. There are also ample architectural masters in nature that offer us a diverse range of innovative ideas even today.
Home of paper-making wasps
We are familiar with the hexagonal honeycombs made out of beeswax. There are several wasp species from the Vespidae family, collectively known as paper wasps, that construct "paper nests". The wasp queen, who is responsible for making the nest, masticates wood and plant fibres, and mixes them with saliva and water to form pliable pulp as the building material. The queen strengthens the paper nest by secreting a kind of protein to make it water-proof. The "paper-making" technology of wasps led to advances in paper-making in 18th century Europe.
The Exceptional Spider Net
Spider webs may seem spooky, but they are not so in the eyes of engineers and researchers. A three-dimensional web is woven with elastic, strong silk produced from the spinnerets at the tail of the spider. Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, noticed that the overall structure of the web, in combination with the strength of the material, allows damage to the web to be limited to a small area, and be repaired without affecting the function of the whole web. The resilient design can be applied in different fields such as material science, architecture and civil engineering, and perhaps more importantly in information technology, where virus spread can be localised and controlled in a networked system.
Barrier-free Beaver Dam
Beavers are renowned as nature's engineers. Castor canadensis and Castor fiber, the two beaver species, make use of wood, mud and rocks to build dams across rivers, creating deep water ponds for them to build nests and forage. Unlike man-made dams that block migratory fish, beaver dams are passible for trout and salmon. This has inspired some American engineers to design a series of smaller dams in place of a single large dam for building reservoir or hydropower to protect migratory fish.
Termite's Giant Eco-Building
If there were a Grand Architecture Award in the animal kingdom, the prize would go to termite mounds! Many tropical termite species, themselves tiny, can build a mound over 10 metres in height. A termite mound is not only giant but also a complicated structure, with an extensive system of inner tunnels and conduits. Perhaps more surprisingly, the termite colony does not live in the mound. The mound is only the ventilation and temperature regulating system of the real subterranean home, which sits underneath the mound. We have indeed learned a lot from the delicate, ecologically sound and energy saving design of the little creatures.
文 | Elaine Yuen