Friday, July 25, 2008

Biomimicry And The Art of Nature

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Unless you've been living in a fall-out shelter, you may have noticed that change is in the air. The economy is down, gas prices are up, and the whole world has gone online. At the same time technology (and oil) has reached an all-time high, it seems that nearly everyone is going back to nature. A strange juxtaposition indeed.

But green is in vogue right now, and even in the design world, all things natural are sprouting like weeds. Here at Carpetology, we're especially intrigued by the concept of Biomimicry.

"Bio-what-ery?" you ask, incredulously.

"Biomimicry (from "bios," meaning life, and "mimesis," meaning "to imitate") is a design principle that seeks sustainable solutions to human problems by consulting and emulating nature's time-tested patterns and strategies." This is according to volume 2, issue 4 of Implications, a newsletter produced by InformeDesign (a searchable online database of research-based design information for design practitioners, educators, students and the public.) And according to David Oakey, a designer with a penchant for sustainability, "Biomimicry is a science that studies nature’s models and then imitates or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems."

For example, he says, the composites of a stealth bomber are based on the composites of a rhino's horn, and heat-seeking missiles were developed through the study of the intelligence and sensory abilities of the viper.

Basically, biomimicry offers functional products that replicate the time-tested attributes of nature.

The concept is championed by Jeanine Benyus, the author of Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature and the founder of The Biomimicry Institute and the Biomimicry Guild. The Institute is a not-for-profit organization "whose mission is to nurture and grow a global community of people who are learning from, emulating, and conserving life's genius to create a healthier, more sustainable planet." And the Guild helps "companies and communities find, vet, understand and emulate life's time-tested strategies."

But what really connected with us here at Carpetology was the fact that InterfaceFLOR has created carpet based on the principals of biomimicry. Headquartered in Atlanta, Ga., this division of Interface Inc. looks at sustainability just as it looks at good design - imperative to its products. "Our corporate vision is to become, by 2020, the first company to show, by its deeds, the entire industrial world what sustainability is in all its dimensions - people, process, product, place and profits," says the company's website. "In doing so, we will become restorative. In other words, our intention is to put back more than we take out."

The company manufactures modular carpet tiles, which "combine a high degree of functionality with a genuine sense of style." If InterfaceFLOR carpet is ever damaged or stained, single tiles can easily be replaced, eliminating the need to replace the entire carpet.

"As a direct result of practicing biomimicry, Interface's David Oakey developed a carpet," reads Implications. "Entropy mimics the random patterns of the forest floor, yielding environmental benefits not found with other carpet tiles. Because the subtly-shaded carpet tiles blend together like leaves, there is easier matching of replacement tiles, fewer discards, easier installation, all ultimately resulting in waste reduction. In this way, biomimicry can definitely benefit facility managers and building owners."

In fact, a whole line of carpet tiles, called i2, was designed using biomimicry. They're lovely, and no matter what color you order them in, they're all green.

To check out an interview with David Oakey that explores more of his design sensibilities, visit And the next time you choose a carpet for your home or office, consider going back to nature...

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