Applying Properties of Animals Skins to Inspire Architectural Envelopes
Biology influences design projects in many ways; the related discipline is known as biomimetics or biomimicry. Using the animal kingdom as a source of inspiration, Ilaria Mazzoleni seeks to instill a shift in thinking about the application of biological principles to design and architecture. She focuses on the analysis of how organisms have adapted to different environments and translates the learned principles into the built environment. To illustrate the methodology, Mazzoleni draws inspiration from the diversity of animal coverings, referred to broadly as skin, and applies them to the design of building envelopes through a series of twelve case studies.
Skin is a complex organ that performs a multitude of functions; namely, it serves as a link between the body and the environment. Similarly, building envelopes act as interfaces between their inhabitants and external elements. The resulting architectural designs illustrate an integrative methodology that allows architecture to follow nature.
"Ilaria Mazzoleni, in collaboration with biologist Shauna Price, has developed a profound methodology for architectural and design incentives that anticipates and proposes novel ways to explore undiscovered biological inspirations for various audiences."
Table of Contents
How Nature Inspires Architecture
How Biology Informs Architecture
Lessons Learned: Biology to the Built Environment
Urania moth (Chrysiridia rhipheus)
Violet-tailed sylph (Aglaiocerus coelestis)
Lettuce sea slug (Elysia crispata)
Side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana)
Snow leopard (Panthera uncia)
Polar bear (Ursus maritimus)
Banana slug (Ariolimax columbianus)
Dyeing dart frog (Dendrobates tinctorius)
Ochre sea star (Pisaster ochraceus)
Namib Desert beetles (Onymacris unguicularis, Physasterna cribripes)
Tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis)
Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)
Ilaria Mazzoleni is an architect and the founder of IM Studio Milano/Los Angeles. Her conceptual work has been published globally, and her built work can be found in Italy, California, and Ghana. Ilaria has gained attention in the fields of sustainable architecture and biomimicry. This has led to her being invited to participate in multiple international conferences and workshops and her written contributions are published in several international architectural magazines. Since 2005 she has been a full-time faculty member at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in Los Angeles. Her professional and academic investigation relates to sustainable architecture on all scales of design with a research focus on biomimicry, where innovation in architecture and design is inspired by the processes and functions of nature.
Collaborating with biologists and other scientists from top research institutions, her projects explore the connections between biotic and abiotic elements within eco-systems in order to develop sustainable urban planning strategies and address solutions to global climate change. An ongoing research program has centered on understanding how organisms have evolved and adapted to their environment, and applying that knowledge to design building façades. The conceptual implications arising from biomimetics and design have led to a body of work that investigates innovative material processes, forms, geometries and structural patterns.
Shauna Price is an evolutionary biologist focusing on speciation in neotropical insects. Her research examines the historical and ecological factors contributing to the high species diversity found in ants with the use of genetic tools, geological data, and morphological analyses. In addition to conducting research, Shauna has collaborated with Ilaria Mazzoleni and IM Studio MI/LA on multiple bio-inspired design projects. She contributes a strong background in ecology and evolution to these studies, with the perspective that inspiration in architecture and design can stem from organisms as small as microbes to broad ecosystem scales. In particular, symbiotic relationships—close, ongoing associations that have co-evolved between different species—inform her perspective in merging biology with design.
"…This is an informative read that inspires me and opens new worlds to elementary school kids I teach on-trail throughout Los Angeles. We're rediscovering the cheapest tech and best filter designed long before we arrived. With California in severe drought, Mazzoleni’s water-capture designs offer ideas for lasting solutions."
—Mahgum Asgarian, Environmental Instructor, Los Angeles, California, USA
"The main strength of this book is its selection of a relatively narrow range of biological function—the outer covering—which allows a relatively detailed account of the important factors in both biology and architecture. This allows the author to reject, with good arguments, the myths which litter biomimicry. This gives the book high credibility, which is unusual in this topic area. ... This book is an interesting combination of textbook and inspiration and can be read as either. The introduction is very wide ranging, establishing the need for sympathetic architecture with the argument that biomimicry provides a good chance to achieve such a goal. But how can the application of biological paradigms help us to repair our planet? Mazzoleni's answer is skin - the interfacial layer between structures and the world. It's across this membrane, hard or soft in different animals, that we and our buildings have the chance to control and, we hope, ameliorate our influence."
—Julian Vincent, Swedish Biomimetics 3000, UK
"A positive addition to the literature relating biology’s influence on architectural design. It provides a bridge between the worlds of science and design, perhaps providing groundwork for a more holistic way to move forward."
—Susannah Dickinson, Assistant Professor, University of Arizona, USA
"The book is certainly a valuable introduction to the application of biomimetic principles in building design."
—Thomas Auer, Transsolar, Germany
"The long-gone Japanese Metabolists, and many more after them adopted an organic jargon of nature to address climatic, static and expressive problems. But now that the "envelope" prevails over type in architecture and other things, it has become necessary to search for languages that are careful to optimise the thermal, technical, protective and lighting specifications of this new world of ours, made of free and wavy surfaces. We can thus consider biomimetic principles developed by studying the skins of certain animals and insects that manage to survive in extreme conditions (hot and freezing), and then transfer the characteristics of the perfect covering of these admirable animals to the skins of buildings, their lighting systems, thermal resistence, ventilation and energy performance. This is the theory explored by Ilaria Mazzoleni, a teacher at SCI-Arc (Los Angeles), with her students via extensive scientific and theoretical arguments, a beautifully drawn bestiary and examples of architectural applications."
––Allessandro Mendini, DOMUS Magazine
"Mazzoleni describes many ways that biology and the process of evolution specifically can be used to inspire better design in overview of environmental and biological systems and processes that provide an elegant supplement to what many will have forgotten from high school. Overall the book is a wonderful first step and one that biologists, architects and the public at large are going to learn something from. It is both practical and optimistic, very well researched and conceived…"
––Claire Saeki, RFP Magazine