Nature has always been a boundless source of inspiration for astute artists, designers, and architects
When I venture into today’s cafes or restaurants that attempt to exhibit an overabundance of complex volumetric combinations, I often find myself not entirely at ease. The elaborate and complex designs, although visually striking, tend to overwhelm my senses, leaving me with a sense of detachment. Too much of an effort has been put in, and yet, I don’t feel content. However, a contrasting experience awaits me when I step into settings that prioritize the presence of nature. The sight of lush shrubs and trees, along with the spaciousness that envelops the environment, has a remarkably soothing effect on my mood. The emphasis on nature's elements seems to create a harmonious ambiance that resonates with my senses, making me feel more connected and content in the organic setting. Those diverse experiences, encountered while seated in various establishments that I have had the chance to visit, have left me contemplating a significant question: In light of nature's innate design prowess, why do we frequently endeavor to surpass or outdo it?
The good view is often already present. What designers and architects ought to do, I think, is just one thing: create a viewing deck. One could argue that a deck in a city might overlook asphalt and many rushing cars, but what surprises me is how often I encounter pristine natural locations where the view is given little consideration, while there's a strong emphasis on “interior design.” Alternatively, substantial amounts of money are invested in intricate volumetric alterations instead of creating a garden or a green patio.
Nature has always been a boundless source of inspiration for astute artists, designers, and architects. Its workings and aesthetics —the intricate eye-capturing patterns of flora and fauna— lie at the core of design teachings. Beneath the surface, these patterns are not just superficially pleasing; they are fundamental elements of design that hold valuable lessons for creators who observe. What design wisdom can be unraveled from the patterns that are present in nature? How does the exploration explain the process through which designers can effectively incorporate these design principles into their creative work?
Valentino Marengo, an industrial designer based in Greece, highlighted the multitude of studies that have been conducted regarding biomimicry, delving deeply into the processes and systems of the eminent designer: nature.
"By studying nature's systems," Marengo told ADF, "problems can be solved, and human innovation can be informed across various fields, including engineering, architecture, and sustainable design. These studies aim to uncover the complicated adaptations and solutions that have evolved in the natural world over millions of years, with an attempt to apply these proven principles to overcome human challenges."
"In 'Cats' Paws and Catapults,' a great book that I read," added Marengo, "the author delves into the fascinating connection between nature and human technology. The book examines how humans have drawn inspiration from nature's mechanisms, such as the intricate design of a cat's paw or the forceful efficiency of a catapult, to develop innovative technologies for warfare and beyond. This exploration highlights how nature's solutions to survival challenges have often served as a blueprint for human innovation."
"I believe that if we can examine nature more closely and understand the intricate connections within its patterns, colors, and textures,” said Goncalo Sousa Maia, an industrial designer based in Lisbon, Portugal,” we could and should gain insight into the harmony it embodies and its capacity to capture attention through the repetition of unique geometric patterns."
"When applied to design," Maia continued, "I believe it offers an excellent approach to avoid overcomplicating things and instead, focus on the fundamental aspects, such as comprehending how to blend colors and transition between different geometries. I consider nature to represent evolution perfected, containing all the answers we seek."
Symmetry, the harmonious arrangement of parts, is a universal phenomenon in the natural world. From the meticulously aligned wings of a Monarch butterfly (radial symmetry) to the captivating symmetry of flowers like the lotus flower (rotational symmetry), and the mirrored patterns on a seashell (bilateral symmetry), symmetry is a cornerstone of nature's design language. Symmetry often signifies balance, efficiency, and structural integrity.
While symmetry provides a sense of order and balance, nature displays a more nuanced —imperfectly perfect— brush. Balanced asymmetry, where elements on either side of a central axis are not identical but possess similar visual weight, imparts a sense of dynamism and movement that captures the imagination.
Asymmetric yet harmonious, the cloud formations, the tree branches, the markings on a zebra or a Leopard, some seashells, the natural landscapes, and the mountains, all demonstrate balanced asymmetry, a strategic adaptation —not a result of chaos— to environmental factors. The tree's branches grow in response to sunlight and wind direction, optimizing its chances of survival and growth. This balanced asymmetry lends the tree a sense of authenticity, reminding us that perfection does not always reside in uniformity. The coastline, shaped by the relentless forces of wind and water, offers another illustration of balanced asymmetry. The irregular curves of bays and inlets create a dynamic rhythm that defies strict symmetry. This seemingly chaotic arrangement is, in fact, a product of intricate natural processes, resulting in a captivating landscape that continually evolves over time.
Plunging deeper into natural design, we encounter fractals—infinitely complex patterns that reveal elaborate details at every level of magnification, in a mysterious attempt to stay alive to the eye and beyond, while remaining vast and boundless: the branching structure of trees, the contours of mountain ranges, and even the delicate veins of a leaf all embody the appeal of fractals.
The Romanesco broccoli is a remarkable example of a naturally occurring fractal. Its florets form a self-replicating pattern, with each bud resembling a miniature version of the whole. This inborn fractal geometry is not just visually captivating, but also serves a purpose. The fractal structure optimizes the surface area for nutrient absorption and provides structural stability to the plant. Snowflakes also exhibit a unique, intricate pattern, yet all are based on the same underlying fractal geometry. This phenomenon, driven by the interplay of temperature and humidity during crystallization, showcases the inherent beauty and complexity that emerges from seemingly simple natural processes.
As we reflect on the symmetrical, balanced asymmetry, and fractal patterns interlaced into our natural world, numerous profound design lessons come to light. First and foremost, nature demonstrates that beauty and function are not mutually exclusive; they are harmoniously intertwined. The symmetry of a butterfly's wings serves as both a defense mechanism and a visual spectacle, while the balanced asymmetry of an oak tree's branches speaks of adaptation and resilience, and the true authenticity that often lies in embracing the irregularities that emerge from dynamic interactions. Just as a coastline's ever-changing contours tell a story of constant evolution, designers can find inspiration in the fluidity of form that emerges from adapting to the environment. Lastly, the mesmerizing world of fractals signals the infinite intricacy within seemingly simple structures. This should encourage designers to explore the depth of detail that can emerge from embracing complexity, adding layers of meaning and intrigue to their creations.
Beneath their enchanting exteriors of the flora and fauna lie timeless principles of design waiting to be discovered and applied in our own creative pursuits.