Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Nine Reasons Why Applying Biomimicry to Built Environment Projects is a Win-Win-Win!

Photo: Zlicovek, Shutterstock
Biomimicry Chicago co-founder, Amy Coffman Phillips, was recently asked to contribute to the Biomimicry Institute's new blog, Asking Nature. Check out her thoughts on "Nine Reasons Why Applying Biomimicry to Built Environment Projects is a Win-Win-Win!"
"Designers in the building industry are continually looking for new and innovative ways to create beautiful, livable spaces that are environmentally responsible and resilient. Increasingly, those on the leading edge are looking to nature as a source of inspiration. Here are nine examples of how applying biomimicry in the context of the built environment can help designers, projects, and communities as they work to create naturally sustainable, inherently resilient spaces."
Curious to learn more? Check out the next Chicago Biomimicry Immersive Workshop THIS SATURDAY! Enter promo code 'BioChi10' for 10% off the cost of registration!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Announcing the WINNER of the Chicago Biomimicry Immersion Scholarship!

Congratulations to recent graduate Brian Cabinian on winning the Chicago Biomimicry Immersion Scholarship for June 2015! Brian impressed the jurors with his curiosity and clear articulation of how the field of biomimicry will improve his career path. 

Brian Cabinian graduated the University of Illinois in May 2015 with a B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering and currently works at the Construction Engineering Research Lab in Champaign, Illinois on water treatment systems. In Fall 2015, he will be attending graduate school at the University of California - Santa Barbara to pursue a PhD in Materials Science.

A special thank you to jurors Peter Nicholson, Rachel Hahs, Amy Coffman Phillips, Michelle Halle Stern, and Joseph Clair for their help in selecting from an amazing group of candidates! 

Don't forget to register for the next Immersion on Saturday, June 27th, and enter promo code 'BioChi10' for 10% off the cost of registration and to help support the work of Biomimicry Chicago!

Brian's winning essay: 

How do you solve the world’s toughest engineering problems? Ask nature.

I wasn't really a nature lover as a child. I didn't like laying in the grass for too long, bugs gave me (and still kind of do) the heebee-jeebee's, and I practiced clarinet instead of playing outside when I went to visit my grandfather's farm. My disregard for nature shifted though after I discovered biomimicry. I first heard about the concept through one of Janine Benyus's TED talks and I became obsessed with this idea of how innovators like Joanna Aizenberg at the Harvard Wyss Institute were using the natural world to push out better, more efficient, stronger, sustainable products. With that, you couldn't stop me from imagining and searching for all sorts of ways that nature had bested man made technology.

What I did enjoy as a child and what I've thrived in later in life, however, is solving problems, which I think is why I ended up as an engineer - specifically a Materials Engineer. I work at the Construction Engineering Research Lab in Champaign, Illinois. Working on problems that will hopefully lead to technology that improves daily life is extraordinarily satisfying and as you solve each problem you begin to challenge yourself more and more. The greatest engineering challenge we face today is the challenge of sustainable living: how do we re-engineer our way of life, our society, and our technology, so that, as Elon Musk said in a recent keynote speech, we don't "try to win the Darwin Award." In other words: how do we stop using up our limited resources, stop driving away eco-diversity, and maintain the environment that sustains our species. As I've tossed and turned this problem around in my head, one solution sticks out more than any other: can we imitate the natural world to a point where we can integrate our lives in the boundaries of life's natural limits? I think Biomimicry supplies a hefty guide to many engineering challenges of our day and for that reason I hope to integrate this thinking into my future career.

As a materials engineer, I'm extremely interested in how we make, or synthesize, the products we find in our daily lives. Consider your cell phone: the microchips in there are etched and patterned and smoothed to make a device that lasts for a very long time. What's interesting about this process is that so much material and energy is input to create a product that cannot be reintegrated into the natural world. Thus, I want to understand how nature uses closed cycles to ensure that resources continue to be useable over and over again. The answer to this question applies not just to materials but to many other areas of engineering, such as waste water management, food supply lines, etc. It's this question and many others that I hope to explore through the Biomimicry Immersion program at the Morton Arboretum.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Chicago Biomimicry Immersion Scholarship Finalist Announced!

Brittany Boelter is a finalist for the Chicago Biomimicry Immersion Scholarship and submitted her thesis integrating biomimicry and biophilia into the design of a Living Learning Center within Marquette Park in Gary, Indiana. View the full original work here!

Marquette Living Learning Center Boardwalk, Boelter
In Brittany's own words, "I ask nature how the built environment can inform and coincide with nature and natural ecosystems to engage, teach, inspire and grow for the success of the natural environment and the stewardship of future generations. I ask those questions, of course, but I also try to find the best possible solution for those questions. Therefore, within this book, I have proposed a Living Learning Center within Marquette Park in Gary, Indiana. I have used my studies of the Indiana dunes and its parabolic formations to inform the built environment and learning experiences on the site which is currently a large parking infrastructure. The current situation does not allow for the many ecosystems to follow their natural processes. I believe my solution and answer to the questions allows those ecosystems to continue their natural processes and movements, while also, creating a light boardwalk and built environment that informs, educates, and inspires the public and future generations on the current ecosystems and history of the site."
Marquette Living Learning Center Outdoor Terrace, Boelter
Marquette Living Learning Center Sun Experience, Boelter

Monday, June 15, 2015

Guest Bloggers! "Biomimicry as a Neighborhood Planning Tool"

Guest bloggers Moira Albanese and Sydney Blankers recently completed a joint Master’s Project, entitled ‘Biomimicry as a Neighborhood Planning Tool’, at the University of Illinois at Chicago and were awarded the 2015 Best Master's Project in the Department of Urban Planning and Policy at UIC
"Biomimicry as a Neighborhood Planning Tool," Albanese & Blankers
Nature is a problem solver. For over 3.8 billion years, life has struggled to survive, to adapt, to evolve. For our Master’s capstone project, we asked: how does nature deal with boundaries? And how does nature deal with waste? Can nature’s solutions be translated into urban environments?


Large thoroughfares of cities create physical and mental borders between neighborhoods. The way we currently plan for cities leads to the concept of a “wrong side of the tracks”. There is a place in Chicago where this street-as-border is quite evident: the stretch of Western Avenue between Humboldt Park and Wicker Park Bucktown. Both communities have active neighborhood groups and strong ties to their history, but the demographic inequalities are stark. Housing prices, educational attainment, and income are strikingly different from one side of the street to the other, with Western Ave. a dead zone in between.

How does nature deal with boundaries?
Nature prefers gradual change from one environment to another. Overlapping areas between biomes, such as the prairie and the forest, are called ecotones. Ecotones are areas of constant flux, but they are also resilient in the face of external stressors. The heterogeneity of the resource base of the ecotone is what makes it robust. Precisely because it is a mix of the two different environments, and not a homogenous set of resources that would be more vulnerable to threats, it can adapt to changing conditions without sacrificing its uniqueness. What would our cities look like if they were planned to allow for gradual change between different neighborhoods? How could inequalities be normalized if we were to follow nature’s design?


Garbage is a problem that is easily forgotten in today’s busy world. A certain amount of waste production is assumed, and the optimal solution is to find a place to dispose of the refuse. New technologies have allowed for more waste to be placed in landfills, but none of those solutions alter the relationship people have to waste or alter the underlying system of waste dynamics. Wicker Park Bucktown constantly battles overflowing street trash cans, which drains community time, money, and energy. 

How is waste dealt with in nature?
Nature deals with waste within local limits. Feedback loops communicate to producers an appropriate amount of waste that the ecosystem can absorb. Waste products for one creature are often a resource for another. Precious materials are coveted and used sparingly. How would our cities function if waste could not be hauled off elsewhere? What “trash” would become precious and what new uses could we find? Looking to natural waste systems as models for human systems can result in novel solutions, leaving both the environment and urban communities healthier.

Learn more!

Nature is full of surprises and solutions. Please follow the link to our full project to learn more about the questions we put to nature, the solutions that she put forth, and the potential therein for our urban environments. 

Thank you.
Moira & Sydney

About the Authors

Moira Albanese is an intern at Foresight Design Initiative and a second-year Masters in Urban Planning and Policy student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University with a major in International Studies and a minor in Linguistics. Her travels and curiosity about the use of cities around the world led her to question American cities, and to think about what could be different. These questions are what drive her to plan the future of cities. 

Sydney Blankers received her Masters in Urban Planning and Policy in 2015 from the University of Illinois at Chicago, specializing in Environmental Planning and Policy. She has a B.S. in Natural Resources from Cornell University. Research interests include planning and policy methods that encourage urban environments to ‘tread lighter’ on, and ultimately operate in harmony with, the natural environments they depend on.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Next Design Innovation: Learning from Nature

The Chicago Biomimicry Immersion
Designers are continually looking for new and innovative ways to create beautiful, livable spaces that are environmentally responsible and, more recently, resilient to disturbances. Increasingly, designers on the leading edge are looking to nature as a source of inspiration.

Will you count yourself among them?

Biomimicry Chicago has partnered with Prairie Lab, LLC, to offer a unique, immersive educational experience. Immerse yourself in nature’s water, energy, waste, and resilience strategies while walking our native ecosystems and exploring the biomimicry innovation toolkit and resources. This training will give you the tools and resources you need to create locally-attuned buildings, communities, and environments that “fit in” again with the ecosystems they inhabit, making the achievement of green building benchmark standards, such as LEED and the Living Building Challenge, intuitive and natural.

The next Immersion is on Saturday, June 27th, from 10am to 2:30pm at the award winning Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois (a suburb west of Chicago and accessible by BNSF Metra). This session is entitled “Learning from Nature: ReDiscovering Natural Inspiration for Innovative Design” and will focus on discovering natural models for well-adapted sustainable design. Get outside on a beautiful summer day and enjoy learning about how nature can be a source of inspiration for your next design project!

Visit or contact for more information. Be sure to enter 'BIOCHI10' for 10% off the cost of registration and to help support the work of Bioimimicry Chicago.

Thank you!