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Towards the LIVING Envelope: Biomimetics for building envelope adaptation

Badarnah, Lidia



Several biomimetic design strategies are available for various applications, though the research on biomimetics as a design tool in architecture is still challenging. This is due to a lack of systematic design tools required for identifying relevant organisms, or natural systems, and abstracting the corresponding generic principles for implementation in design concept generations for building envelopes.

A major challenge in current strategies is the filtering of the wide possibilities that nature provides, especially for architects who have limited biological background. In order to find design solutions from nature, the requirements of the artificial system have to be defined, and then analogue systems in nature that perform similar functions need to be identified. The design generating tools should support the transitions between the domains, especially the identification of biological analogies and their abstraction.

To this end, the current thesis proposes a strategic methodology, referred to as the living envelope methodology, for the generation of design concepts. The proposed methodology provides an exploration and investigation platform for architects. It assists channelling the way from technical challenges, defined by the demands on the living envelope, through functional aspects and various strategies found in nature. Furthermore, the proposed methodology provides several phases of categorizations that funnel at the end into a single imaginary organism/system, referred to as imaginary pinnacle, which has the successful dominant features of the desired living envelope. The various phases and sub-phases of the methodology facilitate the transitions between the various phases of the design process, with a special attention to the representation of biological information, identification and abstraction of principles, and their systematic selection. Semantic structured exploration models are developed for the biological information representation, and unique schemes and flow charts that provide user-friendly design tools are developed and presented.

For the validation of the methodology and the assessment of its generality, four important environmental aspects that need to be managed by the building envelope are applied to the methodology: (1) air – to manage ventilation, which is required in order to provide high indoor air quality and to prevent air stagnation; (2) heat – to maintain a thermal comfort for the occupants; (3) water – to gain and make use of condensed water in arid areas; and (4) light – to provide a shading system with minimized heat gain and maximized daylight. For each of the four aspects exemplary design concepts are successfully generated. It is worth noting that the aim of investigating these environmental aspects is not to provide detailed design solutions; rather the presented examples of the generated design concepts examine the generality of the implementation of the methodology. In order to further assess the generality of the proposed methodology, a qualitative example that combines all four environmental aspects is introduced.

The results of the exemplary design concepts show the advantage of the proposed living envelope methodology. The methodology is capable to generate design concepts with specified initial challenge set by the user (architect). Moreover, the design cases open new perspectives for new possible technical solutions for building envelopes, and the potential to realize a new class of innovation and lay a functional foundation in architecture: a bio-inspired, climatically oriented, and environmentally conscious one.


Badarnah, L. Towards the LIVING Envelope: Biomimetics for building envelope adaptation. (Thesis). Delft University of Technology

Thesis Type Thesis
Keywords biomimetics, biomimicry, building envelope, design methodology, nature, air, water, heat, light, concept generation, adaptation
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