Architects have long borrowed from nature. Biomorphism, the assimilation of natural existing elements as inspiration in design, likely originated with the beginning of manmade environments and remains apparent today. A more nuanced concept, biomimetic architecture is an offshoot of the relatively new science of biomimicry explored and popularised by Janine Benyus in her 1997 book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. The main idea of the biomimetic philosophy is that nature’s inhabitants including animals, plants, and microbes have the most experience in solving problems and have already found the most appropriate ways to last on planet Earth. Similarly, biomimetic architecture seeks solutions for building sustainability present in nature, not only by replicating their natural forms, but also by understanding their systems of survival.
In some ways a proponent, or precursor, of this school of thinking ahead of its defining is the Mexican architect Javier Senosiain. Born in 1948, Senosiain is widely considered to be one of the pioneers of organic architecture in Mexico. A graduate of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Senosiain currently serves as an Architecture professor at the university. Over his impressive career, he has designed residential and public buildings, offices, industrial plants, as well as centres of touristic activity. Senosiain dedicated a large part of his professional life to experimenting with habitable space and its relationship with nature. In the field of research, he deepened the investigation of ferrocement – traditionally a system of construction using reinforced mortar or plaster applied over an “armature” of metal mesh – for its use in both small and large structures.
Among his most compelling, and certainly aesthetically striking, projects is the residential building Casa Orgánica, completed in 1984. Located in Naucalpan de Juárez, Mexico, and now operated as a public museum, the fascinating home was born from the idea of creating a space that fulfilled the physical and psychological needs of a human being, working closely with nature by learning from its principals. The building seeks to provide spaces similar to the maternal cloister, to the shelters of animals, providing continuous, wide, integral spaces, ultimately liberating and following the natural rhythm of the inhabitants’ movements. Critical to the success of the project is the integrated furniture that facilitates circulation, creating a freeing sense of uninterrupted space.
Comprising a living room, dining room and kitchen, and a room to sleep, along with a dressing area and bathroom, a sand-coloured carpet covers the floor of the house, reminiscent of the earth the property is built on. This same colour scheme covers the walls and ceiling, producing a soothing impression of continuity. The home’s interior is accessed by a spiral, which leads to a long tunnel from which rooms appear. In the living room, the curved window increases the visual perspective and has a pompadour, akin to the eyelashes that serve to protect from the sun, dust, wind and rain. Casa Orgánica was designed with a single bedroom, however, as the family who inhabited the space grew, it became necessary to expand it. This remodelling, currently visible, extends from the original tunnel structure at the home’s core.
To effectively create the building’s animate structure, a malleable material was required. This is where Senosiain’s long time interest in ferrocement came in. This means of building, the origin of reinforced concrete, largely forgotten by the construction industry, promised a monolithic structure, resistant, moldable and highly elastic. Once the structure was completed, the house was meticulously covered in earth. From the outside, visitors only see grass, shrubs, trees and flowers, which, by evapotranspiration, produce oxygen, combat pollution and filter dust and carbon dioxide, creating a microclimate. Senosiain’s idea was that the garden would envelope the entire house, with the soil and grass around the building insulating the home in the winter and keeping the living space cool in the summer.
Today, biomimetic architecture, a multi-disciplinary approach to sustainable design, follows a set of principles rather than stylistic codes, going beyond using nature as inspiration for the aesthetic components of built form but rather seeking to use nature to solve problems of the building’s functioning and saving energy. Recent advancements in fabrication techniques, computational imaging, and simulation tools have opened up new possibilities to mimic nature across different architectural scales. As a result, there has been a rapid growth in devising innovative design approaches and solutions to counter the 21st century’s ubiquitous waste of energy.
Feature image: Casa Orgánica. Photo: Pinterest