The philosopher Eric Hoffer once said, “Creativity is the ability to introduce order into the randomness of nature.” This outlook parallels historic attitudes toward the relationship of the made versus the born. The contrasting view—that nature is the source of creativity—is now gaining strength. Biomimicry, which advocates nature as a design mentor rather than a source for raw materials, has influenced many fields and taken form in strategies ranging from metaphorical to manipulative.
One tactic in which nonbiological materials and operations emulate biomimetic behaviors is exemplified by homeostatic architecture, which self-regulates to maintain a constant internal state. The Bloom pavilion in Los Angeles, designed by University of Southern California architecture professor Doris Kim Sung, Assoc. AIA, comprises gleaming panels of thermobimetal, a composite skin designed to shape-shift with temperature changes. Made from two types of sheet metal with different thermal expansion coefficients, the laminated sheet curls upwards as one of the metals expands at a faster rate. Although the transformation is unrelated to biology, the result is reminiscent of natural phenomena such as breathing or peeling skin.
Another approach is biodesign, or bioengineering, which writer William Myers describes as the engaged manipulation of living matter. In his Venus Natural Crystal Chair, Japanese designer Tokujin Yoshioka attempts to harness what he calls “second nature” by suspending a polyester fiber scaffold within a glass tank containing a mineral-saturated solution. Over one month, natural crystals materialized on the fiber skeleton, growing into the solidified, opalescent chair form.
Yoshioka attributes the process to two creators: the designer and nature. “[I]ts form is governed by natural processes,” he says. “This production method highlights the boundary between the physical world and the world of the imagination. In this sense, the process broadens the boundaries of creativity.” To be clear, the Venus Chair is not a product of biomimicry, which copies nature; nor is it representative of biodesign, which focuses on living organisms. Rather, I classify this approach as geodesign insofar as it demonstrates direct interaction with the mineral world.
Both biomimicry and biodesign require relinquishing control of the finished product, so the creative process is less focused on static objects, and more experimental and open-ended. Creativity, counter to Hoffer’s belief, now welcomes some degree of disorder. Put another way: The act of making, when inspired by nature, is illuminating the nature of making.