Shape Matters

Shape Matters!

What if we could transform our thinking and use less material and more clever shapes?
What if we could build things of whatever flies around like a spider ?


Photo Greenstone Girl

All spiders produce silk but not all spiders use it to produce webs. Different spices of web-building spiders spin different patterns. So you can identify the type of spider by looking and the intricate web they spin.

Animals do not spend time trying to create a wonderful material. They use the material that is available and the results are often mindblowing. A spider squirt the liquid silk out of their spinneret glands and this material is in liquid form until it hits the air where it hardens into a sticky substance.  Making the web is energetically costly process that requires a large amount of protein, the silk. A spider-web can use a fly to produce more webs to help them catch more flies. Spiders also eat their own web to reuse some of the energy that was used to spin it. They recycle the silk proteins.

Gecko’s feet are sticky something that has spark several ideas from climbing robots to surgical bandage. Yet, the feet are not sticky because of some special material, rather the shape of the hairs on the feet makes them sticky. The answer is molecular attractions that operate over small distances – van der Waals forces. The tiny hairs help to maximise contact with the surface.

Material is nature is expensive while shape is cheap.

This is a great lesson that humans perhaps should consider more often when designing things and solving problems.

In the video below, an exciting  research project,  ‘Metamaterial Mechanisms’ , at the Hasso Plattner Institute shows a new way that shape is used to create a material that can be used for a range or purposes. Different types of performances based on the shape. Exciting!




Sandpipers at the Beach

Tanking sunshine and surfing on waves.


Photo: By Alpsdake (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (],via Wikimedia Commons

The political climate in the UK has been tumultuous the last weeks and today the new Prime Minister Theresa May decided to abolish the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

Worrying sign!

I had hoped that she would have taken the opportunity to design plans for ways to not only reduce the part that the UK plays in contributing to the climate change but also ensure that we plan for a future with rising sea levels.

The two major causes of global sea-level rise can be identified: thermal expansion caused by the warming of the oceans and the loss of land-based ice due to increased melting. When water heats up it expands and it is estimated that around half of the past century’s rise in sea level is due to warmer oceans simply taking more space. Melting glaciers and polar ice-caps have also contributed to rising sea-levels.

So new exciting ideas are needed to prepare for the rising sea-levels. Inspiration for planning cities and building houses can perhaps come from watching sea-birds,

A day at the beach can be truly magical.

But it can also be a day filled with wonderous and mind-boggling ideas and questions.

Dream up the most amazing modern city or house inspired by seabirds that can survive the waves and survive until the next day. Look at the wading birds long and slender legs.

Dream, build and invent.

The Secret to Survival

What exists in nature today, is the result of survival and modifications that have been carried out for billions of years.

Hidden in  shells, birds’ feathers, and pussy willows are the secret to survival.

The secret to survival by trying to dazzle, surprise, and constantly adapting.


Photo: Wikimedia

Biomimicry is the shift in perspective from an approach to life as well as design, where nature should be conquered, or preserved, to an approach where the aim is to become friendly with nature. Using nature as a benchmark for inspiration and problem solving highlights the importance of not only studying nature to gain insight into how nature heals itself but also to value nature as a source of knowledge. Nature is only a resource that can be conquered and used but should rather be seen as a giant library filled with resources that are constantly evolving and developing. The library is not filled with text that has been written rather it is still being written.

Several studies have shown the health benefits of spending time in nature. For example, eco-therapy may be as effective against depression as traditional therapy and medication. Yet, maybe the true benefits lies are allowing nature to lead the way to how we should design and indeed live our lives. Rather than seeing nature as something that is separate from us, perhaps we should see it as something that we are part of.

We may have done much damage to our planet – we have used pesticides, cut down trees, dug holes, and used chemicals to fertilize soil and plants. Yet, nature is constantly working on ways to heal itself. We can study organisms such as bacteria, fungi, protists, plants, animals, and plants such legumes to find ways to heal the soil. Bioremediation is a way to use biological organisms to deal with contaminated soil or groundwater.

Climate change may be the greatest challenges the faces our cities and infrastructures. It is also a threat to our health and well-being. No region will be spared from changes in the climate and the greater amount of air pollution and allergens may lead to higher rates of asthma and cardiovascular stress. Individuals may also suffer post-traumatic stress due to flooding and storms. The poorest and most vulnerable communities might suffer first but eventually, these problems will affect everyone’s lives. Although these may sound like depressing news, climate changes also offer opportunities. Opportunities to change the way we are designing and building and indeed living our lives to create sustainable and healthy communities.

Looking at the way nature are working may provide us with a great starting point. And an approach based upon biomimicry may help to spread the message that nature is indeed a valuable resource a library filled with endless knowledge. Study and feel inspired to change!


Searching for the Lost Meaning

New Year and New Ideas

Cirrus clouds are beautifully reflected in the smooth water of the ocean lagoon. Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon in Iceland
Cirrus clouds are beautifully reflected in the smooth water of the ocean lagoon. Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon in Iceland

One of the hallmarks of a creative approach to thinking is to re-examining and re-thinking your foundation. As it happened I stumble upon the insightful book, After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene by Jedediah Purdy on New Year’s Eve. It provided  new angles that can be explored during this year.

Jedediah  says that we need to re-examine our relationship with nature to solve problems related to climate change. This may sound like an even greater challenge but he shows in his book that our relationship with nature has throughout history been flexible, and we have imagined our relationship with the natural world in several different ways.

Today, many of us sees the natural world as a connected and interdependent whole, yet the threats related to climate change may lead to a shift from this view. Deep and difficult problems may change who we are. This shift in our relationship with nature need to be political according to Jedidiah.

Last year I devoted time to understand how nature solve problems and these words challenged in a positive way that approach. Biomimicry is an approach where you can get ideas to solve problems, it is not an approach where we strive towards mimicking nature. Therefore it is important to be clear about what it is that inspired our new ideas and solutions. The re-thinking that the book, After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene, inspired comes from the idea and suggestion that nature no longer exists apart from humanity. Consequently, the world we will inhabit is the one we have made.

“No part of the natural world tells us how to value it, let alone how to live and relate to one another.”

Jebediah challenges the approach that we can look in nature for our own values, which can be seen in ideas such as paleo diets, ad “natural capitalism”. We can learn from nature and natural systems but these ideas are simply a certain reading of of our own economy back into the natural world. Simply because we find something in the natural world does not mean that we should embrace the general lesson. Certain things in nature are cruel, such as ants that uses the pupae of the colonies they raid, and these ideas can be misused.

The challenges we face require that we create and develop ways to deal with a damaged and ever-changing world.

Go here to read an interview with the author at “The Atlantic”.

Day 5 – Christmas Sustainability Challenge

Gold Rings signify a Promise – the promise not to court anyone else.

On the Fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Five Gold Rings
Four Calling Birds
Three French Hens
Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree.


Take the symbol of Gold Rings from the carol The Twelve days of Christmas and insert a new word such as “Worm” into the rings.

See if you can develop or invent something that would be useful to have during the Festive season. Or something that can make an impact upon how you, your family or the world celebrate the Festive Season.

A worm compost system. . .


Photo: Nick Hobgood

Christmas tree worms may look small and insignificant beside an actual Christmas tree. Yet they have a stunning beauty that offers a priceless gift. This is an wonderful example of our relationship with the sea, the natural and the social world.

Thus, inserting a new word can spark ideas that can be further explored. Like in this case, our ideas may jump into exploring things that we value.

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”   Dr Seuss

Also, you can extend the concept of a Promise to signify a Promise between several people. You can think about ideas that can be used in your family during the Festive Season or your work place.

Often, politicians make promises that they do not keep.

Can you invent something to make them take responsibility?

You can think of 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

The Possibilities of Wood

A giant bug’s shell, an oval-shaped beehive and a twisted construction.

In nature, it is vital to construct system that are efficient and to prevent waste.  The principle “less is more” is often used to ensure that materials are used in the best possible way.  Students at The School of Architecture at Saarland University in Saarbrücken, Germany, have made a sustainable design that uses natural principles. The pavilion is constructed from wood.

Why use wood?

Wooden structures absorb and store atmospheric CO2 and wood is regarded as a carbon neutral construction material (even taking into account haulage). Many countries also has a policy where one tree has to be planted for every tree that has been cut.


The shell-like organic looking structure may look weak but it is surprising strong and also easy to transport. Natural light is let in from every possible angle. Imagine this structure covered with some insulating material and we have an easy to construct and affordable home.

The structure is called Bowooss which can be roughly translate into “bionic optimized wood shells with sustainability”. These kind of structures have rarely been made in wood and this approach embraces the increasing demands for building more sustainable houses.


In the video below we can see another approach to using timber, milled plywood, where the purpose is to gain full control of such material behavior. The TWIST is a design and construction project developed by the Emergent Technologies and Design Programme (EmTech) at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London.

Here the focus is on exploiting the exploiting the anisotropic properties of plywood.  You can read more about this project here.


Creative Design Needed to Rethink Urban Traffic

All living systems move. Yet cars during the morning rush hour stand still.

Smart mobility solutions are needed to cater for the ever-rising number of people who will live in urban areas. But how can we ensure that we do not sacrifice biodiversity nor human well-being?

By 2015, around 70 per cent of the world’s population may live in urban areas. Yet a large proportion of the land projected to become urban by 2013 has not yet been built. So there is time to ensure that we plan cities in the best possible way.

Cars stand still in jams but most cars also spend their lifetime being parked. And we tend to spend a lot of time searching for a parking space. A car is used around five percent of the time and up to 70 percent of space in a city that is not occupied by buildings are dedicated for cars.

So far there are several flaws in the way we have designed cities. Bristol, in the west of England, is trying to change the occurrence of traffic hold ups by using  big data. A municipal system that measure everything that is happening in Bristol in real-time. Sensors will collect data about the air quality and traffic diversion could be used to relieve the districts where the air pollution is highest.

new_cable_installation_mshed_2_2015_chris_bahnWiFi stations that measure air quality have been attached to 1500 street lights in Bristol.

How would you redesign a car to suit the needs of modern urban life?

We are used to seeing the wheels door and after more than 100 years of  automobile manufacturing the overall design has barely changed. Could the picture below provide any inspiration? Ross Lovegrove says that this is about finding the purest form of travelling – a “cocooning, womb-like biological shape”.

By using different more organic materials with flexible membrane we can design vehicles with novel functions and behavior. An organic flexible cocoon vehicle.


Moreover, the two-dimensional way of looking upon mobility systems, public versus individual transport, can be changed and we can share existing infrastructure rather than compete with each other for space.

An entry in the Audi Urban Future Award 2014, suggested a Flywheel. Inspired by the way our the molecular motor in our bodies transport proteins and switch off cellular road systems, the Berlin team designed a vehicle that mixes the functional fineness of the power train with a passenger capsule.


The vehicles can accommodate two passengers and the single unit can be merged to longer trains, where people sharing the same destination can be transported. And the flywheel can used for cargo transport while you are working or sleeping.


But only only cars take up space and stand still. Toady, cycling is becoming more popular in many urban cities. So the quality and quantity of bike parking spaces needs a redesign. I would also appreciate a way to find my bike. And anyone who has looked for their own bike in a city filled with students, like Oxford, knows what I am talking about if they have a wandering mind like mine. But maybe bicycle lockers is not a great solution. . . but everything can be improved upon. . .