Mind & Matter


Exploring Emerging Frontiers Between Science and Architecture

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Donald Ingber, founder and director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. Photo: Wyss Institute.


In mid-September, I had the opportunity to participate in an Adaptive Architecture Workshop entitled Buildings Inspired by Nature: Inventing the Future Built Environment, sponsored by the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. The workshop hosts—Wyss faculty Don Ingber, Joanna Aizenberg, and visiting scholar Chuck Hoberman—organized the workshop thematically into the categories of materials, design, intelligence, energy, and future.

The event was attended by a diverse, multidisciplinary group of faculty and practitioners that are all developing projects that take inspiration directly from biological systems. With the objective of exploring emerging frontiers between science and architecture, the participants were asked to actively set agendas for next steps to develop creative programs that integrate science and design to provide solutions for critical problems in building materials, structural design, and architectural planning.

In their presentations, workshop participants portrayed a rich and relatively untapped world of bioinspired design-science, with the general consensus that the future will look increasingly to nature for guidance, and will be radically multidisciplinary in character. Attendees included Jan Knippers, partner of Knippers Helbig Advanced Engineering with expertise in complex parametric geometries and fiber-reinforced plastics; Radhika Nagpal and Robert Wood, co-leads of Bioinspired Robotics at Wyss and developers of robotic bees and termite-inspired robots; Neri Oxman, director of the Mediated Matter research group at the MIT Media Lab and developer of innovative digital-fabrication processes; Matthias Schuler, managing director of Transsolar and expert in climate engineering; William Shih, associate professor at Harvard University and developer of self-assembling DNA microstructures and devices for use in biomedical applications; and Michael Weinstock, director of Research and Development and the Emerging Technologies Design Program in the Graduate School of the Architectural Association in London.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.