A Biomimetic Approach to Adaptive Building Envelope Design

Ultimate Skin

As architects aspiring to achieve better performance in buildings we must look up to our best example of efficiency – Nature. Building envelopes are our third skins- an extension to the human skin, designed to improve the conditions for human living, and so we should aspire to make them as efficient; the economy of material and energy found in natural organisms offers an infinite database of adaptation solutions which evolved and were perfected over billions of years to allow organisms to adjust in response to external changes. Developing adaptive building envelope solutions is the aim of this crossing of fields.

The bridge between the two is an interdisciplinary approach of biomimicry. Biomimicry is the act of emulating the mechanisms of living organisms in order to improve the design of buildings, products and materials. In recent years there’s an increasing number of attempts to come up with real
biomimetic skin concepts, however these are often experimental and limited in scope, and a well-established workflow for the design of such skins is yet to be developed. We started our research with the intention to design an ‘ultimate’, multi-functional building skin based on biological principles,however we realized the necessity for a definition of a new biomimetic roadmap, which is able to facilitate the design process of biomimetic skins.

In this work, a roadmap for designing adaptive building envelopes is outlined, according to a biomimetic methodology, drawing inspiration for efficient solutions from the greatest database we know- nature. Ecological and efficient working methods are explored, using various strategies and different criteria are discussed including the typology, structure, weight, scale and materials to be chosen in order to effectively emulate these natural models of adaptivity as well as the techniques to validate the outcoming design concepts, with an emphasis given to LCA and energy performance assessment strategies to be employed in the iterative design process in order to achieve optimized results.

Finally, a set of conceptual biomimetic ideas are showcased to demonstrate how technologies, methods and materials that have been studied in the course of this thesis could be put together, and are assessed for their feasibility in today’s market, in order to get a complete image of the possibilities in creating effective, and ecological building skins which sense, transform and adapt just like a living skin.

The design concept is a hybrid, multi-layered and lightweight skin able to tan, sweat, insulate, ventilate and heal itself.
Ultimate Skin
Ultimate Skin