23 Nov 2009
Michael Pawlyn is a pioneer in the field of biomimetic architecture, responsible for some of the world’s most intriguing designs.
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‘We can be sure of one thing: the revolution that we are now entering ñ the sustainability revolution ñ will be like no other. For the first time, the future will not just be an improved version of the past.’ Michael Pawlyn
Michael Pawlyn is a pioneer in the field of biomimetic architecture, responsible for some of the world’s most intriguing designs. He was a core part of the team behind the design of the Eden Project’s giant greenhouse biomes, for which it is famous. The idea for the structures came from analysing dragonflies’ wings. By mimicking the blueprint of this small but highly significant creature, the result is a building lighter than the air it contains.
In 2007, Michael founded Exploration Architecture to focus exclusively on sustainable design inspired by the natural world. Respecting nature as our Elder, whom we turn to for solutions, can, he believes, reduce our impact on the earth and slow the effects of climate change. ‘Nature has an amazing storehouse of ideas,’ he says, ‘and it has had a long research and development period ñ 3.8 billion years in fact, so most of its faulty products have already been withdrawn from the market place.’
In recent projects, Michael has looked to the Namibian fog-basking beetle for answers. An ingenious creature, it thrives in the heat of the desert by harvesting water from air. At dawn, when fog rolls in from the cold Atlantic Sea, it turns to the wind and performs a kind of hand-stand. Microscopic troughs in the beetle’s back, catch the tiny fog droplets, which drip down into its mouth.
When Michael became involved in the design for the Las Palmas Water Theatre, in Gran Canaria, he was inspired by this resourceful fog-harvesting process. The open-air structure takes full advantage of its proximity to sea water, prominent winds and abundant sunshine. So, while serving as a grand amphitheatre for local entertainment, it doubles up as a wind-facing desalination plant ñ providing the town with green energy and clean water.
Currently, Michael is working on the Community Ecology Centre, inspired by Amsterdam’s De Kas restaurant. At the heart of the complex, a greenhouse will grow fruit and vegetables for the guests. Food waste will go to feed a wormery. The worms are fed to Tilapia fish, and the fish are then served fresh to diners.
Micro-organisms will break down the centre’s rubbish in an anaerobic digester, producing biogas to heat the greenhouse and generate electricity for the site. Meanwhile, a living machine’ will mimic the filtration process that occurs in natural wetlands to turn sewage into clean water.
‘By accommodating all these activities in one building, it’s possible to get the benefit of a closed-loop design that mimics the remarkable efficiencies of ecosystems,’ Michael explains.
‘Although there are some worrying times ahead in terms of climate change and so on,’ he adds, ‘for every problem that we face, whether it’s creating energy, finding fresh water, or manufacturing in a benign way, there’ll be examples from nature that we can follow ñ and I bet you, that all those examples will be closed-loop, solar powered and non polluting.’
Contact: Exploration Architecture,
Unit 19 / Hiltongrove,
14 Southgate Road, London, N1 3LY
Tel +44 (0)20 7254 0080
Photo: © Kelly Hill www.kellyhill.co.uk
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