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Don’t underestimate the power of biomimicry in office design

Posted on October 24, 2013 by Paul Goodchild

Awaiting Image

It’s easy to underestimate the role that biomimicry can play in interior design and architecture. This is usually based on some idea that when it comes to copying nature in a product, it’s simply about reproducing natural images. By replicating the things we see in the natural world, we are able to evoke primal associations to help us feel more relaxed or energised or engaged at work. Now this is an important consideration, as we’ve discussed before, but it is only part of the story.

Mother Nature believes that form follows function more than any human designer. The things that belong to the natural world look the way they do solely on the basis of what they are for and so for very good reasons indeed. Animals have evolved forms and behaviours to perfectly fill whatever environmental niche they occupy. Organic forms and patterns down to a cellular level exist to order the world. Even something as mundane as broccoli is formed from the self-replicating patterns that became so important as part of 20th Century Chaos Theory.

Yes, this really is how amazing broccoli is

Mankind is usually playing catch up with these things but we are increasingly able to understand the principles of how and why nature does the things it does. Those same principles can now be applied to the forms we create when we design an office. Technology allows us not only to mimic nature in the form of imagery but also adopt some of its practicality and functionality.

One great example of how this works in practice is with the specification of carpet. When it comes to specifying carpet, the lowest common denominator approach suggests that using one-colour or simply patterned carpet tiles will provide the best solutions in terms of fit in a particular space, waste, cleaning and replacement. Usually such carpets will be blue as it is practical and inoffensive.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach but it ignores the possibility that there are alternatives that are not only more interesting but which may be more practical and save you money too.

For example, with the help of modern technology, it is possible to design carpet tiles such as these from Interface that apply natural principles of pattern, tessellation and modularity to create that perfect integration of apparent randomness and order that is the hallmark of natural forms. Net Effect was launched earlier this year and embodies the principles of biomimicry to stunning effect.

Interface Net Effect

The advantages of this kind of design can be substantial. When patterned carpet tiles lack a repeating pattern, they do not have to be installed in a particularly way so that they ‘fit’ alongside each other. This is particularly important in buildings that are not perfect boxes full of squares and right angles – which is most of them.

The ordered chaos of these designs also means that if a tile needs to be replaced because it is damaged in some way, the replacement tile automatically fits, as a leaf that falls to the woodland floor is absorbed into the patterned mass. For the same reason, any off-cuts from an installation can be used to fill gaps in the corners, edges, nooks and crannies that exist in any installation which helps to minimise waste.

It almost goes without saying that these organic forms are far more interesting than single colours and repeat patterned carpets. This is especially the case over large expanses of floor where the true impact of the evocative and seemingly chaotic patterns can have their full expression. We are inevitably impressed by this form as part of our primal yearning for the outdoors, but the design presents us with a very functional solution too.