Guest Post: A Design Challenge Using the Principles of Biomimicry

The interior design industry
looks to science and nature to offer green solutions
in our homes:
the philosophy of Biomimicry takes root one project at a time
by Tamara Matthews-Stephenson,
interior designer and author of Nest by Tamara

Conserving energy and recycling products are important elements of a forward thinking approach that preserves our planet. It seems everywhere we turn “Green” philosophies are being implemented in the interior design industry. However, the word Green sometimes can feel a bit ominous and take on many meanings, and quite frankly, it can be overwhelming to implement consistently when thinking about designing a home. I would like to tell you about a fabulous collaboration I took part in last week that helped to reorient my thoughts on this subject.

Nineteen other design bloggers from around the country and I were fortunate to be invited by award-winning faucet company Brizo to attend a three-day, intensive “creative think tank” project. Brizo brought all of us to New York City during Fashion Week to learn about their fashion forward brand and a new philosophy taking hold in the industry. In addition to making beautifully designed faucets, Brizo has sponsored fashion designer Jason Wu since 2006. For three days we were inundated with design concepts for fashion and faucets and graciously given invaluable “insider” product knowledge, as well as attended the coveted Jason Wu fashion show.  We also listened to a symposium given by renowned San Francisco architect Sean Cullen who talked about a growing movement called “Biomimicry.” Initially, I admit I was a bit skeptical, and the word sounds eerily scientific, but when broken down to its basic elements, Biomimicry simply means to mimic nature. The philosophy espouses that we should look to nature to solve some big problems in our environment. Sean pointed out several ways in which animals and nature rid themselves of extra work and waste. He also talked about how the coming of the Machine Age and the Industrial Revolution caused our society to become more out of touch with the basic ways in which nature places a pivotal role in our lives. Biomimicry focuses us on how this giant system operates quite efficiently.

except from the book Biomimicry
written by science writer and lecturer Janine Benyus
“Biomimicry is a revolutionary new science
that analyzes nature’s best ideas

– spider silk and prairie grass, seashells

and brain cells – and adapts them for human use”
To drive this point home and illustrate to me how some in the corporate suites are thinking creatively in our industry, after our symposium Brizo executives presented us with a design challenge. I had to pinch myself and ask “are we on a reality television show?” We were broken into small groups and asked to use the principles of Biomimicry and Brizo products to come up with an innovative bathroom that answers the question:
How does nature bathe?
It was a genius way to end three days’ barrage of creative inspiration and corral a room filled with designers to start thinking more deeply on this subject. Each group worked diligently on floor plans, elevations, and proposal ideas.  Many of us were on our cell phones researching scientific organizations and programs – it was like reality TV, but much better. In a few short hours, the teams produced several beautiful design boards with lots of inspiration and many creative solutions. Our team collaborated well, and from the very first moment we generated some compelling ideas. During the talk on Biomimicry, Sean referenced the American Indians, and this got me thinking about how some cultures seem more tapped into Biomimicry concepts simply through their rituals and traditions.
our presentation board with three elevations, floor plan and product board –
Taizen- a 30-unit residential building in NYC

we used the Virage faucet — it is Brizo’s number one seller, and has gentle sloping handles which work well with our overall aesthetic

Our challenge described in detail…

Our team was inspired by the ways in which the Japanese live, and we began to build upon an Asian-inspired bathroom, recycling both the grey and black water into two separate systems for a 30-unit residential building. We researched ways to pump spent water into a holding tank and relay it to the roof garden (check out this sophisticated system our teammate Roberta Kravette researched called the LivingMachines), treat it and use it in a cooperative garden. We recessed a live Koi pond under the floor of the bathroom to create a calming, serene environment. One of our teammates (Richard Herb) used a tile Koi fish pond on a floor during a recent project, so we decided to go a step further and create a live pond. Another teammate had the brilliant idea to recycle the fish waste into the roof garden as fertilizer. Computer-savvy teammate Jennifer Rector sourced the Internet at record speed. As we headed down this path, we became enthusiastic about our self-generating environment that created very little waste and actually grew something we could share. We felt strongly that it would be meaningful in a large urban sprawl, so we chose New York City as the home. The product board was where the fun began: three lanterns (Chinese believe that three is good luck) hung over the recessed pond and bath, a Buddha for meditation, potted bamboo circling a Japanese soak tub, a waterfall in the open shower plan, and Temple doors that lead you into the bathroom. We named the project “Taizen” which means “calm” in Japanese.
Our team won First Place in the challenge
and of course we were over the moon!

However, the most important point of this entire exercise was to illustrate the creative power of our industry. Each presentation was beautifully drawn, collaged and researched, and many of the teams used plants, natural and and recycled product, and looked to nature and how it naturally bathes to design spectacular bathrooms with state-of-the-art faucets and shower heads. I am happy to see that there are companies looking to the design industry for help in design ideas for their products, and I am even more grateful to learn that there are innovative thinkers hoping to solve some real problems we face in our world. I am encouraged when looking at my peers and see how quickly many are able to adapt when given a challenge. All five teams quickly pulled together sophisticated plans, considering this complicated topic. Clearly the design industry and corporate world should team up more often – together they would make huge steps towards a greener planet if we simply put our attention to the subject.

 Roberta Kravette, Jennifer Rector, Me and Richard Herb
happy to be receiving First Place from Brizo executive Richard O’Reagan

Thanks very much to The Well Appointed Home
 for inviting me to write this guest post. 
 Please stop by Nest this week to see the fabulous
items Melissa Hawks has graciously donated to us — we’ll be 
giving them away to a lucky 
viewer of Nest!
xo Tamara
collage photographs illustrating biomimicry courtesy
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  1. quintessence

    Oh dear – left a long comment here yesterday that doesn’t seem to have registered. Basically I said that I was so impressed with all the research, creative symbiosis and forward thinking inventiveness that you and your team exhibited. What a wonderful initiative that Brizo sponsored and love all the brilliant solutions that their design challenge inspired.

  2. Building Moxie

    Tamara — shows how far behind I am on my reading… and I amazed by how quickly you turned around such a dazzlingly thorough post on a complex topic. Cheers. ~ jb @BuildingMoxie

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