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Imitating Nature – 11 Amazing Bionic Structures: Part 1

15 February 2011 No Comment

Bionic architecture is the most relevant trend of the 21st century. It involves creating truly eco-friendly structures, which are high energy saving, thus promoting “green power and recycling”. Moreover, they are all built using lines and shapes that in one form or another imitate nature such as tree shapes, flowers, bridges, water streams, different plants, and everything else belonging to the biological sphere.

Architects go strongly against the classic building shapes such as rectangular lines or cubic shapes, embracing rather the curved forms. Staying environmentally conscious and enhancing efficiency is very important for the followers of bionic architectural movement.

This article will make a presentation of some of the already existing bionic buildings throughout the world.

UK’s National Space Center- the pioneer of bionic architecture

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This building is one of the most important landmarks in Leicester (UK), receiving millions of visitors annually. It is a fine example of bionic architecture, and it is actually the first example of the movement.

It was designed by Nicholas Grimshaw, and its gates opened more than a decade ago, in 2001. The structure made use of minimal prime material mainly super light steel and ethylene tetrafluorothylene known as EFTE (plastic polymer).

It is an exhibition/educational center, featuring UK’s largest planetarium, and many other space attraction galleries such as space flight, cosmology and astronomy ones. It is very common for schools to organize regular trips to the National Space Center as a way of introducing children and teenagers to the wonders of the universe and space. The centre is also a much favored attraction as family visit spots.

Nicholas Grimshaw’s portfolio contains many other important buildings such as the Waterloo International Station (London) or Eden Project (Cornwall) which is a multiple greenhouse project which’s building style has been inspired by the moon; the structure is made of lightweight steel frame and thermoplastic.

The Cactus of the Netherlands – “Urban Cactus”building in Rotterdam

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This is actually a wonderful residential building with 19 stores. With a closer look, it is obvious that the structure received its name from the cactus plant, imitating its irregular, wavy shapes. This building has been listed on the chart of most amazing bionic structures in the world mainly because the way its curved terraces are built, which are individual balconies. Moreover, the entire building is a display of what today is called “green architecture”, having many outside spaces, providing residential housing inhabitants with their own mini garden right on their terrace.

The irregular pattern on which these terrace and living sections are alternated, allow each of the units to soak in the same amount of sunrays. This is specifically important in a country where the climate is quite cold many months of the year. Therefore, in warmer seasons, everybody can enjoy the sun and the outside warmth at its fullest.

The Urban Cactus has been designed by architects Ben Huygen and Jasper Jaegers from UCX architects. It is a funny and “green” residential space that gives plenty of room for its 98 families inhabiting it.

Forward Leaning English “Green” Building- City Hall of London

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The City Hall is located in Southwark, beneath the Tower Bridge in London. It has been designed by prestigious architect Norman Foster, and it is a structure belonging to the bionic architectural movement.

The designer’s main principle is that the best way to bring a nice change to our world is if one constantly brings new shapes and forms into it. The City Hall has been constructed using lightweight, sustainable materials, and as it can be seen, has a forward leaning structure, symbolizing “forward movement”.

Construction costs summed up to £65 million, and it is a highly energy efficient building, thanks to its structure, which seems “bulky” but its surface areas are highly reduced. In the interior, from ground and up to its highest level, one can find a wonderful helical (smooth curves in three dimensional space structure) staircase, measuring 500 meters.

Many celebrities have called it different names, such as “the Onion”, “the Helmet”, or “the Egg”- given its spherical misshaped structure. It has been completed in 2002, and although many tend to call it an unfitting piece of puzzle, it still remains one of the most important bionic buildings in the area.

Norman Foster’s portfolio also includes some other amazing buildings throughout the world such as the futuristic Torre Caja (Madrid, Spain), the High Speed Station in Florence (Italy) or the Reichstag Dome (the glass dome of Berlin).

Ascending to a greener life, magnificent views and opulent luxury- “The Ascent”

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The Ascent at Roebling Bridge is a residential luxury condominium counting 22 floors and 293 feet in height found in Kentucky (Covington area). It is a structure that has taken many influences and accents from neighboring natural landscapes, especially the Roebling Bridge and the Ohio River.

The building has a crescent design, using soft colors reflecting natural environments, such as aqua blue and brown hues of the earth. Its construction required a budget of $50 million, and it has been finished and opened to larger audiences in 2008. From a sketch on a napkin to a wonderful tower-style bionic structure! The American Institute of Architects called this structure “a sculpture that sways, and not a shrine that shocks”.

The designer is architect Daniel Libeskind, who is a very important US professional; his project on the rebuilding of the World Trade Center has earned him first place in the competition to be the master plan architect for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan. His portfolio contains tens of amazing and very important buildings around the world such as the Jewish Museum in Berlin, the London Metropolitan University, or the MGM Mirage City Center in Las Vegas.

The Mountain Chain Shaped Airport? – Denver International

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As you have already noticed, bionic architecture is a current trend that takes the wonderful curves and shapes from nature with the result that the structures are imposing and they never look like rigid concrete buildings.

The Denver International Airport actually imitates the shape of the Rocky Mountains chain and from a distance the roofline also resembles a collection of Native American teepees. The roof is covered with tensile fiberglass (an inexpensive and robust material used in many building forms). The airport is also famous for a connecting pedestrian bridge between (between Jeppersen Terminal and Concourse A), which makes the whole building even more interesting and of course efficient.

The investment for its building sums up to $166 million, and it was completed in 2003. Denver international Airport is among the top 10 busiest Airports in the World, with a space of 1.5 million square feet. In early 2008, the airport received a new addition, the solar energy system, which has almost 10,000 solar panels. It also belongs to the top most beautiful airports in the world, and the mastermind behind this wonder is architect Curtis Fentress.

The first steps towards the architecture of the future

All of the buildings presented in this article are unique in their own way, and constitute a display of amazing bionic architecture. These few examples are only the first steps towards the architecture of the future, which will comprise buildings with an even greater green sustainability and power efficiency.

Nature and biological life in general stand as inspiring forms. Some of the most well known professionals in the bionic architecture field include Greg Lynn, Jan Kapliczky, Santiago Calatrava, Ken Yeang, Norman Foster or Nicholas Grimshaw.

This is a current trend interesting more and more professionals from all over the world, who try to switch from the classic pattern architecture to more efficient ways of building. Getting rid of rigid layouts and strict geometric forms seems to be the building science of the future.

The follow up article of the series will present another six such architectural wonders that belong to the same movement, that have been accepted as sustainable and highly efficient, and will be built in the future.

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