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The concept of a “living” building is far from new. Since the dawn of building, architects have compared artificial structures to natural structures, and a century ago Frank Lloyd Wright used the term organic to refer to “living architecture.” What’s possibly different, however, is that in the past architects used nature as a model for form, whereas now they speak of it as a model for function. “Imagine buildings that are built to operate as elegantly and efficiently as a flower,” the LBC encourages us to do. Architecture shouldn’t look like a flower — it should act like one. This is the core concept of biomimicry, which uses the lessons of nature to stimulate innovation. Biologist Janine Benyus, who keynoted this year’s Living Future, popularized the idea in her 1997 book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.
“What if buildings were alive?” architect William McDonough often asked during the same period (late ’90s, early ’00s). “What if our homes and workplaces were like trees, living organisms participating productively in their surroundings?” he wrote in 2002. I worked for McDonough at the time, and while I found his vision to be inspiring, I struggled to reconcile the differences between a building that is “alive” and a building “like a tree,” the language shifting back and forth between fact and metaphor, life and like life. […]