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Janine Benyus – Recognizing What Works: A Conscious Emulation of Life’s Genius

Janine Benyus is one of the essayists from the book What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs, which was reviewed on village-connections.

She is President of Biomimicry Institute “which promotes learning from and then emulating natural forms, processes, and ecosystems to create more sustainable and healthier human technologies and designs.”

In her essay Benyus illustrates the value of biomimicry – including learning from nature to develop flourishing ecologically integrated localities. She writes,

[On the Galapagos Islands] I watched a quiet engineer named Paul stand motionless before a mangrove as if in deep conversation. He finally called me over and pointed: “This mangrove needs fresh water but its roots are in saltwater, which means it somehow desalinates using only the sun’s energy. No fossil fuels, no pumps. Do you know how we do it? We force water through a membrane at 900 pounds of pressure per square inch, trapping salt on one side. When it clogs, we apply more pressure, more energy.

Then Paul asked the question I’ve been working to solve ever since: “How is it that I, as a desalination engineer with a five-year degree and twenty-year experience, never once learned how nature strips salt from water?” pg 200

She continues …

What would please Jane [Jacobs] most about biomimicry in buildings is what is happening at the systems level, as a greater understanding of ecosystem pattern works its way into place-based city design…

As it turns out, life’s 30 million species, in all their diversity, share a small but crucial set of common strategies. These ubiquitous, universal patterns read like a code of conduct for living here on earth. You find that all life is locally attuned and adapted, that it is diverse and resilient, that it builds from the bottom up, is nested and modular, leverages interdependence, and relies on information and cooperation. It performs chemistry in water, at ambient temperature and pressure; it runs on sunlight, shops locally, optimizes rather than maximizes, creates with mistakes, and processes in cycles, endlessly reconfiguring a safe subset of the elements in the periodic table.

If our species is to come home to this planet at last and for good, we have to do what all organisms have done, which is to take care of the place that will take care of our offspring. In every wild neighborhood on this planet, life creates conditions conducive to life, and that is the pattern that works.” pg 203, 204

The following are quotes which I think assist in understanding of biomimicry.

Janine Benyus says, “our transition to sustainability must be a deliberate choice to leave the linear surge of an extractive economy and enter a circulating, renewable one.” (Biomimicry p. 56) (source Echo studio)


“Biomimicry [is] innovation inspired by nature. In a society accustomed to dominating or “improving” nature, this respectful imitation is a radically new approach, a revolution really. Unlike the Industrial Revolution, the Biomimicry Revolution introduces an era based not on what we can extract from nature, but on what we can learn from her.”  Source Treehugger

See video Janine Benyus: Biomimicry in action at TED2009 for illustration and comment (including critique) and Ask Nature – an online website for help in solving real-life design problems.

Your comments and links to related projects most welcome.

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