Living and Responsive Systems

Traffic on my way back from Thanksgiving break gave me a block of time to think about biomimicry. In particular, I had time to think about the boring situation in which I had found myself. Car accidents in the rain had caused all of the other cars to stop as emergency services responded. What was interesting is how a setback in the flow of traffic caused delays which lengthened my trip time by quite a few hours. The traffic was not very responsive to difficulties. When I arrived home, my heater was not working. Therefore, I had to go to the closet and grab a few extra blankets so I could sleep without freezing. I was able to respond to a challenge with a manageable enough solution.

One of the fascinating areas of life is its ability to respond to changing conditions. If a person gets too hot when exercising, he or she will begin to sweat to cool themselves down. If he or she gets too cold, he or she can shiver and go grab blankets. If the weather gets too dry, animals can change their behavior to prevent unnecessary water loss. In mimicking aspects of nature, we should not only look towards adapting certain structure-function relationships for one specific use, but also think towards the larger scope of what is possible in nature.

Not only can we think about some sort of feedback which allows for control of the desired property, but we can go one step further and think about the product itself as an extension of the organism in a living manner. In “Beyond biomimicry: What termites can tell us about realizing the living building,” J. Scott Turner and Rupert C. Soar describe the termite mound as an “extended physiology” of the termites themselves. The authors conclude that oxygen concentration is similar throughout many different-sized colonies on account of the primary action not being the regulation of the property of oxygen concentration, but rather the regulation of multiphase processes of the mound structure itself. The structure of the mound is the function which is created.1

So, back to our responsive systems, if we can think about ways to create living systems in which the interactions which dictate the structure are highly regulated, then our function too will thus be highly regulated by nature of the function being our structure. Perhaps then, we could create structures which are responsive by reason of the variations in the interactions which caused the structure in the first place.


1Turner, J. Scott and Rupert C. Soar. “Beyond biomimicry: What termites can tell us about realizing the living building.” First International Conference on Industrialized, Intelligent Construction (I3CON) Loughborough University, 14-16 May 2008.


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