Nature has played a role in engineering since its inception, so it’s not surprising that it is also inspiring the buildings in which we live and work.
Biomimicry is the act of using nature to inspire a creation or even overcome an engineering challenge. Take, for example, the drone that can flap its wings like a bird, or the soft gripper that grasps objects like an octopus. Just this year, create wrote about how the pandanus leaf inspired the design of Townsville’s new arena.
But Queensland’s Country Bank Stadium isn’t the only Australian structure that incorporates biomimicry to create something unique and visually inspiring.
In fact, Australian engineers have been increasingly using biomimicry in buildings since the mid-2000s. Here are three award-winning buildings that were inspired by nature.
One One One Eagle Street
The centrepiece of Brisbane’s ‘Golden Triangle’ precinct, One One One Eagle Street is a 50-storey building that managed to transform an engineering necessity into something beautiful.
When property group GPT called for designs for the third and final building as part of the Riverside Precinct, engineering group Arup and Cox Architecture knew they had an interesting challenge ahead.
The site of One One One is sandwiched between two other towers that form the precinct and already had a car park and loading dock that needed to remain in place. This meant that the future high-rise development of the site had to contend with a small land area and an off-centre core.
“It needed to be large enough to make it commercially viable, which would usually require a footprint that was about twice as big as the land area, so it effectively had to overhang the existing car park and loading dock,” Engineers Australia Fellow and Chartered engineer Ian Ainsworth FIEAust CPEng told create.
Ainsworth is a Principal at Arup and was the Project Director on the One One One Eagle Street project.
To help stabilise the tower, the team identified spots around the site where they could land columns. Unfortunately, these spots were not evenly spread around the building, and so the engineers began thinking of ways they could make the columns branch out as they moved up the building.
They initially considered a diagrid building but the column locations were still too irregular to create a diagonal pattern.
“Very quickly we found ourselves starting to draw and model things that looked very much like a plant rather than a building,” Ainsworth said.
“At that point we said ‘well, hang on, how about we actually grab hold of that with both hands and start seeing if we can come up with some column patterns on the outside of the building and use nature to help us come up with the right pattern?’.”
Ainsworth said they found a study about germinating seeds growing towards the light and created some parametric scripting that would generate patterns for the columns.
“We generated several thousand patterns that obeyed the rules that we set,” he said. “And then we went through those patterns with the architect who chose the ones they liked. Then we started testing those and incorporating them in our structural model.”
Due to the branching nature of the columns, the team had the opportunity to “get a bit crazier” at the top of the building, as Ainsworth puts it. But they also needed to create something feasible, so all the columns are all at multiples of five degrees from the vertical to avoid giving the builders a headache.
“It was probably about 20 per cent of the way through that process that we all realised we had sort of inadvertently started mimicking the fig trees across the road from the site,” Ainsworth said.
The Moreton Bay fig trees are a historic feature of the area, so Ainsworth was impressed they could incorporate such an important icon into the project. And it has impressed other people, too, with the building picking up a number of architectural awards and GPT CEO Michael Cameron calling it “Australia’s best office tower”.
Council House 2
Termites are usually seen as the enemy of a building, so it was a surprise when architect Mick Pearce used the insects’ nests as inspiration for Melbourne’s Council House 2 (CH2).
Opened in 2006, the 10-storey building in Melbourne’s CBD wasn’t the first structure Pearce designed inspired by the tiny critters — CH2 has a ‘big brother building’ in Pearce’s home country of Zimbabwe. But it was the first building in Australia to be awarded a six star Australian Green Star accreditation.
Melbourne City Council’s brief for the project was to create an economically and environmentally sustainable building, which is where the termite mound design comes into play.
CH2’s HVAC systems draw in cold air overnight, cooling the entire building. This is enough to keep the building cool for most of the day. For the rest of the day, cool air rises up through floor registers.
Termite mounds operate in a similar fashion. Cool air enters through vents towards the bottom of the mound and hot air escapes out of the top through chimneys.
The shutters on the building’s facade also help keep it cool by automatically angling themselves depending on the position of the sun.
CH2 and The Bonacci Group, the engineers behind it, have taken out a number of awards for their ingenuity, including several gongs at the 2007 Australian Engineering Excellence Awards.
According to the Indigenous people of the Kulin nation in central Victoria, Bunjil was a mythical creator who commonly took the form of a wedge-tailed eagle. This inspiration is very apparent in the design of Bunjil Place (pictured above).
Located in Narre Warren, about 40 km from Melbourne’s CBD, Bunjil Place is an entertainment and creative space. The building houses an impressive range of facilities, including a library, gallery, theatre, function centre, multi-purpose studio and the City of Casey’s customer service centre.
Architectural firm FJMT was responsible for the design of the building and the project’s chief designer, Richard Francis-Jones, said they worked closely with local Indigenous communities to make sure the building honoured the legend of Bunjil.
“The story inspired us to design a building with a roof that replicates the shape of a wing span,” Francis-Jones told Swedish Wood. “And in two places we’ve made the wings sweep down and touch the ground.”
Completed in 2017, Bunjil Place was created in part by engineering firm Taylor Thomson Whitting (TTW). The building has a timber gridshell (according to TTW the first of its kind in Australia) that creates the illusion of a large set of wings covering the building, while the creature’s feet frame the atrium entrance.
The structure was built using glued laminated timber, or ‘glulam’, from German fabricator Hess Timber.
Due to the multi-purpose nature of the building, extensive testing was carried out to ensure each space met the relevant requirements. The engineers created a structural analysis model to determine how the timber gridshell would cope as a load bearing structure and to assess the long-term creep movement and flexibility in the joints.
The team also completed a detailed assessment of the roof for wind, thermal and earthquake effects.