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Architecture & Biomimetics Series 3

Architecture & Biomimetics Series 3 - The Pangolin's Guide to Bio-Digital Movement in Architecture

by Dennis Dollens
iPhone App. Available via the iTunes Store $0.99.

by Dennis Dollens
Comic book covering Digital Hybrid Biostructures, narrated by a Pangolin
Lumen Books, NY, NY, 2010
24 pp. $10.00
ISBN: 978-0-930829-12-4.

Reviewed by Rob Harle


This review refers to two separate forms of Dollens' latest contribution to the nascent art-science of biomimetic architecture. The first offering is in the form of an iPhone App, the second with similar content, is available in hard copy as a comic style book.

The iPhone is, in my opinion, a triumph of technology and engineering––the graphic/image manipulation capability is simply astonishing. Even if you're not especially into architecture, the beauty of Dollens' digitally grown images will enhance your iPhone experience, stun your friends and help in the preservation of the endangered little animal – The Pangolin. The Pangolin is a small animal with beautiful scales, a little like an armadillo’s size and shape. They live in Africa and in Asia where they are under environmental stress from poachers who sell the scales on the black market. This comic book is dedicated to increasing research and protection for Pangolins. In the Pangolin's own words, “Grow Buildings! Reforest the Cities!” (p. 5).

The Pangolin's Guide was inspired by graphic novels and manga, hence the comic book style format. An unusual way to present serious sustainable architecture principles? Perhaps. However, as we are continually coming to understand, ivory tower academic research, locked away from the public's, scrutiny and input, is not the way forward to a sustainable global future. The lesson of a misinformed public concerning genetically altered food that resulted in the prevention of some possible benefits of this process should be noted. What better way to inform the general public about sustainable building than through the iPhone medium and comic books? Dollens decided to make his ground-breaking work available via these low cost mediums so as to, “…share proposals, inspire and to trigger future thinking and design discussion for the future development of bioarchitectural systems.”

Dollens has been experimenting with bio-generative software, growing buildings and printing 3D architectural models for many years now. This has resulted in a number of previous books [1] most of which I have reviewed for Leonardo Reviews (see September 2003; January 2004; June 2005). His main software applications are Xfrog and Rhino. These allow him to experiment with, and generate new structures based on botanic samples that result in digital hybrid biostructures. The concept behind biomimetic design is to understand how nature has solved problems, for example utilisation of sunshine (photosynthesis), and then apply this to the built environment to produce truly sustainable buildings. Architectural sustainability has become far more than a band-aid approach. Future buildings must be biologically part of the environment, interacting with it (and humans) in a fundamental and positive way. The planting of deciduous trees on the heavy sun side of a building is a good idea, but BioDesign takes this much, much further. The idea is to create buildings that are living entities that can process environmental information in a similar way to living plants, not just dead lumps of high-energy-input materials. The Pangolin Guides explain and show many of these principles in a most enjoyable way.

Dollens is not only an inspired researcher and experimental architect but also a truly gifted pedagogue. He teaches both formally at the University in Barcelona, Spain and widely through his books and publications. He inspires radical “out-of-the-box” thinking in the best possible way. I actually think his work should also be studied in disciplines quite remote from architecture where creative solutions to major global challenges are required. Students (and practitioners) in fields such as economics, engineering, environmental science, medicine and farming would benefit immensely from Dollens' approach and underlying philosophy to problem solving.

The comic book layout is highly enjoyable to read, the combination of text and beautifully coloured images help the message “sink in” effortlessly. Embedded in the visual feast are many truly profound observations of nature such as the section on spiralling. I'll finish with a quote from page six, “Natural spiralling & twirling (Genetic & Environmental) are growth strategies conceptually understood & sometimes viewed across scales – cosmological to quantum- from galaxies, ocean waves, trees, insect flight paths to shells, & molecular orbits. Spirals are the universe's embedded locomotion.”

[1] Exodesic (1999). Genetic Architectures/Arquitecturas genéticas (2003); D-B.A Digital-Botanic Architecture (2005).

Last Updated 1 April, 2010

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