I received an email from a Design student at Kingston University (London) writing a dissertation on "why people are drawn to design inspired by nature." Three questions were sent; I went overboard answering the first one, and basically wussed out on the second two. I'd be interested in your takes on this highly subjective stuff, and will be sure to let our dissertation author in on the discussion.
1. Why in your opinion are people so drawn to design inspired by nature?
2. What in your opinion is the finest example of design inspired by nature in the field of product and furniture design (my course)?
3. Do you think there are psychological benefits to design inspired by nature, and what do you think they are?
1. Why in your opinion are people so drawn to design inspired by nature? I don't think everyone is drawn to design inspired by nature. Some like Le Corbusier's buildings at their boxiest, and contemporary glass and aluminum offices and homes, and Danish Modern furniture, while others like nature-inspired design... simply because they do. There's no accounting for taste. I know that speaks to the shallowest part of peoples' immediate and visceral reactions to aesthetics, but I think that most of the time — especially in this day and age — that's all there is to it. It's certainly not true of everyone, but most people in these harried times never have any need or desire to consider why some fashion appeals to them while some other fashion doesn't. It is what it is, and there are ten thousand other urgent things to attend to. If pressed, they'll tend to latch onto any available notions that support their position without actually considering them. Look to politics as an independent example of that. Trying to detangle rationalizations from pure impulse is a tricky business. (But it would probably be a much better world if more people tried.) There was an international conference on the conservation of earthen architecture in Mali in February '08. In conjunction with the conference, the BBC hosted a call-in radio show about earthen buildings. People participated from cultures with traditions of earthen housing. Opinions were fiercely split — even among those in the same cultures and social strata — who felt that "mud huts" represented an embarrassing lack of wealth and sophistication, and those who considered them a proud and living heritage of beauty and functionality. Similarly, it was within my parent's lifetime in America that people routinely dispensed with handcrafted furniture in favor of sleek, new, chrome and plastic alternatives that represented prosperity and optimism with the memory of the Great Depression still smarting, as well as a triumph and transcendence over the capricious whims of nature. It wasn't really that long ago when the constituent natural materials making up the built environment were usually readily identifiable the world over — hand-worked wood, stone, mud, grasses, metals, almost invariably imperfectly rendered. Not wabi sabi, but partway toward it. People, especially ones that have clumped into city societies, are creatures of fashion — novelty is a driver. The industrial age ushered in an aesthetic that wasn't possible before, at least not widely. And then the High-Speed Injection-Molded Plastic Age really drove it home. Soon novelty becomes the norm as the poor emulate the wealthy. And then economics takes over as the primary driver. To some extent, we've come a circle: Natural materials that used to be considered cheap and inferior are now recognized by what seems to be a fast-growing number as expensive and high-quality. And certainly there have always been people inspired to action by nature — the Art Nouveau movement and Frank Lloyd Wright (ostensibly), to name a couple. But maybe I'm missing the question. In the case of biomimicry, nature-inspired design may not even be visually detectable.
2. What in your opinion is the finest example of design inspired by nature in the field of product and furniture design (my course)? Velcro.
3. Do you think there are psychological benefits to design inspired by nature, and what do you think they are? I do think there are psychological benefits to design inspired by nature, as suggested by biophilia research and many of the arguments presented by the natural building movement.
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