Biomimicry and Infrastructure Resilience

Using system-level biomimicry to support resilient infrastructure design

Biomimicry and Resilient Infrastructure

In today’s rapidly evolving climate, and amid unprecedented technological disruptions, engineers and designers seek infrastructure solutions that are resilient to both known and unknown future conditions. This paper uses biomimicry to provide examples (from ecosystems) and guidance (from Life’s Principles) for resilient infrastructure systems in theory and practice. We evaluate opportunities for improving design, prompted through consideration of Life’s Principles—six principles that are associated with the emergence of resilience in natural systems. We conclude that resilient infrastructure theory generally accords with Life’s Principles (aligning with all but two unaddressed sub-principles); however, resilient infrastructure practice only occasionally aligns with Life’s Principles, and contradicts five out of six Life’s Principles with the sixth (‘use life friendly chemistry’) being unaddressed. We recommend several pragmatic opportunities for infrastructure managers to improve infrastructure resilience going forward through incorporating Life’s Principles within the design process.

The Biomimicry and Resilient Infrastructure project was a joint effort between Arizona State University (ASU) and Griffith University, with financial support from The Biomimicry Center at ASU.

An interdisciplinary, multi-university and global

Project Team

Alysha Helmrich

School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Arizona State University

Mikhail Chester

School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Arizona State University

Cheryl Desha

School of Engineering and the Built Environment, Griffith University

Nancy Grimm

School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University

Samantha Hayes

School of Engineering and the Built Environment, Griffith University

Samuel Markolf

School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Arizona State University

Research Findings

Life’s Principles are limitedly addressed by resilient infrastructure practice, which focuses on robustness and recovery; still, resilient infrastructure theory aligns closely with the Life’s Principles framework. The most frequently aligned core concepts include adaptability, flexibility, and agility, which we propose are overarching themes in resilient infrastructure theory and an ‘end goal’ of resilient infrastructure. Resilient infrastructure design shows dominance in certain Life’s Principles such as ‘evolve to survive,’ ‘adapt to changing conditions,’ and ‘be locally attuned and responsive;’ however, the remaining principles also are addressed in part, and one—‘be resource efficient’—is more commonly evoked in practice than implied by analysis.

Where the alignments between the frameworks provide opportunities for recognized growth, the identified contradictions and gaps provide opportunities for innovation. Infrastructure managers should address the contradictions between resilient infrastructure practice and Life’s Principles in design by incorporating more core concepts that show alignment. This will expand the dominant infrastructure design strategy beyond fail-safe and robust infrastructure. Furthermore, infrastructure managers can be innovative to fill the gaps between frameworks. Not every core concept will be able to address every life principle; however, exploration of these gaps may prove that the core concepts are not binary classifications but a continuum, which would strengthen a tradeoff analysis. Resilience can only be achieved through an approach that recognizes complexity, deep uncertainty, and interrelatedness of components. This means that resilient infrastructure design should seek to optimize not one but all Life’s Principles through satisficed solutions.

To learn more check out the video modules (below), publication, or podcast!

Related Publications

Using biomimicry to support resilient infrastructure design

Alysha Helmrich, Mikhail Chester, Samantha Hayes, Samuel Markolf, Cheryl Desha, and Nancy Grimm, Earth's Future, Expected 2021, doi: 10.1029/2020EF001653.

Enabling biomimetic place-based design at scale

Samantha Hayes, Jane Toner, Cheryl Desha, Mark Gibbs, Biomimetics, 2020, 5(2), doi: 10.3390/biomimetics5020021.

Biomimicry: An opportunity for buildings to relate to place

Dayna Baumeister, Maibritt Pedersen, Samantha Hayes, in Ecologies Design: Transforming Architecture, Landscape, and Urbanism, 2020, 1st ed. London: Routledge, pp. .

Leveraging socio-ecological resilience theory to build climate resilience in transport infrastructure

Samantha Hayes, Cheryl Desha, Matthew Burke, Mark Gibbs, Mikhail Chester, Transport Reviews, 2019, 39(5), pp. 677-699, doi: 10.1080/01441647.2019.1612480.

Findings of Case-Study Analysis: System-Level Biomimicry in Built-Environment Design

Samantha Hayes, Cheryl Desha, Mark Gibbs Biomimetics, 2019, 4(4), pp. 73, doi: 10.1080/01441647.2019.1612480.

Adapting infrastructure to climate change: Who bears the risk and responsibility?

Samantha Hayes, Asset Intelligence through Integration and Interoperability and Contemporary Vibration Engineering Technologies, 2018, doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-95711-1_24.

Video Series

The video series was created to provide researchers with knowledge to leverage biomimicry theory in the design of resilient infrastructure.

What is Resilience?

Dr. Samuel Markolf sits down with Dr. Mikhail Chester and Dr. Nancy Grimm to discuss what resilience means to different fields: ecology, social-ecological systems, and engineering.

An Introduction to Biomimicry

Dr. Cheryl Desha and Dr. Samantha Hayes provide an introduction to biomimicry and examine how it has been applied to engineered systems.

Overview of Life’s Principles and Resilient Infrastructure Core Concepts

Alysha Helmrich provides an Overview of Biomimicry 3.8’s Life’s Principles followed by an exploration of core concepts that have emerged in resilient infrastructure design—theory and practice.

Using Biomimicry to Support Resilient Infrastructure Design

Alysha Helmrich explores the lessons resilient infrastructure design can learn from Life’s Principles, stepping through recommendations from each of the life principles.

Key Takeaways

Dr. Samuel Markolf, Dr. Samantha Hayes, and Alysha Helmrich discuss what they learned throughout the project and their major takeaways.