Bio-Inspired Materials: Contribution of
Biology to Energy Efficiency of Buildings
Marzieh Imani, Michael Donn, and Zahra Balador
Introduction ....................................................................................... 2
Method ............................................................................................ 3
Search Process ................................................................................ 3
Selection Criteria .............................................................................. 4
Summary of Papers Selected: The “Pearl”Method of Expanding the Search . . . . . . . ....... 6
Classiﬁcation of Bio-Inspired Materials Based on Biological Characteristics . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . 9
Bio-Inspired Materials for Natural Recycling .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 9
Bio-Inspired Materials Imitating Organisms’Micro/Macrostructure or Patterns ............ 11
Bio-Inspired Materials Imitating Organisms’Function . ..................................... 13
Bio-Inspired Materials Imitating Biological Processes ....................................... 18
Conclusions and Further Outlook . .. .. ... .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... . .. .. .. .. .. .. ... . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 19
References .. . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... . .. .. .. . 20
This chapter systematically analyzes the existing literature on bio-inspired
materials used in architecture, construction, and building design. Imitating nature
accounts for an effective strategy for designing innovative buildings. Integrating
this biomimicry strategy into the design process generates beneﬁts for both
designers and the natural environment, as bio-inspired designs can contribute to
sustainability. Mimicking nature, various biomimetic approaches have produced
environmentally friendly, innovative, smart, or intelligent materials for buildings.
This literature review demonstrates that researchers and designers are signiﬁcantly
inspired by animals’, plants’, or microorganisms’innovative biological systems
(functions, structures, and processes) in order to design bio-inspired materials for
increasing energy efﬁciency of the buildings. However, the range of innovative
M. Imani (*) · M. Donn · Z. Balador
School of Architecture and Design, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand
#Springer International Publishing AG 2018
L. M. T. Martínez et al. (eds.), Handbook of Ecomaterials,
bio-inspired materials is not broad, and most of the published research seems
to be about one-off cases. The chapter ﬁrst introduces the systematic literature
research methodology used for analyzing the current knowledge of architectural
bio-inspired materials. Current research on bio-inspired materials used in archi-
tectural and building science is reviewed, and a new classiﬁcation scheme for
clustering relevant data is presented. These innovative materials serve different
functions in buildings. This classiﬁcation scheme enables a new synthesis of
existing knowledge based on the multi-functionality of currently developed bio-
inspired building. The chapter concludes by substantiating the argument that
“there is no systematic and general workﬂow for data mining innovative building
design/construction concepts from biological processes.”Overall, then, this
research suggests that there is a need for a bio-architectural workﬂow assisting
scientists and designers to ﬁnd the relevant organisms in nature as the source of
inspiration for innovative design.
Biomimicry has been proposed as a means of merging environment into design
projects in order to achieve principles of sustainability  and innovation. The labels
bionic, biomimetic, and biomimicry have been used interchangeably in recent
research. However, there is a ﬁne line between bionic, biomimetic, and biomimicry.
Biomimetic (and its associated noun biomimicry) is proposed as a descriptor for
artiﬁcial mechanisms to produce materials with performance similar to materials
that exist in nature , while bionic is more related to “cybernetics”and artiﬁcial
intelligence [2,3]. Biotechnology as a term refers to a form of biomimicry using
biological systems for industrial processes or using any type of biological organisms
to beneﬁt human or human surroundings ; in other words, natural solutions are
applied in technological practice to solve human problems . In this chapter,
biomimicry or biomimetic as general terms refers to any type of bio-inspired design
approaches which imitate nature’s approach .
Some authors state that biomimicry promises improvement in the environmental
conditions in buildings [6–10]. Construction technology has experienced a dramatic
development in the use of bio-inspired materials. Around 0.25% of all known natural
organisms have a current application in the industry . Mimicking structural,
behavioral, functional, and morphological aspects of natural organisms can lead to
numerous types of bio-inspired materials all introducing new methods for structural
design, thermal insulation, waterprooﬁng, etc.
Abderrazak El Albani et al. suggest that multicellular organisms have been able to
adapt themselves to the environmental conditions and threats for over 2.1 billion
years . A part of biomimetic science focuses on ﬁnding ways organisms have
found to survive. From these, biomimicry promises lessons learned about energy
efﬁciency that can be applied to buildings. Some of these lessons suggest materials
with high thermal performance. For example, buildings’façades play a signiﬁcant
role in exchanging and storing energy as a ﬁlter moderating energy ﬂows between
2 M. Imani et al.
the internal and external environment. Great improvement in thermal performance
of buildings is achieved by imitating nature and considering building façades as
like the skins on living organisms. Even though conventional façade technologies
have partly fulﬁlled energy exchange mechanisms, the contemporary biomimetic
approach has opened new avenues for creating innovative materials which effec-
tively contribute to thermal comfort. Likewise, conventional materials such as
concrete and glass are being replaced by bio-inspired materials. Natural patterns
such as honeycomb’s and soap bubble’s structural conﬁgurations have recently
inspired the creation of construction membranes described by Peters as “innovative
Basically, the energy performance motivation behind most bio-inspired materials
is to either reduce the energy consumption spent on the whole material production
process and recycling systems or to improve buildings’energy performance. The
manufacturing process of artiﬁcial materials such as mining, reﬁning, and coating –
described by Janine Benyus as “heat, beat, and treat”–consumes a signiﬁcant
amount of energy.
The contribution of biomimetic innovation to sustainability can be broadly
classiﬁed as following two different strategies: bottom-up and top-down. The ﬁrst
strategy studies a biological mechanism and then forms a technological solution.
This bottom-up approach is described by Gruber et al. as “solution-oriented”or
“biomimetics by induction”. The second strategy identiﬁes a technical inquiry
in a speciﬁc area of knowledge. Gruber et al. describes this as “problem-oriented”or
“biomimetics by analogy”. Investigating a biological solution for this inquiry
necessitates data mining process in biological science.
This chapter addresses two issues: it examines a catalogue of bio-inspired mate-
rials identifying their strengths, potentials, and limitations and it also investigates
whether the top-down strategy might be formulated into a general framework for
mining biological science for building design inspiration.
Using a systematic literature review (SLR) process, this chapter looks to establish
whether there are examples of the application of biomimetic principles in architec-
tural/building design. In this chapter, the process is used to examine the potential for
mining the biological sciences for bio-inspired principles that can be transformed
into architectural principles for the purpose of innovation. To accomplish the SLR, a
formalized search process is used that derives conclusions which can be considered
trustworthy . The required steps in this process are documented below:
The following literature databases have been recognized useful by recent studies and
were searched in the preparation of the base material for this systematic review:
Bio-Inspired Materials: Contribution of Biology to Energy Efficiency of... 3
•ProQuest:“... is recognized as one of the three major databases used by
•Emerald: covers the major computer science subjects  and covers the portfo-
lio of around 300 journals.
•Scopus: is known as the most extensive database on science and technology .
•PubMed: has the capability to interlink all databases containing biotechnology
•Google Scholar (GS): covers a large number of sources, including some of the
•IEEE Xplore: allows for a more precise search using efﬁcient search ﬁlters.
•“Wiley, Springer Link, and Taylor and Francis (T & F)”databases were also
searched; apparently only around 68 percent of Springer link’s content , one-
third of Wiley’s documents, and one-ﬁfth of Taylor and Francis’published
articles are covered by Google Scholar .”
The search was keyword based. Keywords were sought in the full text, and the
search took place between 1st and 5th of October 2017. In each database, search
terms were made consistent to focus the search process on the research scope. The
databases were scanned three times with ﬁve different sets of keywords since bio-
inspired materials in architectural science are also referred to as “eco materials,”
“biomaterials,”or “smart materials.”
In addition to these separate synonyms which were the “main keywords,”the
keywords searched for were:
A: Main keyword þbuilding,
B: Main keyword þbuilding þbiomimicry
C: Main keyword þbuilding þbiomimetic
D:Mainkeywordþbuilding þbiomimicry NOT Robot NOT Aircraft NOT Medicine
NOT Polymer NOT Protein NOT Medical NOT Organ NOT Pharmaceutics NOT
Drug NOT “Tissue Engineering”
E:Mainkeywordþbuilding þbiomimetic NOT Robot NOT Aircraft NOT Medicine
NOT Polymer NOT Protein NOT Medical NOT Organ NOT Pharmaceutics NOT
Drug NOT “Tissue Engineering”
Only items D and E in this keyword search list focus on the topic of this chapter.
As can be seen in Table 1, without the terms that exclude references not related to
buildings, the main keywords identify many irrelevant references.
Very few publications focused precisely on bio-inspired materials in architecture.
Most articles published on the subject of biomimicry and architecture include only a
4 M. Imani et al.
considerably small section in which materials of biological origins are introduced.
Most of these focus on the following topics, so biomaterials are not core to their
content: ﬂow of material through industrial society for the aim of implementing
sustainability in construction and manufacturing, social sustainability and the con-
servation economy, high-quality recycling of construction and demolition, sustain-
able cities, urban metabolism, creativity in education, life cycle analysis, and
biomimicry in landscape and infrastructure.
Biomaterial is a popular word in the following disciplines: biomedical engin-
eering, medicine, tissue engineering, cell biology, polymer science, dentistry, bio-
chemistry, pharmacology, and microbiology. “Smart materials”are widely used in
aerodynamics, robotic, and medical applications. Consequently, the searches D and E
applied a ﬁltration process which removed “polymer, protein, tissue engineering,
drug, pharmaceutics, medical, organ, robot, aircraft, and medicine”from the search
process. The gray cells in Table 1show the selected articles.
Table 1 Search terms within the databases (Date of last search: 1–5 October 2017)
Biomaterials Eco materials Smart materials Bio-inspired
ABCDEAB CDEABCDE ABCDEAB CDE
T & F
Bio-Inspired Materials: Contribution of Biology to Energy Efficiency of... 5
Summary of Papers Selected: The “Pearl”Method of Expanding the
The references section of all papers has also been checked for ﬁnding the most
relevant articles. This is an application of the “pearl method”: ensuring that when
relevant references are found, they form the “pearl”around which other references
The integrated results for ﬁve sets of keywords (consisting of a total of 1730
papers) were initially screened by looking at the title, abstract, and author-generated
keywords to ensure relevance. This was to exclude irrelevant papers or duplicates.
Nine hundred articles were removed from the list at the ﬁrst step. The remaining 830
articles were reviewed in more depth leaving only 200 papers for detailed examina-
tion. On review, only 50 percent of these were excluded for the following reasons
1. There is no line between material and structure in nature as the essence of any
material (e.g., bone, collagen, wood) is the microscopic structure and it is almost
impossible to differentiate “structure”and “material”in natural organisms .
Considering this fact, innovative bio-inspired building envelopes can also be
regarded as bio-inspired material but of course in a very large scale called “textile
membrane”. This type of bio-inspiration is not included in this chapter. Even
novel architectural membranes inspired by biological construction process (e.g.,
underwater reinforced web construction of water spider) or structural properties
of natural composite materials (e.g., ﬁber orientation in insect cuticle) are not
2. Materials in nature are used efﬁciently in complicated forms. Imitating this
process, rapid prototyping (RP) in architecture emulates the layer by layer
deposition of materials in a hierarchical structure to improve materials’efﬁciency.
Variable property modeling (VPM) as a bio-inspired fabrication approach for
designing building components is introduced by [23,24]. Created surfaces using
RP manufacturing technology, however, can also be regarded as bio-inspired
materials –in the form of a “textile membrane”–but are not included in this
chapter as the materials used for prototyping are artiﬁcial (e.g., plastics).
3. Sometimes natural organisms are utilized in building envelopes without being
even combined with other materials including perhaps artiﬁcial polymers during
the manufacturing process. For example, in some biological building envelopes,
natural materials improve the ﬁltration/extraction process through which pollut-
ant and volatile compounds are sucked out leaving the interior spaces with
puriﬁed air . The direct use of natural materials also contributes to thermal
insulation. For example, Spinifex grasses are a biological material well known for
their resilient leaves . From an architectural point of view, this type of grass is
used for cladding timber frame shade structures and is used also as an adhesive
material in plugging water vessels. Even though the innovative use of such
biological materials shows an efﬁcient climatic response to the rain, wind, and
high temperature, they are not considered as innovative bio-inspired materials in
6 M. Imani et al.
Fig. 1 Different types of bio-inspired building envelopes (not considered in this research)
Bio-Inspired Materials: Contribution of Biology to Energy Efficiency of... 7
4. In very rare cases, natural organisms themselves are responsible for making the
“textile membrane”in architectural design. For example, in Silk Pavilion , a
3D printer has been used to fabricate a lightweight scaffold. By controlling the
environmental factors, silkworms are guided to fabricate the whole structure –
similar to their cocoon –in terms of ﬁber arrangements and silk deposition. These
types of bio-inspired materials are also omitted from this research.
Omitting above four types of bio-inspired materials –as they could be considered
more related to bio-inspired building envelopes –the literature review suggests that
bio-inspired materials used in buildings can fall into four major categories: (1) using
natural materials in the manufacturing process for better recycling as well as
mimicking (2) structural properties, (3) functions, and (4) biological processes of
natural organisms. Each individual approach yields innovative sustainable outcomes
(Fig. 2). More importantly not even one study explained a process by which
researchers found the source of inspiration in nature in order to develop an innova-
tive building material which means there is no generalised and systematised proce-
dure for mining bio-databases.
TYPES OF BIO-
Fig. 2 Classiﬁcation of bio-inspired materials
8 M. Imani et al.
Classification of Bio-Inspired Materials Based on Biological
Bio-inspired materials for recycling can be classiﬁed into two major groups: (1)
bioplastics and (2) biocomposites. Bio-inspired materials which imitate organisms’
micro/macrostructure or patterns show either (1) load-bearing behavior or (2) ther-
mal behavior. Imitating organisms’function has inspired materials with (1) intelli-
gent response mechanism known as smart materials mainly used for enabling
movement or thermal regulation, self-cleaning and self-healing, and vibration resis-
tance and (2) waterprooﬁng or water harvesting mechanism. Bio-inspired materials
which imitate biological process can be divided into two interrelated and almost
similar categories: (1) growing and (2) reproductive materials.
Researchers in biomaterials study nature following a scale-based approach. Either
macro-, micro-, or nano-scales of imitation ultimately contribute to the energy
efﬁciency of buildings. These types of approaches result in energy efﬁcient and
Biomimicry (imitating organisms’functions, structures, and processes) mainly
focuses at the micro- and macroscale levels of imitation. Nanotechnology can also be
considered as a type of biomimetic design method focusing at nanoscale level of
imitation. Bio-inspired nanostructured materials are founded as nanocomposites (a
mixture of conventional materials with nanomaterials) or as nano-engineered mate-
rials both structurally modiﬁed at nanoscale level . For example, imitating
crystallization of natural materials such as mineralized skeleton, researchers have
designed bio-inspired concrete in which physical and chemical properties of con-
crete nanostructure are optimized . Nanotechnology in architecture essentially
contributes to improving the functionality of conventional materials and turns them
into more efﬁcient products such as self-cleaning windows, UV-resistant timber
frames, or dirt-repellent coatings.
Bio-Inspired Materials for Natural Recycling
Most bio-inspired materials in this category (macroscale) are considered as biode-
gradable materials. McDonough and Braungart classify two different cycles which if
improved or understood contribute to waste reduction: “biological”and “technical.”
While the former beneﬁts from adding natural ﬁbers into the material mixture (bio-
based materials), the latter intends to assure everlasting durability of metals and
minerals once they enter the manufacturing process.
Recently used synthetic plant-based materials –in which plants as raw materials
are dispersed in the polymer matrix –are called “bio-aggregate”-based building
materials . Materials introduced in this category can also be considered as “eco
materials”as the whole life cycle (starting from production to disposal stage) of
products is considered to be assessed during the design process to reduce the
environmental impacts of materials .
Bio-Inspired Materials: Contribution of Biology to Energy Efficiency of... 9
In the manufacturing process of these eco/ecological/bio/bio-based/bio-aggregate
materials, natural ﬁbers are added to composites to improve the material properties.
These materials can be classiﬁed into the following basic groups based on their
applications in building industry.
Bioplastics for Natural Recycling
Bioplastics have natural origins (plants or microorganisms) and are made, at least in
part, from renewable biological raw materials in order to facilitate biodegradation
process. This means that polymers can be derived from renewable feedstock or can
return to nature . Plant-based bioplastics include building blocks such as lignin,
vegetable oils, cellulose, thermoplastic starch, polylactic acid, etc. Algae-based
bioplastics have ﬂame-resistant properties showing the potential to be used in the
building industry. However, the procurement process of changing this fast-growing
natural organism into “alginsulate foam”materials is costly. The life cycle and
convenient disposal of this type of bioplastics make it distinguishable from conven-
Biocomposites for Natural Recycling
One of the main features of biocomposites is their sound-absorbing quality. Their
speciﬁc structure leads to the active control of noise and vibration inside the
building. Biocomposites might have different sources such as plants or animals.
Biocomposites can also be made of a combination of plastics with either reinforced
natural ﬁbers or wood.
Wood polymer composites (WPC) are plant-based biocomposites with an
inorganic manufacturing process. They make a perfect combination of desirable
manufacturing properties such as low thermal expansion and moisture resistance.
The application of these composites in buildings can be seen in skirting board
proﬁles. As a new technological approach to using bamboo –a traditionally used
material for scaffolding in building industry –this natural material has been added to
wood-polymer composites (WPC), ﬁber-reinforced concrete, and bioplastics. Cork
polymer biocomposites, as another sample of plant-based materials, are recently
produced and used in the building sector . Thermal and electrical insulation of
cork-based composites is achieved through cork’s cellular structure . Cork’s
water-permeable quality, as well as its thermohygromechanical properties, makes it a
favorable biocomposite for building construction. “Subertres”as a cork-based prod-
uct is being used for thermal and acoustic isolation purposes in roofs and facades.
Due to their speciﬁc surface structure, cork-based materials are also used for interior
design. Jute-based composites as one of the most types of widely used biopolymers
show high tensile strength and are employed in the ceiling, ﬂoor, and windows .
Hemp concrete is also a biocomposite material made of hemp and lime which, due to
its speciﬁc thermal conductivity, can be used for thermal insulation .
Biocomposites can be referred to as animal-based biocomposites with an organic
manufacturing process. While the synthesis of a series of biomaterials takes place in
factories, the rapid growth of fungus (a microorganism which is more related to
classiﬁcation of animals) provides a chance for manufacturers to produce hard foams
10 M. Imani et al.
naturally, as fungus sticks to solid surfaces such as wood and soil to colonize .
The threads of this type of foam which are formed by fungus get dehydrated at a
considerably lower temperature than that of required in the manufacturing process.
Bio-Inspired Materials Imitating Organisms’Micro/Macrostructure or
Innovative materials in this category can be classiﬁed into two distinctive ways by
which buildings’technical requirements can be achieved: materials with load-bear-
ing behavior and materials with thermal behavior. The effect of these types of bio-
inspired materials on energy reduction can be also divided into two groups: reducing
the energy spent on (1) off-site manufacture such as construction process, transpor-
tation, and module fabrication and assembly and (2) decreasing thermal conductivity
in buildings. In regard to the ﬁrst approach, lightweight materials such as self-
reinforced thermoplastics and ﬁber-reinforced structures contribute effectively to
lower off-site energy consumption. In the second approach, two interrelated aspects
of heat transfer mechanism (thermal insulation and conductivity) get optimized by
innovative foam-based materials in which the structure of air chambers is modeled
after morphological conﬁguration of natural structures.
Materials with Load-Bearing Behavior: Imitating Organisms’
Micro/Macrostructure or Patterns
The macroscale and microscale structure of natural organisms has inspired
researchers to design high load-bearing buildings. For example, in macroscales, the
mechanical stability of trees under dynamic loads, and in microscopic scales, the
ﬂexible connection of diatoms’cells, has inspired designers to develop elastic
materials for dampers to reduce the structural failure in buildings intelligently .
Imitating the structure of sea urchin spines, researchers have recently developed a
functionally graded concrete with high load-bearing capacity in which the inner
structure has different levels of porosity similar to that of the urchin spines .
Studying kinematic behavior of plants during the pollination process has recently
inspired deployable systems in architecture . Bird-of-paradise ﬂower’s pollina-
tion mechanism motivated a form-ﬁnding process in architectural design resulting
in innovative materials used in ﬂexible cantilever and single-span beam design. This
biomimetic approach makes the entire building structure capable of elastic defor-
mation without the need for hinges’formation. Lienhard et al. and Poppinga et al.
refer to this bending kinematics as a result of the strong relationship between plants’
function and morphology [38–40].
The mortar-like structure of nacre (mother-of-pearl) and the bone is claimed to be
formed by two types of newly discovered proteins both controlling the biomineral-
ization process in nature as biomineralization is the determining factor for producing
hard bio-inspired materials. A type of biomimetic composite material made of a
hexagonal honeycomb structure ﬁlled with ﬂuidics is inspired by bones’structure
and used in Japanese buildings as wooden joints . This composite decentralizes
Bio-Inspired Materials: Contribution of Biology to Energy Efficiency of... 11
load and absorbs the earthquake shocks as joints in buildings are responsible for
absorbing distortions and vibrations.
The high ratio between porous and compact spaces –the efﬁcient use of natural
materials –in bone’s structure makes it capable of bearing a lot of weight with a low
density. Honeycomb structures (frequently constructed by social insects)  have
also inspired sandwich panels consisting of a comb core (hexagonal lightweight
materials) and two covering layers on sides offering a high load-bearing potential for
construction. The covering sheet is usually made of reinforcement layers of natural
ﬁbers such as cellulose . Investigating hierarchical structure of natural materials
has also resulted in the production of fracture-resistant man-made materials .
Basically, both toughness and lightness of bone’s hexagonal structure have
inspired lightweight structures in buildings. Self-healing ﬁber-reinforced polymer
(FRP) composites offer high tensile strength enabling designers to produce complex
geometries. These types of composites are designed by copying the damage toler-
ance and self-repair functions of bones . Copying nacre’s microstructure, a
multilayer ceramic is designed in which the porous nanostructure interlayer resem-
bles the protein-based layer of nacre’s structure.
Materials with Thermal Behavior: Imitating Organisms’
Micro/Macrostructure or Patterns
Among all bio-inspired approaches to energy efﬁciency including (1) energy pro-
duction, (2) energy storage/harvesting, and (3) energy delivery , mostly the ﬁrst
and the second ones lead to bio-inspired materials. From another perspective, bio-
inspired engineering of materials for thermal management can also be divided into
two categories: bio-inspired materials for thermal insulation and bio-inspired mate-
rials for efﬁcient heat transfer in cooling applications .
In microscale, honeycomb structures, in addition to their high-performance, load-
bearing capacity and pressure resistance properties, have inspired plastics and card-
board panels to serve thermoregulatory purposes in buildings. In comparison to
conventional solar cells, light harvesting and solar energy absorption have been
improved when they are imprinted with the nanostructure of butterﬂy’s wings [46,
47 ]. These bio-inspired solar cells have the capability to harvest a wider range of
visible light –between 400 and 500 nm –and show a high-quality photocatalytic
performance . Diatoms as photosynthetic microorganisms beneﬁt from a speciﬁc
hierarchical structure in their silica-based cell walls. By imitating this structure, more
light can be trapped inside the solar cells to increase the level of electricity generation
As another example, some studies have been inspired by the structure of polar
bear fur and skin; they have developed artiﬁcial furs capable of collecting solar
radiation efﬁciently [51,52]. Fabricated alumina ﬁbers are inspired by the structural
and thermal insulating properties of silkworm cocoons . Even the color-chang-
ing properties of “brittle star”(a class Ophiuroidea closely related to starﬁsh) which
seem to be caused by lens-like protuberances spread on its skin suggest further
research for the development of a color-changing façade made of optical lenses and
capable of gaining more solar energy . The nanostructural conﬁgurations of
12 M. Imani et al.
tapered elements in the compound eyes of Lepidoptera (an order of insects including
butterﬂies and moths) have been inspired antireﬂective glasses which are highly
efﬁcient for incident light absorption [36,52,55]. The energy-harvesting structure of
ﬂy’s eyes can also be used for optical coatings in solar cells .
Plants have similarly inspired innovative materials. A ﬂower called “Galanthus
nivalis”has retroreﬂective petal surfaces which produce cooler intra-ﬂoral temper-
ature. Han et al. designed a new type of building envelope with retroreﬂective
material properties and folded compositions . Energy simulation analysis of
eight building blocks shows that applying this new envelope reduces urban heat
island effects of buildings.
The literature suggests that the hierarchical structure and material compositions of
the intelligent surfaces of trees enable them to control solar adsorption and thermal
regulation processes intelligently. The absorbency and adaptive real-time perfor-
mance of tree bark material have been used to design an intelligent glass with
vascular patterns working as an adaptive cooling layer for the building envelope.
Using this glass material, heat gain can be regulated according to climatic conditions.
As another advantage, this material also can reduce the heat island effect in an urban
Bio-Inspired Materials Imitating Organisms’Function
In the context of biomimicry, the roles played by the strategies living systems use to
survive extreme environmental conditions have been deﬁned as organisms’func-
tions. A biological function is an adaptation mechanism of the living systems.
Biological strategies have inspired human’s technologies to function in an innova-
tive way that the living systems use to survive.
Materials with Intelligent Response Mechanism Imitating Organisms’
Even though nearly all intelligent mechanisms in building design such as self-
healing, self-repairing, self-cleaning, self-assembly, and intelligent movement
require electrical power for actuation or sensing, the amount of energy consumed
for exchanging energy from one form to another as a typical function of smart
technologies is often more efﬁcient than conventional technologies .
Natural organisms sense and respond to environmental stimuli. In buildings,
smart materials emulate the intelligent response processes in nature (Fig. 3). For
example, shape-changing materials in plants have inspired synthetic materials
recently used in sun-harvesting solar panels and reactive textiles. The possible
application of “smart materials”in architecture can be seen either in sensors or
actuators [59,60] or as no-tech/low-tech hydromorphic materials .
The biological membrane of living cells is the basic structural, functional, and
biological unit of all known living organisms which responds to environmental
stresses through using three main components: a sensor, a controller, and an actuator.
Actuators are responsible for producing mechanical effects, while sensors monitor
temperatures, humidity, and movement. Most of the intelligent response mechanisms
Bio-Inspired Materials: Contribution of Biology to Energy Efficiency of... 13
Fig. 3 Bio-inspired intelligent response mechanisms to environmental stimuli in buildings
14 M. Imani et al.
in buildings are achieved through using sensors or actuators in a similar manner so
that buildings also are able to respond to environmental stimuli.
Bio-inspired optical ﬁber sensors do not literally imitate intelligent response of
natural systems but, from another perspective, are inspired by animals’echolocation.
Echolocation has motivated scientists to design distance measurement optical sen-
sors for the purpose of structural health monitoring in building structures.
Materials in this category are inspired by both biological functions and structural
properties of natural organisms as their structural composition is linked with relevant
functions. For instance, the microstructure of Bacilli’s spore membrane changes over
time according to the UV absorption intensity. Imitating this structural deformation
and UV resistance mechanism is claimed to be the ﬁrst step toward developing
biosensors . Imitating structural colors, antireﬂection, and light collection pro-
cesses in birds, insects, and marine animals has also inspired biosensors capable of
reﬂecting light for improving the performance of optical devices .
Nano- and micro-electrical mechanical systems’(MEMS) sensors as the results of
combining two innovative bio-inspired technologies, smart materials (e.g., piezo-
electric ceramics, polymers, or composites) and smart nanomaterials, are promising
but still unknown to building construction while they are widely used in medical
science. For example, piezoelectric materials inserted in the concrete structure of
beams and plates are used as damage detectors and control the building structure [62,
63 ], while structurally optimized smart nanomaterials show a unique acoustic and
lighting performance .
Actuators have also been developed based on smart materials such as shape
memory alloys or electro-magneto-restrictive materials , and these have been
used in different parts of buildings.
Shape memory alloys also act to demonstrate another smart material function:
phase change behavior. Current research on multiphasic materials is inspired by
frost-resistant plants offering unique processes by which heat and mass can ﬂow
easily through a porous solid matrix in plant tissues .
In addition to bio-inspired materials, some studies report the possibility
of developing an innovative kinematic system inspired by the stiffness adaptive
hingeless structure of plants. The technical translation of kinematic movements
in natural organisms enabled by water-dependent actuation or joint-free ﬂexible
systems can be a rod-like structure in buildings using pneumatic cushions for
Smart Materials for Enabling Movement or Thermal Regulation Imitating
Chen and Chiu refer to kinetic responsive architecture or “smart skins”asnew
design strategies which employ smart materials to make buildings more energy
efﬁcient compared to static conventional architecture. These approaches beneﬁt
either from using natural materials or from imitating the mechanisms that natural
organisms employ to perform movement. In the former, smart materials are the
kinetic systems (no-tech strategy and low-tech strategy), while in the latter, smart
materials act as a generator for the mechanical movements of the kinetic surface
Bio-Inspired Materials: Contribution of Biology to Energy Efficiency of... 15
(low-tech strategy) . Electroactive polymers, hydromorphic biocomposites, and
thermobimetals belong to the ﬁrst category of biocomposites which use the no-tech
strategy. Kinematic building envelopes which are animated by shape memory alloys
belong to the second group (low-tech strategy).
Hydromorphic biocomposites (HBC) are modeled after natural hydromorphic
actuators found in a pinecone and wheat awn . The stems of pinecone scales
consist of two different materials showing opposite behaviors to humidity as one
shrinks while the other opens up. Imitating this intelligent mechanism, a multilayer
artiﬁcial textile (veneer-composite system) made of numerous small ﬂaps is devel-
oped in which ﬂaps close and open up in response to air humidity . This
responsive architectural system does not use electronic equipment for sensing,
actuation, and control but instead responds to climatic conditions following the
biological principles plants employ to actuate organ movement.
Dielectric electroactive polymers (DEAPs) change shape and stiffness when a
voltage is applied to the surface of materials which are covered by metal electrodes.
Generating dynamic movements using DEAPs has been used for different purposes
in building design such as soundprooﬁng and energy saving . Conventional
glasses can be replaced by a new type of glass which is covered by DEAP-laminated
sheets which bend around the vertical and horizontal axes and effectively regulate
the light transmission to mitigate overheating in interior spaces. Thermobimetals are
used in building envelopes to improve energy performance by dynamic movement
as well as automatically taking control of reﬂectivity and light transmission through
solar shading .
The stomatal movements in plants stimulated by humidity, temperature, carbon
dioxide concentration, and light intensity have been investigated by measuring the
amount of CO
O produced within a leaf. Following this approach, active mate-
rials for current building façades have been developed which respond to both
temperature and humidity . Living glass and smart glass perform motions
incorporating shape memory alloy technology . In the smart glass, change
coloring and adaptive darkening function are achieved through glass nano-layers
by which light transmission is controlled according to the environment . One of
the smart technological approaches to increasing thermal energy storage (TES),
using either passive or active method, incorporates smart phase change nano-
materials (PCM) embedded in different parts of the buildings such as building
core, solar facades, suspended ceilings, and HVAC systems.
Some active materials such as carbon dioxide-responsive polymers have been
tested in laboratories by calculating the dimensional changes of the surface of the
samples. During an experiment, the thermal performance of shape memory polymer
has been analyzed in a physical model. Shape memory polymer sheets installed in
internal windows can bend to allow for airﬂow according to the inside temperature
. Using this type of polymers in windows contributes to reducing energy
consumption in buildings in which the building envelope behaves like a living
organism to regulate heat. Likewise, researchers refer to the intelligent shape-
changing behavior of red blood cells as a solution to designing a smart energy
efﬁcient composite for thermal insulation. A shape-changing material inside
16 M. Imani et al.
composites would increase or decrease the thermal insulation by changing the
thickness of interlayers reacting to either humidity or temperature .
Smart windows with water circulated intelligently can reduce heat loss and
unwanted heat gain . Regulating solar gain which is a smart mechanism in
liquid-shielded windows contributes to reducing thermal loads in buildings .
In these very last two examples, the façade is itself the “smart material.”
Smart Materials with Self-Cleaning and Self-Healing Function Imitating
Biological membranes are developed by imitating the self-assembling process in
nature by which biological structures and polymers arrange their molecular entities
in response to environmental stresses. Self-healing materials have the potential to
repair themselves without the need to be externally renovated.
For example, exploration of self-repair mechanism in plants has found application
in pneumatic constructions. Emulating this process, a type of innovative polymer
material which regulates the air pressure and consequently prevents the system
breakdown has been developed to be used in a pneumatic structure membrane .
The morphing application of this membrane is called “adaptive stiffness”in which
(again) shape memory materials are responsible for pressurizing honeycomb cell
Currently, self-healing processes in cementitious materials are referred to as
“autonomic or autogenic”. For instance, in the autonomic approach, the self-
repairing mechanism of one type of concrete, in case a rupture takes place, occurs
due to the secretion of an adhesive material through a hollow ﬁber onto the surface
layer [80,81]. In the autogenic approach, a thermophilic anaerobic microorganism is
added to the concrete mixture. The compositional properties of this living concrete
allow the microorganisms to grow inside increasing the potential of the concrete to
serve different purposes in construction. Similar to autonomic self-healing concrete,
this microbial bio-concrete beneﬁts from a highly efﬁcient autogenic self-healing
treatment technique for ﬁlling the possible cracks in the concrete composition 
while concrete’s durability and strength are also increased  and at the same time
the concrete thermal performance gets improved . In some studies, SMAs are
used to repair the emergency damage in concrete.
Similarly, self-healing metals fall into two main categories in which the healing
process is achieved through transportation of either liquid or solid to the damaged
area . However, the translation of the self-repair mechanism of living tissues into
bio-inspired self-healing metals and concrete is not even close to what natural
organisms are capable of. These examples copy the function but not the mechanisms
by which healing occurs in nature.
In addition to the self-repairing mechanism, building skins as advanced “biolog-
ical membranes”might be able to contribute to air ﬁltration as well if bio-inspired
materials imitate multiple aspects of living organisms such as self-assembly and
metabolism (e.g., photosynthesis) at the same time.
Bio-Inspired Materials: Contribution of Biology to Energy Efficiency of... 17
Smart Materials with Vibration Resistance Imitating Organisms’Function
Bio-inspired structures learn from lightweight constructions in nature which employ
an energy dissipation strategy to protect the whole structure from total collapse. This
intelligent responsiveness to overload conditions is an integrated functional and
In buildings, energy dissipation mechanism in seismic dampers happens via
either active or passive systems of which the former incorporates smart materials.
For instance, residual deformation in buildings after an earthquake can be eliminated
or mitigated by modern re-centring devices or products made of smart materials such
as super-elastic shape memory alloy (SMA) bolts [86,87].
Likewise, dielectric electroactive polymer sensors can be inserted in mortar
for the purpose of monitoring building’s vibration . Electro- and magnetor-
heological ﬂuids in vibration dampers can change their viscosity in a magnetic
ﬁeld. Through this mechanism, any ﬂuctuation caused by earthquake load or wind
power can be reduced and even controlled. There are cases in which dampers
resemble morphological conﬁgurations of living things. For example, the proposed
structure of a type of damper is modeled after the climber plant in which the viscosity
of ﬂuidics in the tendril works as smart material and makes the stem strong .
Materials with a Waterproofing or Water Harvesting Mechanism
The water repellency of the lotus ﬂower has resulted in technically developed dirt-
repellent surfaces such as the hydrophobic PTFE-coated fabric. However, zooming
more into details of this mechanism, the hierarchical nanostructure of petals is found
to be responsible for the ultrahigh adhesion effect . Water-resistant bio-inspired
materials are made of innovative hydrophobic surfaces –by which water changes
into droplets –while bio-inspired hydrophilic dirt-repellent coatings make a thin ﬁlm
spread all over the surface  and play a more signiﬁcant role in water harvesting
The water collection mechanism in cactus, spiders, desert beetles, birds, butter-
ﬂies, frogs, and some types of grass has been reported frequently by many
researchers. For example, the multifunctional surface of some types of desert insects
is capable of storing and harvesting water by preventing water from evaporating and
capturing that through the hydrophobic/hydrophilic properties of cuticles .
Likewise, the water harvesting mechanisms in several lizard species occur through
the capillary function of blood vessel networks. This speciﬁc type of water transport
system (the ﬂow of ﬂuid in channels between scales) proposes opportunities for
developing water harvesting materials in climatic regions that experience water
Bio-Inspired Materials Imitating Biological Processes
There seems to be a wide gap between nature-inspired motivations or creative
thoughts and the current technological developments used for producing “living”
18 M. Imani et al.
bio-inspired materials. For example, imitating growth as a natural process is still held
at imagination level and is not even comparable to what is found in nature.
Self-organization in biological systems is a process through which internal
components of a system get organized without being controlled by any external
forces. The self-arrangement characteristics of living organisms at a preliminary
level can be translated into architecture where the organized properties of composite
materials (natural ﬁbers and matrix) are interwoven to make a fabric. Biochemistry,
however, promises advanced performative living materials for architectural design
A protocell designed by Armstrong has similar properties to that of a living cell
. Reacting to light, the protocell moves down into the water according to the
water level ﬂuctuation and makes a precipitate (artiﬁcial reef) to reinforce the timber
tiles of Venetian houses. “Biorock”is another mineral structure created by the
electrodeposition process through which a low-voltage electricity ﬂows through
reinforced steel structure changing minerals into crystallized components. This
material is considerably stronger than common types of concrete and has the potential
to be used in construction .
Vukusic and Sambles state that Bacilli’s sporulation (reproduction) mechanism
can be replicated in architectural design . The living spaces (e.g., rooms), similar
to Bacilli’s reproduction mechanism, can dynamically appear and disappear (be
constructed or destroyed) if their boundaries (e.g., walls) are made of an innovative
architectural material which shows a shape-shifting behavior during growth. Cur-
rently, in extreme environmental conditions, some interior spaces are left abandoned
and unused. Using this material, spaces could be used efﬁciently according to
While all natural materials used in construction are fully grown (adding biode-
gradable materials to the conventional material mixture), a few impressive efforts
have resulted in designing literally living materials capable of adaptive self-rein-
forcement and intelligent response to the environmental stimuli by imitating biolog-
ical processes such as gradual growth .
Conclusions and Further Outlook
Energy saving is one signiﬁcant advantage of using natural materials or imitating
either structures, functions, or processes in nature for creating bio-inspired materials.
Bio-inspired materials offer a wide range of applications in architecture and building
design. Most contribute to increasing the energy performance of buildings (on-site
energy saving) or reducing the environmental impacts of buildings as well as saving
energy resources (off-site energy saving).
This literature review introduces numerous ingenious bio-inspired materials most
created by imitating structural, functional, and behavioral aspects of natural organ-
isms. However, the literature shows a gap in the very ﬁrst step where designers
search nature to ﬁnd inspirations to improve mechanical or functional aspects of
materials. If one reviews all of the literature examined for this chapter, to ﬁnd a
Bio-Inspired Materials: Contribution of Biology to Energy Efficiency of... 19
generalized and systematized procedure for mining biological science, rather than
the many one-off examples listed above, then there is no such procedure available at
present. Except for the common structural characteristics of natural materials (hier-
archical structures) which have been almost fully explored by nanotechnology, other
functional and behavioral potentials of biological materials seem to be vaguely
translated and written about with very speciﬁc and limited examples.
To be able to ﬁnd relevant natural organisms for the purpose of ﬁnding innovative
solutions, there is a need for a general framework enabling researchers to ﬁnd
speciﬁc organisms in accordance with the design challenge. Developing a theoretical
bio-architectural framework which addresses current issues of conventional mate-
rials and consequently eases the transfer of biological principles to principles of
material design is required. Using this framework, innovative materials inspired by
biological processes through which natural organisms camouﬂage, change color,
reproduce, response to external and internal stimuli, replicate and self-assembly, do
photosynthesis, inhale and exhale, move, eliminate waste, etc. could be more
Even though some researchers made valuable efforts to outline methods for
accumulating data related to the conventional and novel bio-inspired materials,
these methods do not necessarily lead to more innovative ideas. This is because
current biomimetic designs fail to demonstrate a general systematic procedure for
ﬁnding the next innovation that others might use to replicate the innovative design
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