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Nature inspired design for the future of our cities

Michael Pawlyn speaks at TEDx in London about how we learn from the natural world - and the fruits of billions of years of R&D that nature has already undertaken - using biology and biomimicry as inspiration for architecture and how we design our cities and urban spaces.

What really fascinates and inspires me about Michael's approach is that when you think that almost all of the problems we face in the world around us are the result of design failures it's exciting to realise that equally many of the answers that we require can be at least partly found through a re-examination of natural systems. Biology and the field of 'biomimicry' contain a lot of fascinating and exciting solutions to problems that nature has encountered and solved over many millions of years. It doesn't matter if the problem in front of you is a challenge of engineering, science, agriculture, transport or energy, there's a good chance that whatever the problem, nature has found a way around it somewhere along the way. It's up to us to widen our thinking to see it.

The idea he raises of looking at things that are currently 'mono-functional' and asking who they might become 'multi-functional' is (for me) really hitting the nail on the head - and is arguably the founding concept underneath truly sustainable land design.

One of the quotes that really stood out for me, was when Michael said:

"All of the ideas and solutions that we need to create cities of the ecological age already exist. What we need now are leaders with the courage to put plans into action".

This is a point that I find myself making time and time again in relation to sustainable and regenerative agriculture. When faced with people who try to dismiss the possibility of growing food and managing land in a way that sequesters carbon, built and protects biodiversity, grows healthy nutritious food and protects the fertility and hydrology of landscape I always have to remind them that we don't
need any new technology, we don't need any new knowledge, we already have everything required to make it happen and turn our situation around. Will we refine our techniques, improve our methods and depend our scientific understanding of these processes as we go? Absolutely. But we need not wait for anything more to get started.

Whether we are talking about designing productive landscapes or cities, it was great to hear another designer say:

"Instead of giving the client what they asked for, give them what they never dreamed possible".

If you find the subject of biomimicry interesting, you might find Michael's TED talk form 2011 interesting.