A great discussion with my favourite gardener led to some deep thoughts on integration of design and manufacturing, and the implications this would have were it to continue throughout the life of a product.


A great discussion with my favourite gardener led to some deep thoughts on integration of design and manufacturing, and the implications this would have were it to continue throughout the life of a product.


Traditional approaches to design require the engineer to first guess the final form before commencing a series of standard, formulaic, iterative calculations to reach a solution approximating the first guess.  In designing a tall building, the floor area of the accommodation required will be pre-defined and adherence to planning and building controls will in turn influence the maximum allowable height of the structure.  The decision to use steel, reinforced concrete or timber will be determined by the projected loads the structure will be required to carry which will be calculated in accordance with strictly defined codes and factors of safety.  All that is left within the control of the designer will be the size and spacing of the columns and beams.


Once the traditional design and construction process is underway, there is little opportunity for the designer to adapt to changing or novel situations without going right back to the start and beginning with a new first guess at a solution and undertaking calculations to make that first guess fit for purpose or reducing the structure to rubble and beginning the construction all over again.  Whilst a laborious and costly process, given time and money a new design will emerge but once more unimaginatively and inorganically .


Mother Nature is not afforded the same luxury of time.  The structures she creates are simultaneously designed and built in real time.  Take for example tree seedlings which strive to reach maturity in a location with uneven light distribution.  Cells on the shaded side of the shoot elongate and grow faster than cells on the lighted side, thereby bending the stem toward the light source whilst in the opposite occurs in the root thereby stabilising the overall structure and preventing it from toppling over.


Throughout its lifecycle, the plant will  further adapt, change its shape and grow in response to changing conditions such that in its final form, as it reaches maturity, it is the ultimate solution to its own unique set of experiences.  In response to every changing the situation the structure of the plant changes to reach a new equilibrium.  In the case of trees, those on the edge of forests are often shorter with more tapered trunks than those in the middle and those standing in isolation are normally shorter and more tapered than their forest grown counterparts.  Cross-sections of tree exposed to wind from one direction are often elliptical because more growth occurs on the leeward side.  A no point in this process has Mother Nature had the option to tear up her first design and begin again with a new set of parameters, instead she must calculate and iterate continually in real time to ensure her design is fit for purpose at just that moment in time under just those particular loads without compromising the ability of her structure to adapt to as yet unforeseen constraints.


Think how powerful the human designer would be who is equipped with a software package containing all of the necessary code to undertake multiple complex simultaneous structural calculations unconstrained by first having to guess what form the final solution will take.  Think of the power to generate multiple solutions which flourish or languish before a final, optimum and unique solution emerges.  Just as Mother Nature can draw upon all the code she needs to undertake her complex calculations, so too can today’s designers draw upon their own bundle of code to carry out their calculation unencumbered by traditional, conservative design methods.


Biohaviour liberates engineers and designers to create new, innovative and exciting products inspired by nature.


In fact, secondary growth may cease completely on the windward side of the trunk and increase on the leeward side. An extreme illustration is a section of trunk taken from a Monterey cypress that grew on Cypress Point, just north of Carmel Bay in California. It was 74 inches in the diameter that grew parallel to the prevailing wind, but was only 9 inches in the opposite diameter. Only 50 growth rings were formed on the windward side of the section, but the leeward side had 304 rings.

And that is truly designing and building as one…