Shu-Yu Lin - Cacti Hydration Room - Biomimicry as a Design Tool for Sustainability
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Cacti Hydration Room - Biomimicry as a Design Tool for Sustainability

Shu-Yu Lin

Tecnologia, innovazione dei materiali e sostenibilità
Shu-Yu Lin
The project explores biomimicry as a design tool for sustainable architecture. Buildings are responsible for more than 36% of global CO2 emissions and energy consumption. With no indication that these numbers will be relieved in the near future, it is fair to say that architecture correlates drastically with the environment. Therefore, this global issue is calling for designers to address sustainability as an essential design principle.

Biomimicry, the concept of taking inspiration from flora, fauna, or ecosystems being emulated as a design method, is a growing interest of research in the field of architecture. It has intrigue for its inspirational form and spatial organization, and also the potential to create a sustainable and regenerative built environment.

The project focuses on how to employ biomimicry as a design tool to achieve maximum sustainability. There are three approaches of biomimicry: organism, behavior, and ecosystem and their potential sustainability. The organism approach emulates the morphological or physiological features of an organism. The behavior approach studies the thermal regulation mechanism of animal nests. The ecosystem approach aims to create a circular economy for both finite and renewable material and energy.

Most of biomimicry architecture adapts only the forms of nature to reduce operational energy. The project argues that combining the three approaches can lead to greater sustainability for both building operation and construction. Thus, the design integrates the form of nature, as well as the process of nature, the life cycle, material selection, and construction methods as design principles.

3D printing with biomaterials, an advanced construction method, is explored to understand how 3D printing and printing material can supplement sustainability. Developing non-toxic and multi-functional materials with 3D printing has been a growing trend in the architectural realm. The mix of cellulose and chitin, the two most abundant biomaterials on Earth, display immense structural strength. Controlling the concentration of chitin can create transparency difference, which can be used for lighting and potential openings. Some promising projects displayed architectural elements that can operate autonomously by using the inherent material behavior of cellulose responding to moisture.

The Burning Man venue located in Black Rock Desert, Nevada, US, is selected as the testing site to explore biomimicry, because of the long-lasting repercussions from accumulative environmental impacts. The annual Burning Man festival has reached 80, 000 participants in 2019, effectively becoming the third-largest city in Nevada for a 10-day duration. Burning Man direly needs to make changes in order to host the event without harming the desert not only to satisfy its own sustainable policy to protect the area but also to appease the requests of the local government and nearby residents.

The two goals to mitigate Burning Man’s environmental impact are to provide a self-sustained network to shelter heat and sun and minimize waste on the local ecosystem. To do so, the project analyzed the following three areas: the festival’s pollution sources, Black Rock Desert ecosystem for regenerative cycle resources, and climate and biological models for design inspiration. The research found that the culprits for harming the ecosystem are the CO2 emission caused by using air-conditioning for extremely hot weather and transportation of building material, and excessive garbage leftover on site. The design strategies focus on reducing the waste impact to the site and implementing the benefits of cacti for the self-sustained infrastructures.

The local ecosystem does not host biological resources for building material, therefore the remaining compost, wood scraps, and paper boards from the event can be repurposed. A circular economy is developed by recycling the event’s waste to extract and grow cellulose and chitin to make building material for 3D printing, creating a regenerative building cycle.

Infrastructures are proposed to provide electricity and water that adapt to the desert and act as heat shelters. One of the infrastructures is further developed and the design methodology is derived from the dissection and study of cacti’s unique organs and material organization.

The study of cacti follows the approaches and dimensions of biomimicry. Geometrical and physiological features of barrel cacti for dealing with the desert climate for heating and cooling, wind resistance, and water collection. The infrastructure, Hydration Room, was then designed to emulate the function and processes of cacti in terms of the form, assemblies and material layering. As well as the HVAC system and water collection system. Termite mounds and prairie dog burrows were studied to utilize local wind power to supplement the passive ventilation. Mammal skin is investigated to supplement the cooling system.

The Hydration Room emulates cacti from macro to micro scale. It has a round shape with various extruded modules of parts that resembles a cactus and allows to resist wind, catch water, and self-shading. The material composition of the Hydration Room, cellulose and chitin are alternated to create a natural suction to draw water into the building. The assemblies are designed to easily catch and store water in each module to provide thermal performance and potable water.

The architecture developed in this project displays how biomimicry can be used as an integrative architectural design element to achieve a harmonic relationship between the building, its users, and the environment.


 Dalhousie University
 School of Architecture


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