By Jana Rudnik
Wakanda — a hidden country in East Africa, beautiful, never colonised and basically unconquerable thanks to the magical metal Vibranium that makes the country a tech wonderland. Watching Ryan Coogler’s cultural phenomenon that is Black Panther, the design of Wakanda’s golden city is one of its many achievements.
How would you design a country, more specifically, a country that is about 50 years more advanced than everything we know now if you could think everything from scratch? That was the task Hannah Beachler, the production designer for Black Panther was facing. She answered it with the greatest love for detail, Wakanda being deeply rooted in Afrofuturism, embracing African culture, aesthetic and artistic heritage, innovation, science — and nature. Inspired by architects like the great Zaha Hadid, biomimicry served as key design inspiration, aiming for a symbiosis of nature and tech that would make the city feel organic.
Biomimicry or biomimetics, pretty self-explanatory, is the “imitation of models, systems and processes found in nature”, mostly in order to solve human problems. The term gained popularity since Janine Benyus published her book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature in 1997 but the notion of imitating nature has been around for forever.
Most easily it can be traced back with the human quest to fly, starting from ancient Greek mythology, where Daedalus designed wings of feathers bound by wax and twine to enable himself and his son Icarus to escape Crete. That famously didn’t work out, as Icarus flew too close to the sun, melting the wax and falling into the sea. Later, Leonardo da Vinci became famous, among other things, for his observation of the anatomy and flight of birds and bats to create his “Flying Machine”. Lastly, the Wright brothers succeeded in developing the first aeroplane, being helped along by observing pigeons.
“NATURE’S ORGANISMS HAVE HAD BILLIONS OF YEARS OF TRIAL AND ERROR, PROTOTYPING PHASES IF YOU LIKE, AND HAVE COME UP WITH MOST OF THE SOLUTIONS THAT WE ARE STILL SEARCHING FOR.”
By now countless things surround us that are inspired by the smarter elder, the most famous example: Velcro, invented by George de Mestral in 1941, who after examining the burrs he found on his dog realised that the small hooks of the burr and the loops of the fur adhered extremely well. But also, wind turbines have been modelled after humpback whales, ventilation systems inspired by termites, needles designed with mosquitos in mind… the examples are endless.
And, of course, it makes perfect sense. Nature’s organisms have had billions of years of trial and error, prototyping phases if you like, and have come up with most of the solutions that we are still searching for. How to not produce tonnes of waste for example. Looking at the global challenges we are fighting at the moment, rediscovering nature and its answers is a big ray of hope.
So it’s no wonder that designing a country from scratch, whose vision is to be ahead in sustainable innovation, that the Black Panther team turned to biomimicry. And, it did not stop at the fictional level, fun fact: Lexus designed a special Black Panther version of its LC500 series that sports a bold indigo blue colour — without actual blue pigments in the paint. The paint was inspired by the Blue Morpho butterfly, whose wings are covered by a specific formation of microscopic diamond-shaped scales that reflect light in a way to create the optical illusion of the colour blue. Pretty awesome.
At INDEX, we see more and more projects emerging that turn to nature for inspiration — here are some of the current nominations for INDEX: Award 2019:
BIOPHOTONIC IMPLANTS inspired by butterflies
Inspired by tiny nanostructures on transparent butterfly wings, engineers have developed a synthetic analogue for eye implants that make them more effective and longer-lasting.
SRS inspired by plants
Fighting water scarcity, researchers have designed a new slippery surface for water harvesting. They were inspired by the surface architecture of a rice leaf as well as the carnivorous pitcher plant, which uses the slippery surface of its walls to lead insects into its digestive system.
AROLIUM CAST inspired by ants
How can a cast adapt to a broken limb? Arolium cast is inspired by the biological structure of an ant’s foot using sensors to track the user’s movement in order to effectively add pressure by inflating and deflating its inner lining.
FARM FARE inspired by ants
Mimicking argentine ants who, rather than using permanent nests, are constantly on the move, splitting and joining in new groups and nesting temporarily as they go; Farm Fare created a triple bottom line food distribution network for local farmers.
If you want to learn more about how to find solutions in nature, check out the Biomimicry Institute.