Gaudí: the father of biomimetics?

In a quick search on any Internet portal about biomimetics, all results are the same: contemporary technology, modern architecture, and new design techniques. But one of the greatest Catalan modernist architects already spoke of biomimetics and natural inspiration during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: «With pots of flowers, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, animated by the clucking of chickens, the song of the birds and that of the insects, and with the mountains of Prades in the background, I captured the purest and most pleasing images of Nature, which is always my teacher», said Gaudí.

Its naturalistic forms are widely recognized: palm-shaped columns, domes that mimic whirlpools, walls with drops flowing from the ceiling like an intense spring rain… But bio-inspiration is not only found in the aesthetics but also in the technical construction of its buildings. The Casa Batlló is an example, as we can see in its doors with openings that mimic the gills of a fish so that the interior rooms can breathe fresh air and be ventilated during the summer.

Gaudí came from a family of craftsmen and he, imitating the tradition of his parents and grandparents, worked in his studio experimenting with plans, techniques and new architectural forms. He explained that all his ideas met nature, the book in which all formulas are written. «The great book, always open and that we have to make an effort to read, is that of Nature, and the other books are taken from it, and in them are found the errors and misinterpretations of men».

But like nature, his ideas were not static. If something didn’t work, he would change it on the fly. The plans were the guides, but common sense and observation were what really determined the evolution of the work. He conceived of nature as an integrated whole, in which trees, animals and geography interacted as they evolved, not following a rigidly established plan. For this reason, he was always in the construction field, observing, analyzing, getting inspiration from the natural evolution of things and not by his pre-established ideas.

 

 

Gaudí Batlló

For Gaudí, inspired by his artisan background and nature as a mentor, it was vital to analyze the evolution of things and thus find the simplest and most economical solutions to solve any problem. For example, if when he entered a room he saw that it was not well ventilated, he put on his biomimetic glasses and looked for an answer to this problem as if he was nature: not by tearing down and building again but by finding the simplest solution that would eliminate the problem economically and without great effort. «Originality is the return to the origin, so original is what makes the first solutions simple», Gaudí said. For him, imitating nature meant listening to the original simplicity, looking for the most efficient solutions in the great master book of nature.

Thus, Gaudí always found in nature ways to create intelligent, sustainable buildings that based all their complexity on finding simplicity and efficiency. «No matter how much the power of electric light compared to sunlight makes you laugh,» he explained when designing Casa Batlló. For this reason, he built skylights and windows that moved the sun's rays through all the rooms, a controversial decision at a time when electric light was seen as a beacon of modernity and an element of status. But for him, modernity came to understand and transfer human construction to nature. It was absurd to try to overcome it when nature had already perfected herself to give us everything we needed. In this sense, Gaudí decided that the Sagrada Familia would be lower than Montjuïc, in a symbolic act to show that he would never try to overcome the natural construction. «The human work cannot surpass the Divine, that is why the Holy Family will be 170 meters high, 3 meters less than the mountain of Montjuïc», he said.

 

Abel Cobos
Biomimetics Sciences Institute