The world of Architecture & Design is the most diverse it’s ever been. Every day, new ideas sprout and old ideas are reimagined. You only have to take a look at some of the latest trends to see this innovation. With so much richness and depth present, and new vocabulary emerging, it’s important to be familiar with the latest terminology. We need to be able to seamlessly converse with one another in the language of Architecture & Design, and this means understanding terms and phrases that have been coined only recently (and ones even some architects and designers may not yet be familiar with). Here are some of the most important terms that everyone in the A&D profession needs to know.
The Biomimicry Institute defines biomimicry as “an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies.” It looks to nature for solutions to problems in Architecture & Design. After all, the natural world is the exemplar of sustainability, so it makes sense to take direct inspiration from natural systems and processes.
In practice, biomimicry can take many forms. Many biomimicry designers echo patterns such as fractals and honeycombs that are found in nature, while others construct buildings that incorporate biophilic natural analogues like reclaimed wood, leather or stone. Some built environments have even been designed to emulate animal body shapes.
From Inhabitat: This pavilion in Spain boasts a crocheted wooden exterior that resembles the body of a cicada
2. Biomimetic materials
A biomimetic material is a synthetic material that either mimics a natural material or follows a natural design structure. While Architecture & Design regularly uses natural materials like reclaimed wood, biomimetic materials have a slightly different aim. There are many materials that exist in nature but not in the built environment, and biomimetic materials seek to fill in the resulting gap and improve built spaces. Dr. Peter Fratzl of the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces writes that nature provides lessons “on growth and functional adaptation, about hierarchical structuring, on damage repair and self-healing.” The idea is that as architects and designers, the more we study nature, the better our creations will be.
From Wired: Sea cucumber provided the inspiration for Case Western Reserve University’s biomimetic material
There has already been some incredible progress in constructing new biomimetic materials that may improve our architecture. Scientists at Case Western Reserve University have developed a material that is naturally stiff but becomes soft when water is added. This biomimetic material is modeled after the skin of the sea cucumber. Also noteworthy is the research that Harvard University’s Joanna Aizenberg has conducted on glass sea sponges––which can withstand thousands of pounds of pressure––and their wider applications.
The term wabi-sabi refers to a Japanese philosophy that finds the beauty in imperfections (wabi) and welcomes the weathering that occurs over time (sabi). Wabi-sabi sees old, worn, and even damaged materials as possessing a distinct appeal that’s aesthetically pleasing. This is in stark contrast to many design philosophies that prize immaculate interiors. Proponents of wabi-sabi argue that such pristine design is unnatural and even unhealthy.
Applied to architecture, wabi-sabi embraces simplicity, straightforwardness, and change. Minimalist space design that uses biophilia and the natural patina on reclaimed wood are two prime examples of wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi is often connected with biophilic design, as both schools of thought emphasize a connection to natural systems.
From Corporate Design: The unique character of reclaimed wood brings the beauty of wabi-sabi to the built environment
4. Intentional environment
Simply put, intentional environment is all about creating spaces in which occupants feel their best. Popularized by the consulting firm of the same name, intentional environment is more than just another A&D buzzword. Rather, it’s a humanistic lens through which architects and designers can view the built environment. Like biophilic design, intentional environment focuses on improving occupant health and considers the energy within a space. Drawing from feng shui and building biology, this concept aims to help architects and designers build places that allow humans to thrive.
From Canadian Architect: The Mosaic Centre in Alberta is an intentional environment that promotes wellness and clarity
Intentional environment is determined by many factors, including design materials and aesthetic choices, indoor environmental quality (IEQ), air quality, energy flow, and space usage. Fostering an intentional environment can result in enhanced occupant wellness, higher productivity, better mental clarity, higher employee retention rates, and much more.
From Intentional Environment: Optimized intentional environments provide people with the most ideal indoor spaces
5. Building biology
Another term popularized by Intentional Environment, building biology is “the holistic study of the built environment and its impact on human health and planetary ecology.” Building biology is composed of 25 principles that govern various aspects of design, material use, safety, and sustainability. Much like biophilic design, building biology evaluates the health of a space. The ultimate goal is to foster supportive environments that are pleasant to dwell in.
Conscious building is the concept of responsibly building spaces that are fundamentally designed to benefit occupants and the surrounding natural environment. Site location, intentional environment development, and energy flow are a few of the key factors that contribute to conscious building. From using green building materials like reclaimed wood to enhancing the IEQ of a space, there are many ways to implement conscious building into your next project.
Electropollution is the idea that electromagnetic radiation (EMR) from electromagnetic fields (EMFs) can invisibly “pollute” a space by interfering with the human body’s bioelectrical system. Given that humans use technology more than ever before, electropollution is a concern for many. Thankfully, electropollution can be reduced in built environments by creating areas without EMFs. Think lounge areas without a nearby Wi-Fi network or designated cell phone-free spaces.
From Experience Columbus: At Fox in the Snow Café, the lack of Wi-Fi complements the biophilic design
8. Geopathic stress
Architecture & Design professionals are palpably aware of all kinds of disturbances, but there are some that often fly under the radar. Geopathic stress often falls into this category. Just as radiation comes from technology, it also emerges from the earth itself. Geopathic stress occurs when natural electromagnetic zones are distorted by underground streams, water pipes, electrical lines, and other irregularities that exist underground. Spending time in geopathic stress zones can lead to adverse effects on health, performance, mood, and overall wellness.
It’s no surprise that plastic is one of the most widely used materials in the world, and it’s commonly used for various construction purposes. However, it’s also no secret that plastics are harmful. Enter bioplastics, sustainable plastics made from renewable biomass such as plants and vegetables. Bioplastics are less damaging to the earth and healthier for humans. In addition, many bioplastics are biodegradable. One of the most famous examples of bioplastic design is the ArboSkin pavilion in Stuttgart, Germany. The bioplastics that make up the pavilion consist of over 90% renewable materials and “combine the high malleability and recyclability of plastics with the environmental benefits of materials consisting primarily of renewable resources.”
From Dezeen: The ArboSkin pavilion is a breakthrough in bioplastic architecture technology
10. Invisible architecture
It’s often said that the best design is invisible. This is often applied to website design and was popularized by Jared Spool, who wrote that “when things are going well in a design, we don’t pay attention to them. We only pay attention to things that bother us.” This idea translates perfectly to architecture.
From EOA Architects: The Pinnacle at Symphony Place in Nashville is a stunning example of the power of invisible architecture
Invisible architecture is the notion that architecture should be inherently functional and serve its occupants without drawing unneeded attention to itself. That’s not to say that aesthetics don’t matter. Rather, the aesthetics should contribute to the purpose of the space and help to create an intentional environment. As artist James Turrell put it, “The qualities of the space must be seen, and the architecture of the form must not be dominant.”
From EOA Architects: The Pinnacle’s interior is a different sort of invisible as a result of its intentional design
The word “starchitect” is a portmanteau of the words “star” and “architect,” so naturally it refers to a famous architect. Starchitect can refer to either a solo architect or a firm, and it’s been used to describe celebrity architects like Frank Gehry, I.M. Pei, Norman Foster, and Bjarke Ingels. Consequently, the term “starchitecture” was coined to describe the works of starchitects.
“Skyscraper” has long been part of the A&D lexicon, and it’s seen many adaptations over the years. One of the newest is “farmscraper,” or a skyscraper that also serves as a self-contained ecosystem. The idea comes from the European firm Vincent Callebaut Architects, who plan to construct six farmscrapers in China’s Shenzhen province. The sustainably designed farmscrapers will feature suspended gardens, vertical farms, wind turbines, and solar cells.
From the Daily News: This rendering showcases the proposed “Asian Cairns” farmscrapers
These terms I’ve shared represent the cutting edge in Architecture & Design. These concepts and trends are constantly innovating and pushing the industry forward. Understanding and being aware of these terms help us to stay current and can inspire our thinking, so it’s smart for anyone in the A&D profession to tune in to the latest terminology.