Who would’ve thought termites have the answer for beating the summer heat?
“They naturally build these mounds, and intuitively or intelligently, create these openings in these mounds because they know it creates a cross breeze and cools their environment,” Chicago architect Alicia Ponce said. “That’s an example of biomimicry and what we’re doing in this project. Ironically it’s called The Magical Town in Mexico. And it will be magical once it’s built. ”
“Nature’s Blueprints: Biomimicry in Art and Design.” It runs through Aug. 14 at Elmhurst Art Museum in Elmhurst.
“It’s more than just inspiration from nature, it’s mimicking it, or emulating it into designed art, architecture, you name it,” said Museum Director John McKinnon of biomimicry. “How spider webs inspire suspension bridges or burrs that were inspired by the creator of Velcro.”
The touring displays features a dozen interactive learning stations, he said. For instance, the way small mammals are studied to create a better type of wet suit for surfers or how the beehive can take inspiration from how to beetle might gnaw through wood.
“There’s lots of different moments where you realize there are products you use every single day that are inspired by nature, like the Velcro example … that you may not have thought about before,” McKinnon said.
Visitors can learn about different ways that scientists or architects have been inspired by that in nature over time.
“The earliest work that I have seen is a copy of the Leonardo da Vinci journal with drawings of flying machines inspired by bat wings. And DJ Spooky called this musician called DJ Spooky, ”McKinnon said.
“There’s a listening station with a song that he’s remixed that’s inspired by nature. I think there’s a lot of different points of interactivity but also of approachability throughout the show. ”
Amongst the stations is an area where visitors can stand and have a thermal reading, he said.
“And you can hold up different pieces of clothing or jump around in the front of it and see how your body shape can change,” McKinnon said. “That would be a really kind of fun one for kids.”
For Elmhurst’s exhibit, the art museum asked Ponce, who specializes in using nature in design, to create the installation.
“I started it 15 years ago to design architecture that is inspired by nature and respects nature. In the sense of biomimicry, there are 3.8 billion years of proof that nature works, ”said Ponce, who is founder and principal of the architectural firm APMonarch.
“I from the architect like to observe nature and its systems and study the science behind it and mimicking those systems into architecture. We don’t need to rely on mechanical systems, or we can rely less on them because nature doesn’t plug itself into a wall, right? So we mimic those systems. ”
In her installation, she explains the rammed earth process step by step.
“It’s functional in the rammed earth is structural, it cools naturally when it’s cold and it cools naturally when it’s warm. It’s a technology, if you’ve used it for thousands of years only now it’s perfected for modern times, ”she said.
Modern materials like reinforced steel can be used to make it more structurally sound, but really the bulk of the material is earth, she said.
“And even the way it’s built, you take the earth ideally from the site where you build and use it to start constructing the walls,” said Ponce, who hosts the “Designing Healthy Environments” podcast on APMonarch’s YouTube channel.
The process involves compacting seven inches of soil.
“There’s no way people can do it with machines,” she said. “The idea is not to use energy while you build it as well, so reduce carbon emissions as much as we can do what we strive to do.”
Another project Ponce, author of “Latinas in Architecture: Stories of raising the 1% one Latina at a time,” highlights the North Park Village Nature Center on Chicago’s north side. APMonarch designed the lobby of the center. Visitors can walk through four different ecosystems and learn about nature. As part of the project, a tree bark damaged by the Asian Longhorn Beetle was used in the finish of the lobby.
“They leave this very intricate pattern…. “But instead of just disposing of the wood that was harmed, we took it and finished it on the lobby. Kids can run their hands through it and feel the texture. So it’s a good way for kids and adults to learn how the bad can be turned into something good. ”
The “Nature’s Blueprint” exhibit is included in the price of adult museum admission.
“Kids are always free and free of all our shows that are current,” McKinnon said. The museum, currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, also has a solo art show by Chicago painter Raúl Ortiz titled “More is More” runs through Aug. 14 at the historic McCormick House and the Elmhurst Artists ‘Guild Summer Members’ Show, featuring the work of 35 local artists runs through July 23.
A full summer of programming is running concurrently with the exhibit including summer camps, classes, teen STEM and STEAM workshops and more. A full list is available on the museum’s website.
“I think this exhibit will inspire people on advocating for this type of architecture. We have as architects, contractors and engineers, we have the resources, we have the tools and innovation to build buildings that are good for the environment.
“There’s no reason why we should always do it – because it’s the easy way or the cheaper way,” Ponce said. “Realize that this can be in your home, where you work. And we just need to advocate for this type of work. ”
‘Nature’s Blueprints: Biomimicry in Art and Design’
When: Through Aug. 14
Where: Elmhurst Art Museum, 150 Cottage Hill Ave., Elmhurst
Tickets: $ 15 adults; $ 12 seniors 65+; Ages 18 and under free
Information: 630-834-0202; elmhurstartmuseum.org
Kathy Cichon is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.