Incredibly Leaf-Like: 12 Bio-Inspired Plant-Based Designs

Sometimes, nature can influence design in the most unexpected ways. Would you ever think of looking to a calla lily for an ultra-efficient impeller design, or a mangrove tree ecosystem for a futuristic set of skyscrapers? These 12 biomimetic designs and concepts apply biological aspects of flowers, lily pads, leaves and trees to solar panels, tents, towers and entire cities to make them energy-smart and sustainable.

Calla Lily-Based Impeller

(image via: ecoinnovate)

Jay Harmon, founder of PAX Scientific, looks around him and sees in the natural world the perfect models for modern technology.  And some connections are more obvious than others. PAX based a fan on the shape of a hurricane, but also created an incredibly efficient impeller in the same spiraling design as a calla lily.

Lilypad Floating City

(images via: inhabitat)

When the seas rise to flood coastal cities, where will all those citizens go? To man-made lilypad cities that float on the surface of the water, or so imagines architect Vincent Callebaut. The Lilypad is entirely self-sufficient, designed to hold 50,000 people within three ridges of housing around a central man-made lagoon which helps stabilize the city. Callebaut says that the design is directly based upon the “highly ribbed” leaf of the Victoria Regia lilypad, increased to 250 times its natural size (the leaf can reach spans of six feet!).

Water-Based ‘Artificial Leaf’ Produces Electricity

(image via: science daily)

Solar cells that mimic nature could be less expensive and more environmentally friendly than current solar technology. In 2010, researchers at North Carolina State University developed water-gel-based solar devices that are essentially ‘artificial leaves’ that couple plant chlorophyll with carbon materials, mimicking the way nature harvests solar energy. They’re flexible, which is a huge improvement over today’s problematically brittle cells.

Solar Cell Self-Repairs Like a Plant

(image via: drcornelius, oregondot)

When leaves are damaged by intense ultraviolet light, they’re able to repair themselves, constantly producing new cells to replace the damaged ones. If only solar cells could do the same thing, they’d last a lifetime. Luckily, scientists have found a way to replicate that natural process using proteins, bacteria and water. These solar cells can’t compete with silicon cells just yet – it will take decades of research to improve them – but it’s an impressive start that could improve ‘artificial leaf’-type solar cells even further.

Tent Design Mimics a Leaf

(image via: design boom)

The vein structure of a leaf inspired the shape of this tent by designer Ondrej Vaclavik, theoretically strengthening the design through the strategic placement of the tent poles. It certainly makes for an interesting tent, which is almost more reminiscent of a ‘leaf bug’ than a leaf itself.

Habitat 2020’s Breathing Leaf-Like Skin

(images via: inhabitat)

Just like the surface of a leaf, the ‘skin’ of the Habitat 2020 building reacts to external stimuli, opening, closing and breathing throughout the day through a system of ‘cellular’ openings that allow light, air and water into the apartments contained within. Designed for China, Habitat 2020 improves indoor air quality and provides natural air conditioning – the skin can even absorb moisture from the air and collect rainwater before purifying and filtering it so it can be used by the building’s inhabitants.

Swaying Shelters Act Like Pine Trees

(image via: archdaily)

A beachside park in La Pineda, Spain has a stunning new shade structure that mimics the way real nearby pine trees sway in the wind off the sea. Made from salt-resistant fiberglass, the structure was even built at an angle so that it leans the same way that surrounding trees have bent in the direction of the prevailing wind.

William McDonough’s Tower of Tomorrow

(images via: fortune magazine)

“Imagine a building that makes oxygen, distills water, produces energy, changes with the seasons―and is beautiful. In effect, that building is like a tree, standing in a city that is like a forest.” That is how famed sustainable architect William McDonough describes his ‘Tower of Tomorrow’, a building of the future that takes its inspiration from trees. The self-contained tower has a curved shape that reduces the amount of materials required for construction and increases structural stability. It features a green roof, a series of three-story atrium gardens, water recycling systems and the ability to create its own power with solar energy.

Spiraling Skyscrapers Inspired by Mangrove Trees

(images via: inhabitat)

Can you imagine this spiraling, super-futuristic tower rising among the skyscrapers of New York? The Mangal City concept by design team Chimera is modeled after the complex ecosystem created by the mangrove tree. “The mangrove plant and its collective the mangal, provide examples of social associative principles as well as structural capacities and hybrid responses to environmental and contextual conditions,” say the designers.

Durian Fruit-Like Skin for the Esplanade Theater

(images via: wenzday01, yimhafiz)

It resembles an enormous metallic durian fruit, but the Esplanade Theater’s spiky exterior is not just made for protection or menacing looks. The scales actually make up an elaborate louvered shading system that adjusts throughout the day to let in natural light but protect the interior from overheating.

Two-Mile High Tower Works Like a Tree

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It may not look much like a tree, but the Ultima Tower by architect Eugene Tsui takes cues from trees and other natural systems to be as energy-efficient and sustainable as possible. The design, which resembles a termite’s nest and is surrounded on all sides by a lake, is envisioned as its own little living and breathing ecosystem, and incorporates technology that draws water from the ‘roots’ to the pinnacle in the same manner as a tree.

Qatar Cactus Office Building

(images via: inhabitat)

Entirely fitting for the hot desert climate of Qatar, the new office for the Minister of Municipal Affairs & Agriculture resembles a giant cactus sprouting from the sand. But the inspiration goes far beyond mere looks. Design team Aesthetics Architects has covered the building in sun shades that can open to let in air and light and close to keep out the heat, mimicking the natural water-retaining biological system of cacti.

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