Biomimicry in the Classroom

Biomimicry in the Classroom  (from West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District newsletter)                                                                                                              


In the fall of 2011, Education Coordinator Erica Stokes, read a fascinating piece in Conservation magazine on biomimicry, and the idea of “emulating nature’s genius” in her work with students and teachers has been on her mind ever since.  What is biomimicry?  Biomimicry 3.8, the leading international biomimicry organization, defines the term as: a new science that studies nature’s models and then uses these designs and processes to solve human problems.

One aspect of Erica’s work includes guiding teachers and students through the process of creating Backyard Habitats on school property.  In a new pilot of this program, teachers are also provided with professional development opportunities to give them tools to integrate this living classroom into their existing curriculum. Biomimicry Oregon (our local organization) approached us about partnering on a future project, and pairing their program with our existing education efforts seemed a natural fit.

Erica will be working with partners at Biomimicry Oregon and others to incorporate Biomimicry Oregon’s “Genius of Place” student stormwater project into existing Conservation District programs, including the Connect2Science professional development training provided by Friends of Tryon Creek and PSU’s Center for Science Education.  We are in the beginning stages of program development, but we plan to update you on our progress in the coming months.

As part of this project, Mary Hansel, Biomimicry Oregon, will lead a 3 hour workshop on Life’s Principles with educators from Friends of Tryon Creek, PSU’s Center for Science Education, Portland Public Schools, and the Oregon Zoo on June 6.

Practitioners’ Jam

We are so excited to have kicked off our first Practitioners Jam on Monday, May 20th.Facilitated by Chris Larson, we took a deeper look into the Biomimicry design process and how to apply it to a real-world design challenge.   The evening’s challenge was how could Nature help us design/build resilient, affordable housing in Tornado Alley.  Our discussion began with Life’s Principles and then moved into the Biomimicry methodology including the Biomimicry Taxonomy.  We ended by exploring how future Practitioners Jams could be organized to best suit our diverse professional backgrounds.  The meetings will definitely continue to evolve as we get to know each other and the material, but we are thrilled to have started the process.

Practitioners Jams will be held monthly, around the full moon, and will offer an opportunity for attendee’s to cross-pollinate ideas, network, and most importantly provide us the chance to practice the biomimicry design process.

Thank you to Charles Kelley and ZFG Architects for hosting the gorgeous meeting space!  And thank you to Ian Broomfield for the tasty snacks.

Biomimicry Oregon Genius of Place Stormwater Project Reports Available Now!

Biomimicry Oregon, with generous support from the Bullitt Foundation, recently completed a pilot Genius of Place project for the lower Willamette Valley. The project was designed to practice and document a process to develop sustainable solutions to local challenges inspired by local organisms and ecosystems.

Project reports are now available!

The project team of six individuals investigated the following research questions:
• How can we reduce the volume of peak water in the city combined sewer system?
• How can we manage peak stormwater flows at building, district, and city scales?

Through a “bio-brainstorm” with local biologists and a literature review, the team identified 80 local organism and ecosystem strategies for managing stormwater. Seven strategies were selected for in-depth research in order to fully understand the mechanisms at play… just how does star moss absorb water, or how do beavers intercept and slow flows? The strategies from nature were shared in an “ideation” workshop with 44 stormwater designers, researchers, policymakers, and entrepreneurs, who enthusiastically participated in a brainstorming session drawing inspiration from the biology.

Workshop participants developed 30 novel ways to manage stormwater based on the lessons they learned from nature. Ideas to absorb rainwater ranged from “spongewood” to permeable sidewalks to “living signs”, and stormwater “trees” that could capture and re-distribute water. Green roof promenades could both intercept rainwater and provide the added benefit of helping people below to stay dry. There were ideas inspired by all of the local genius mentors that were described – beaver, downed wood, forest canopy, mistletoe, hydraulic redistribution, moss, and mycorrizhal fungal networks.

Written feedback showed that workshop participants believe the Genius of Place process is a useful approach to innovation and has real, applicable value to their work. During the workshop, one participant exclaimed, “I have an idea that I’m going to get working on as soon as I get back to my desk!”

The need has never been greater for life-friendly, innovative design. We have barely scratched the surface in consulting nature’s genius as a mentor to help. This project has refined tools needed to continue this exploration. There is still a universe to learn from nature about managing stormwater, as well as a host of other challenges to explore.

We hope to apply this approach to help solve other local challenges.

With every new challenge, we can begin by asking, “What would Nature do?” What challenges do you have?

August 2012


Biomimicry Oregon

Genius of Place




A “Genius of Place” (GoP) looks to the living creatures and plants of a particular place to provide guidance and models for establishing locally attuned strategies for design.

Biomimicry Oregon has begun work on a Genius of Place for the Portland metro area. We are excited about this project that will develop 3-5 Genius of Place stories for our region, and introduce the potential of biomimicry to inspire healthy, resilient design to a wider audience.


Send us your challenges!

We invite you to help shape this project by sending us your challenges! We will select three local challenges to investigate and would like to hear from you as to what sustainability challenges you are grappling with.

Please take a few minutes to fill out our survey.


There are many ways to engage in this project, and we’d love to hear from you if you are interested in helping in any of the following ways:

  • Engage people in your realm/sector to identify challenges or attend workshop.
  • Share ideas on how to design this project for lasting impact.
  • Fundraise $8,200.
  • Create a buzz… report on project activities through media/social media.


Project Deliverables & Outcomes


  • Genius of Place Study >> Catalyze the application of biomimicry via a tangible set of tools.
  • Ideation Workshop >> Introduce 50-100 design and research professionals to biomimicry.
  • Summary Report >> Create a process that can be replicated here and in other regions.
  • Provide an environment for working collaborations between unlikely partners.

Coming Soon

Monthly biomimicry meetings designed to connect, learn, and practice applying biomimicry to challenges!

In the News

Biomimicry Oregon’s Mary Hansel is teaching a month-long web-based course on biomimicry for sustainability professionals through the International Society of Sustainability Professionals. Check it out!

  1. Learn about the challenges faced by local industries
  2. Look and listen for ways local geniuses address the challenges of our landscape.
  3. Encourage “locally attuned” innovation & design strategies that match our local operating conditions and ecologies.
  • Support metro area’s leadership in green building, sustainability, and place-based activities
  •  Inspire resilient, adaptive, sustainable solutions
  • Add new dimension to ecosystem services work already underway
  • Help promote the biomimicry meme in Oregon
  • On the leading edge of a global initiative

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Biomimicry on Bikes

29 souls braved cloudy skies for a guided, 3-mile tour of building designs inspired by nature for local Pedalpaloozers and participants of the national Biomimicry Education Summit.

Vinh Mason, City of Portland, and Evan Ross, Portland Bike Tours, led the tour, beginning at Ecotrust.


Matt Piccone and Vinh Mason on the roof of Ecotrust.

Matt Piccone and Vinh Mason on the roof of Ecotrust.


Sedums on Ecotrust roof.

Sedums on Ecotrust roof.




Matt Piccone talking about the Edith Green building.

Matt Piccone talking about the Edith Green building.


Next stop – PSU’s Peace on Earth Bench.

Next stop – PSU’s Peace on Earth Bench.


Four continued onto Planet Repair, where they were all blown away by their natural building innovation and more recent focus on neighborhood transformation.

Four continued onto Planet Repair, where they were all blown away by their natural building innovation and more recent focus on neighborhood transformation.


All agreed Biomimicry on Bikes is an idea worth repeating!

Biomimicry on Bikes Tour

Biomimicry on Bikes with Biomimicry Oregon
Saturday, June 23, 2012, 5:30-8:30pm*
Tour only: $10 (payable on-site)
Bike rental with tour: $30 (Pre-registration required)

Join Biomimicry OR, the regional networking hub for biomimicry practitioners, educators, and enthusiasts from the state of Oregon, for a guided, 3-mile tour of building designs inspired by nature.  Led by Biomimicry Oregon, the City of Portland, and Portland Bike Tours.

5:30 – 6:00 pm    Rent bikes from Portland Bike Tours, 345 NW Everett Street
6:00 – 6:30 pm    Meet at the Ecotrust building and depart, 721 Northwest 9th Avenue
8:00 – 8:30 pm    Return rental bikes to Portland Bike Tours

*For skilled riders, there will be an optional 7-mile continuation of the ride returning to downtown Portland along the Springwater Corridor at dusk (return rental bikes the following day by 5:30 pm).

Contact the organizers:
Vinh Mason, Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, 503-442-4520
Mary Hansel, Biomimicry Oregon, 510-325-6369



National Biomimicry Events in Portland!

Biomimicry Oregon is stoked about Biomimicry 3.8’s choice to hold two national events in Portland in May & June 2012!

First, Professional Pathways taught a 3-day Biomimicry Backyard workshop May 5-7 at the Zoo and World Forestry Center. Coming up – the 6th Annual Biomimicry Education Summit, June 22-24, 2012 with a pre-summit 1-day biomimicry workshop for educators on June 21! More info and to register: . I’ll talk more about the upcoming Summit and Biomimicry Oregon’s planned participation in an upcoming post. But first, a recap of the Biomimicry Backyard Workshop!

Dayna Baumeister and Oregon’s own Karen Allen led students through the basics of biomimicry, and hands-on exploration of Life’s Principle (rules for well-adapted design as developed over the last 3.8 billion years) and the methodology of using Nature as Mentor, Model and Measure, which can be followed for any design challenge. Regina Rowland deepened the learnings through her graphic recording.

Talk about unleashing creative energy! Exploring the challenge of designing for disassembly, the “Connectors” team looked to sawfly and damselfly wings to inspire interlocking and reversable joint attachments. Climate change impacts of rising sea levels and increasing flooding led another team to design buildings that rise in response to rising water inspired by turgor pressure in plants.

Student feedback was very enthusiastic and positive!

“I wasn’t infected with biomimicry during the workshop though; the reason been I was already infected when I got there. However, after been directly exposed to biomimicry, you can say I am now highly infectious and can’t wait to spread the virus.” – Luciana Botner Vieira

“Meaningful and hands-on knowledge about biomimicry. You can enter the workshop without knowing a thing about biomimicry and leave feeling fully capable of implementing it into your work and life!” – Nicole Isle, Sustainability Consultant, Brightworks

“Amazing experience. Much more than a design tool, biomimicry can be a life-changing way of thinking and a great opportunity to reconnect with nature.” – Anderson da Silva Santos, Product Designer, Natura

“Biomimicry is a powerful tool for designers pursuing regenerative design and development. It provides exercises and processes that help designers to understand and create conditions conducive to life.” – PhaedraSvec, Architect, BNIM

“Well-done, organized, fun and informative, innovative and inspiring.” – Marsha Forthofer, Kimberly Clark