Ultimately, the goal is to shift our designers’ perspectives from self to place. HOK’s team used this approach while working with biologists at Biomimicry 3.8 on an urban commercial center in Brazil. This project had a glass building facade outfitted with slanted blades offering shade from the sun. We wanted to develop a system that, like the Brazilian rainforest, would reject heat while returning water to the atmosphere. When we realized that changing the horizontal blades to spirals would atomize cascading water, sending it back into the surrounding environment, it dawned on me: the building could reject heat and conserve water. This multifunctional capability is ever-present in nature but often ignored or even rejected in our compartmentalized world.
Thomas Knittel is a practicing architect with 30 years of experience in a broad range of project types and scales. He is currently a vice president and design principal with HOK, a global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm, with projects in the U.S, Asia, Brazil, the Middle East and Haiti. His work in biomimicry—taking inspiration from natural systems in order to solve human problems—focuses on integrating models from nature into the design of buildings, communities and cities. He holds a Bachelor’s of Architecture from Kansas State University, a Biomimicry Specialty certificate from 3.8, and a Master of Design Studies from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Thomas donates his time as HOK’s design leader for Project Haiti, a new family learning center and orphanage funded by the USGBC, designed to LEED Platinum and net-zero standards. He is married to bioethicist Erika Blacksher and lives in Los Angeles.