"Let us take a closer look at the shapes with which nature
impresses us. Treeshaped networks are indeed everywhere, in
botanical trees, leaves, roots, lungs, vascularized tissues,
neural dendrites, river drainage basins, river deltas, urban
growth, bacterial colonies, lightning, and dendritic crystals."
–"Shape and Structure, From Engineering to
There is much that we as Engineers, Architects
and Artists can learn by a study of Nature. Without entering at
this stage into the old argument about the existence of a "designer"
for Nature, it is evident - or shall we say that "we hold that
truth to be self-evident" - that organisms in nature (animals,
trees, even rivers, etc.) have a spatial and temporal organization
and that these organizations serve functions, however defined and
from whatever viewpoint. Any such naturally organized systems, living
and not living - any particular arrangement of elements in space
and time- which serves a function, constitutes a "design."
Indeed as science probes deeper into the molecular constituents
of life, whole arrays of molecular engines, similar from organism
to organism, reveal themselves. At the macroscopic level, there
are obvious similarities between "networks visible in tree
branches, roots, leaves, lungs, vascularized tissues, dendrites
in rapid solidification, axonal arbors, river basins, deltas, lightnings,
streets, and other paths of telecommunication."*
Even in temporal organizations, similarities "in the finely
tuned frequencies of respiration, circulation, and pulsating and
Understanding how nature is engineered can help
determine how a shape occurs and how a structure develops. It can
also stimulate the imagination of would-be designers, teach them
observation, extrapolation, adaptation, flexibility, simplicity,
ingenuity, humility, and other qualities that make for a good designer.
A world of naturally developed forms opens up.
The lines between engineering, architecture, science and sculpture
fade without these activities losing their integrity. New construction
methods simulating natural processes may be suggested - structures
may be "grown" rather than "constructed."
The course has three modules: descriptive, theoretical
and a project. Participation in a project is required of all students,
while the descriptive or theoretical modules are at the student's
choice. Modules for in-depth study are available in written and
video form. However, surveys and lectures about the material in
the descriptive and theoretical modules is at a level accessible
to all students and is required of all students, so that a common
language and a basic understanding can be established in all participants.
Principles of design are abstracted and applied to
various projects through a survey and description with direct lab
observation and experimentation. A firm theoretical background is
established through a study and research in the modeling of these
systems as presented in Adrian Bejan's book "Advanced Thermodynamics"
and his numerous articles. On that basis, projects are developed
for designing optimal "natural structures"
During the first five weeks of class a variety of
theoretical materials are presented and discussed. From a study
of street patterns to heat flow patterns and fluid flow patterns
to that of time patterns and solid patterns, we see how a fundamental
principle of growth and structure development can be postulated
in nature and technical applications. The remaining class time is
devoted entirely to the project. The project will be a group effort
including two or three students per group. Groups are formed during
the first week and the projects started after instructors' approval
in the second week.
The deliverables include:
- A mid-term oral presentation
- A written report including narrative, construction
drawings, and calculations
- A prototype or model of the proposed structure
- An oral presentation on the results of the study
Class participation may include exams on theoretical
material, participation in class discussions and in group activities,
group leadership, and initiative.
* Bejan, Adrian: Advanced Engineering Thermodynamics,