Dennis Dollens Grows Architecture: Podhotels and Spiral Bridges


When somebody talks about sustainability without using the word ‘eco’ or ‘green’, I’d say they are one step ahead of our time. Dennis Dollens has definitely one foot in the future as he’s growing living buildings. His work is about Biomimetics as a way to archive environmentally responsible and non-toxic solutions for architecture and design.

Dollens believes that good design solutions derive from nature. He’s testing his approach called biomimetics (often used in scientific research) ‘to explore forms, shapes, connections, as well as biological properties from the natural world’. You’re asking now, how is it possible? Well, Dollens digitally grows it with a software called Xfrog, normally used in landscape architecture. Dollens uses Xfrog by manipulating the software’s forms based on botanic algorithms to grow new types of structures for architectural purposes, such as columns imitating the branching of a tree or a Spiral Bridge inspired by a seedpod’s spiralling nature as it falls.

Dollens latest creations might be a bit alien looking at first but once you realise the natural system within their structures, the Barcelona Podhotel as well as the Arizona Tower become beautiful new ideas for architecture. The Podhotel for example copies leaves and pods from a flower stalk, the leaves being transformed into solar and shading panels and the pods being prefabricated rooms. The spiralling arrangement of the latter allows for precise orientation to gain natural ventilation and other environmental advantages. Dollens admits that we prefer to live in boxes rather than pods and suggest changing the pod-shaped spaces for cubes. Voilà, a fully grown building in full bloom.However, this architect is not only concerned about the environmental shape of things. Dollens says ‘shape and function of a structure are meaningless without a rethinking of the material’. Far from waiting for others to develop new materials that are non-toxic, Dollens gets his hands dirty designing ‘alive, semi-alive, or at least, imbued with simulated biological intelligence’ materials. We’ve seen beautiful samples that even smelled good, made from adobe, pulp and cactus juice which gives the mixture a chemical effect of binding it and increases its strength.

Dollens is one of those people who like to share their passion and findings, which is probably why he’s such an enthusiastic teacher. He lives and works in Santa Fe and Barcelona where we had the pleasure to meet him. American as well as European universities experiment with him on Biomimetics for architecture and ‘as one path for reinvigorating design as environmentally responsive, less or non-toxic, and computationally and/or biologically smart’. Since Biomimetrics is a new process within designing, we asked him how to start using nature to solve problems. And sure enough Dollens told us to consider a leaf for design exploration.

Design biomimetics is a bridge that can connect architectural and design professions on a route to linking designed, environmental, and, eventually, non-toxic materials. Design biomimetics can lead to technological means for visualization, digital fabrication, and, eventually, bioengineering and intelligent systems. More importantly, design biomimetics can emphasize ways of thinking and designing that bring architecture and industrial design into a process of environmental and biological focus on more responsive, safer buildings.

For more information and amazing images, check out Dennis Dollens web site called where you can download the free 10-page PDF Towards Biomimetic Architecture and order his comic book (!) A Pangolin's Guide to Biomimetics & Digital Architecture for 7$. This fun book will take you on a journey to a future full of weird shapes, natural experiments and inspirational ideas presented by Pangolin, an armored, toothless mammal from Asia and Africa. ::Dennis Dollens, Tumbletruss
Images from Dennis Dollens: The image on the left represents the Podhotel with the yucca flower stalk that was the natural model used to digitally simulate the pod locations for natural ventilation, solar orientation, and view/privacy locations. The image in the middle is of the Arizona Tower and both images on the right are illustrations of the possible buildings on their sites.

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