A workspace inspired by nature

The Biomimicry Center leveraged the power of Life’s Principles in our office remodel. Nature’s universal design guidelines served as ideals for innovation as we were mentored by Life’s genius. From our first meeting to the final reveal, and designed in collaboration with Tempe-based Architekton, The Biomimicry Center strove to integrate these deep patterns in our space, our furniture and even our processes. You can explore each element of our remodel below, including the carpet tiles, modular furniture, living walls and more.

Explore The Biomimicry Center remodel

Modular furniture

All of the furniture in the Biomimicry Center was designed for adaptability, and can be reconfigured based on need as classroom, office, collaboration or meeting space. This includes adjustable desks, exchangeable chairs, mobile walls, flexible shelving/cabinet doors and dynamic tables. Depending on needs, they can be arranged in different configurations to encourage collaboration, support large meetings, or to create smaller working pods, which allows us to be locally attuned and responsive.

We chose to use PureBond plywood as the base building material for the desks, tables and walls, which are shaped as trapezoids that can fit together in a variety of shapes combining modular and nested components, while allowing us to fit form to function. The specific dimensions were designed to be resource efficient, even using cut-offs from one form as building material for another form.

The office area consists of separate desks circling two central power hubs. These adjustable desks were donated by Vivo, and allows each space to be customized by the inhabitants. The entire system can be shifted as the center evolves to survive over time and specific program needs change. The full-shelving wall offers consistent spacing allowing interchangeable cabinet doors and shelves as contents shift over time, as well.

Designed and built by Nicomia, with the help of Architekton, the full system works in concert to provide the maximum flexibility while ensuring continuity amongst the elements.

Carpet tiles

Inspired by a forest floor, Interface designed a line of carpet tiles that can be easily installed, intermixed and replaced as needed, creating less waste during manufacturing, installation and use. The color and patterns of the carpet allow each piece to fit anywhere in the layout leveraging modular and nested components. The tiles attach to each other rather than the floor, and thus require no glue adhesive.

This particular collection—“Urban Retreat”— explores and imitates where concrete gives way to grass, and looks at the deeply carved character of an old growth tree set against the architecture of a man-made grid.

Interface has been a champion of nature-inspired design for more than 20 years, and they integrate sustainability deeply into their mission. Interface’s business model ethos has transformed everything from product to manufacturing to supply chain. Striving to recycle all materials, use life-friendly chemistry and adapt to changing conditions, Interface uses recycled and reclaimed materials in their products (80%-100%, at least 35% post-consumer). Additionally, Interface has a Mission Zero® promise to eliminate any negative impact the company has on the environment by 2020.

Circadian lighting

Incorporating a healthy day and warm night lighting, the WalaLight system is a passive LED system that provides an adaptive spectrum of lighting. The timing of light brightness and color tint can be adapted as needed, or set in tune with the local day and night cycle. By leveraging cyclic processes of natural light, the Center allows its occupants to be more aligned with the natural human circadian rhythm. In turn, this allows the interior space to be more locally attuned and responsive to exterior conditions, even adapting throughout the year.

Walalight gets its name from the Australian aboriginal goddess of sun. The system simulates sunshine (6500K) and can be adjusted to relaxing night light (2200K) either manually or automatically. The cold setting imitates sunshine, which suppresses melatonin growth and stimulates alertness, while the warmer setting increases melatonin encouraging relaxation and calming. In addition to supporting human productivity, the controlled lighting system is resource efficient by reducing energy consumption up to 85%.

The entire lighting system in the Center was generously donated by Walalight. By cultivating cooperative relationships, center staff and ASU computer scientists are helping generate code that allows for an even more graduated adaptive lighting experience.

Ceiling tiles

One of the most notable features of the space is the unusual ceiling tiles. The design emulates a forest canopy, which through multiple layers of various sized leaves both modulates light and most importantly dampens sound. By using form (layers of multi-sized discs), we met the functional need of sound dampening and light scattering.

The original design called for removing the dated ceiling tiles and leaving an open ceiling exposing the infrastructure of the HVAC system. Budgetary constraints led us to re-use readily availability materials (the existing tiles) and achieve a multi-functional design that is aesthetic, sound dampening, delineates different zones of the space and reflects light evenly. Additionally, the holes allow heat to move into the upper reaches of the ceiling in the summer, helping keep occupants cooler.

Disc sizes correspond with the Fibonacci ratio, which optimizes the use of materials. The density of the discs aligns with the highest levels of sound generation in the room, yet because each ceiling panel can be moved, as Center programming shifts, we can adjust the zones accordingly and adapt to changing conditions.


(Re)connecting with nature is an important part of practicing biomimicry. Just as many elements of our space emulate nature, we also decided to bring nature into the space. Numerous studies have linked productivity, wellness and positivity to the presence of nature in our interior spaces.

Through our moving walls embedded with living walls and our lichen infused concrete wall, we have brought a small slice of nature directly into our space. In addition to the obvious aesthetic benefits, by hosting living organisms, we learn to cultivate cooperative relationships, while also being locally attuned and responsive as center staff are responsible for keeping the living wall thriving. In exchange, the plants help purify and oxygenate the air.

The design for lichen was prompted both leveraging readily available materials, as the lichen was repurposed scraps from Plant Solutions and the existing “cracks” in the concrete wall. The lichen is sustainably harvested and preserved using life friendly chemistry.

These natural elements were made possible through generous support by Plant Solutions and biomimic Joe Zazzera who worked with center staff to create a biophilic experience in our biomimetic space. Plant Solutions is a local Scottsdale-based company that is at forefront of industry trends and strive to add beauty and simplicity by installing plants in unlikely places.

PureBond plywood

All of the wood in the Biomimicry Center remodel is constructed with PureBond plywood from Columbia Forest Products. The plywood is assembled using an formaldehyde-free wood adhesive based on the tenacious bonding power of the blue mussel adhesive proteins that performs well even on wet and rough surfaces.

Blue mussels attach to surfaces underwater by using specialized amino acids in their adhesive proteins. Applying the design principle of abundant cross-linking of catechol groups with each other and with transition metal ions, Purebond springs from cheap, available soy protein. The soy protein structure is modified with catechol groups and other key features mimicking the mussel’s native adhesive protein (rather than harvesting sea mussels and extracting the protein). This biomimetic approach leaves the inspiring organism intact and makes use of readily available materials (soy). The life-friendly chemistry ensures no off-gassing of glue, nor finishes (linseed oil on the shelving and a water-based lacquer for the desks).

All of the plywood material was generously donated by Columbia Forest Products. By contributing ½”, ⅝” and ¾” stock, we were able to design all the elements needed with minimal additional materials. As an added benefit, the natural look of wood adds to the warm biophilic feel of the space.

3Form resin panels

The 3Form EcoResin sliding doors, cabinet doors and coffee table top are sourced from factory reclaimed, repurposed and recycled panels. The ecoresin uses both pre- and post-consumer waste and is additionally fully recyclable.

3Form is currently on its path to a zero-waste footprint by using recycled materials and transitioning to more renewable energy employing manufacturing processes that use low energy processes. For many of The Biomimicry Center pieces, we have chosen panels from their Reclaim program, which utilizes damaged, returned, excess and recycled materials removed from installations – thus extending their life cycle before ending up in the landfill. By using reclaimed panels that are also fully recyclable, 3Form and The Biomimicry Center is working to recycle all materials and become more resource efficient.

3Form provided a generous discount on purchasing the panels, which allowed us to incorporate a diversity of options throughout the space, both bringing further biophilic elements and keeping with our colors of Sonoran desert blooms.

River wood conference table

The Biomimicry Center worked with the furniture maker Ryan Walsh from LumberLust Designs, a local Tempe company, to create the wood conference table. The materials for this table were sourced from Wineglass Bar Saw Mill, which sources all its lumber from fallen trees during monsoon season or cleared for urban development. Our table uses readily available materials: locally-grown, urban silk oak, scrap glass and commonly available square steel for the legsThe table was finished with a non-toxic lacquer, which lets the natural beautiful wood grain shine through.

The design concept for this unique table mimics the flow of an arroyo, one of the center’s programmatic themes. As we engage in being locally attuned and responsive to our natural landscape, this table is a reminder of the Rio Salado river that would be naturally flowing parallel to our Tempe campus.

Herman Miller setu chair

The workstation Setu Chairs feature a kinematic spine that provides flexibility and strength and responds naturally to movements. The seat and back are crafted from one piece of elastomeric material and the woven suspension is locally attuned and responsive to each individual’s contours. Appropriately, the whole system mimics a human spine, which provides support through a combination of modular individual vertebrae, tendons and fascia. Inspired by the lightweight structure of a nautilus, the chair self-adjusts to the user without any manual adjustments or complicated lumbar supports, fitting form to function. Using form rather than parts, the chair is incredibly lightweight—only 18 pounds. The minimal materials used in manufacturing are 50% recycled, 93% recyclable, and Cradle to Cradle certified. Additionally, Herman Miller chairs can be easily disassembled allowing greater reuse, refurbishment, repair and recycling of components. Collectively, these support recycling all materials.

Setu is Sanskrit for “bridge”, from the yoga pose setu bandhasana—a strengthening backbend, highlighting the chair’s back support. The Setu Chair has received numerous awards including Best Sustainable Design Solution of the Decade by the Industrial Designers Society of America (2010).

Herman Miller has generously donated all eight workstation chairs providing comfort, aesthetics and optimal back support for our staff.

The Biomimicry Center would like to thank all of the builders, donors, sponsors and creatives who made this innovative remodel possible.

Graphic of all of The Biomimicry Center donors and sponsors