Cacti-School of Architecture - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Learning From Nature

Dale Clifford, an assistant professor of architecture, looks to nature for patterns and processes that might be applicable to other areas.

“Nature is the single and most complex system that has been field tested the longest,” Clifford said. “The relationship of process, material deposition and pattern formation is really interesting, and there are forces of nature that we haven’t tapped into at all in the construction industry.

“Nature makes everything largely at room temperature, largely with soft and pliant materials. We usually do the opposite. We heat things up, beat them to submission and exert a lot of energy to get things to function well. But in nature, there is a direct correlation of construction, form and performance,” Clifford said.

While working for a company called Molecular Geodesics, Clifford studied the
skeleton of a cholla cactus.

“I studied the patterning, and made a physical model,” he said. “Because of the way the model was constructed, it had different properties than the cactus skeleton, with flexible joints, it could transform to a small bundle, advance to a maximum volume then fold into a plane.”

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By: Heidi Opdyke