The best way to find new and cutting edge materials and ideas is not to look at the future, but the past; specifically the millions of years of evolution that our planet and its millions of species have undergone. Nature has the best designs for new technologies and it is where we should look for new ideas. This idea can go back for centuries, wing designs for airplanes is just one example.
Another example that has been around for a little while is Sharklet. It is a material based on shark skin, which is designed by nature to prevent the growth of parasites and barnacles. Researches took the design and shrunk it down to a scale that prevents the growth of bacteria and other pathogens. It has found many uses in the medical field to the food service industry, or just about anywhere people don’t want bad things to grow.
Another example is a beaver inspired wetsuit developed by MIT. By mimicking the hair and blubber layer on the beaver, which helps keep warm air trapped, keeping the divers warm in and out of the water.
A specifically architectural example is more of an idea than a material, but can still be considered biomimicry. A termite den can keep itself at a steady 87 degrees even though the outside temperature can swing 70 degrees in a single day. It does this by its use of ventilation chimneys and tunnels that are strategically placed to passively regulate the temperature. Mick Pearce, an architect in Zimbabwe has studied these termite mounds and has now designed an office building following their guidelines. It is 333,000 square feet and uses 90% less energy to regulate temperature than a standard building.
The final example that is prevalent in architecture is the lotus flower. It has a similar surface texture to the shark skin, but instead of keeping of pests, it keeps its beautiful flowers clean in some of the dirtiest environments. It has a bunch of tiny nail like structures that hold dirt and other debris away from the surface, so that when it rains, the raindrops pull the dirt and debris off of the plant keeping it clean. This has been applied to both paints and windows that can self-clean when it rains.
Biomimicry is something that we have done for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and should and will remain at the forefront of the science of advancing materials.