The Wooden Orchids Mall

The ‘Wooden Orchids’ is a Mall on the southern shore of the Yangtze river in China designed by architect Vincent Callebaut. It aims to create a new eco-responsible shopping mall, while maintaining a tourist destination that combines passive bioclimatic principles and renewable energy technology.

The mall uses the principles of biomimicry, inspired directly from the petals of an orchid flower and designed as repetition of a basic designed module. Making use of the natural order of Fibonacci numbers, it develops a hierarchy and flow of spaces and places, resulting in the right balance between solid and void, and between shadow and light.

The structure of the mall allows two different architectural approaches: the northern lot promotes an additive architecture and the southern lot a subtractive architecture. The former includes the movie auditoriums, the public library, the physical exercise facility and the food services allowing solid facades, and the southern lot integrates shops that promote organic food, ecological products and farmers market, allowing transparent facades. The structure as well incorporates many open spaces to allow the maximum light and ventilation possible. The external spaces open out toward the street and create a series of very unique garden squares.

The Wooden Orchids Mall

Wooden Orchids incorporates sustainable design principles such as:

  • low-carbon transportation
  • green infrastructure such as roofs and walls that help reducing the building’s temperature, and live walls that purify and reuse grey water
  • renewable energy sources such as a geothermal (heat from the earth) energy to heat water and massive solar canopies, and wind turbines on the rooftop
  • natural building materials
  • daylight through a south-facing orientation.

Vincent Callebaut’s design won an honorable mention in the International Union of Architects’ (UIA) Mount Lu Estate of World Architecture Competition. In the architect’s own words:

“Sustainability of Nature and Diversity of Culture are the two pillars of this Chinese pioneer 2.0 shopping hub switching from the linear economy to the circular economy!”

The BioTower

The BioTower design by Dennis Dollens is based on the idea of branch structures. These structures -asymmetrical trusses- demonstrate the idea of clustered skins that stabilize and strengthen  branching struts, supporting membranes from yucca blades (leaves).  The physical appearance of the façade was thought from the observation of leaves as a series of branch panels with an origami-like folded paper skin.

The BioTower uses a series of components:

  • sensor nodes with leaf-cluster systems for air filtration & ventilation,
  • sound baffling
  • heat-light control

Dollens’ work looks at natural designs such as trees, flowers, leaves and seeds and uses computation to translate these structures into forms that can be used for structural design. Dollens believes in the great power of nature and this is why he is actively testing his approach ‘to explore forms, shapes, connections, as well as biological properties from the natural world’.





The Dragonfly

The Dragonfly  is a project that sets up along the East River at the South edge of the Rooselvelt Island in New York between Manattan’s Island and the Queens’ district. It is a vertical farm that sets up sustainable organic agriculture based on the production according to the rhythm of the seasons. The Dragonfly aims to recreate food production managed by the inhabitants of its surroundings.

The Dragonfly is a project that suggests the dragonfly3prototype of an urban farm together with housing, office space and farming land, encouraging sustainable self-maintenance, renewable energy use and reuse of biodegradable waste. The tower superposes not only stock farming ensuring the production of meat, milk, poultry and eggs but also farming grounds, such as organic humus. The tower diversifies vertically the variety of cultivations and it becomes metabolic and self-sufficient in water and energy resources, as well as in bio-fertilization.

Architecturally, the tower is composed of two oblong towers symetrically arranged in pair between two crystalline wings, which are inspired by the structure of the dragonfly wings. Two inhabited rings buttress around these wings.

Some characteristics that set the Dragonfly apart are:

  • The organically chiselled exo-structure of the wings that accommodates the inter-climatic spaces for agrarian processes
  • The solar passive energy level accomplished by the «double layered» architecture in bee nest mesh (it accumulates the warm air in the winter in the thickness of the exo-structure, and cools the atmosphere through natural ventilation and by evapo-perspiration of the plants in the summer)
  • The energetically self-sufficiency of the tower as the South prow of the tower receives in all the heights of its curve a solar shield producing half of the electric energy needed for its functioning, and the other side is ensured by the three wind machines taking advantage of the dominated winds
  • The vertical gardens enabling filtration of the rain water and the effluents of domestic liquid waste of the tower inhabitants, where the collected waters undergo an appropriate organic treatment for its reuse in farming.
Internal structure

Thought between Manattan’s Island and the Queens’ district, and outlining the bank of the Roosevelt Island, the tower widens at each side of its basis to welcome two marinas along the East River and facilitate the distribution of this vertical farm production through the river to the heart of Manhattan. These two marinas also accommodate two huge aquaculture ponds dedicated to be reinjected in the hydroponic system of the Dragonfly tower.

According to the evolution of the urban agriculture enhanced by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) that has been realising since 2007 that the organic agriculture on a large scale would be able to nourish the planet, the Dragonfly project challenges the city of New York to rethink its food production. The Dragonfly as a vertical farm replies to this dilemma not only ecologically but also more intensively on non-extensive earth. – Vincent Callebaut Architect

Honeycomb Skyscraper

The Honeycomb Skyscraper

TheHoneycomb structure is better know as The Sinosteel International Plaza. The structure not only appeals to our eyes, but creates a skeleton that does not require internal columns beyond the buildings core. This organic-looking patterns evolve adds to China’s cultural heritage usually find in parks, gardens, and temples. It also gives the building an animated look and alters its appearance from different perspectives.


“From a very simple concept, yet deeply rooted in ancient Chinese architecture, a subtle and sensitive building arises. Sinosteel International Plaza will establish a different urban landscape and soften the hard edge of the concrete jungle we live in, our modern city.”

MAD Architects

Interior – The Honeycomb Skyscraper

The Mobius Project

The Mobius Project encourages interconnection of inputs and outputs in the form of a closed loop model. It brings together infrastructural activities that we have became accustomed to be separate and mono-functional from each other.

The Mobius Project puts together:

  • A productive greenhouse
  • A restaurant serving local food from the greenhouse
  • A fish farm
  • A food market
  • A wormery composting system
  • Mushroom cultivation using coffee grains
  • An anaerobic digester and biomass CHP
  • A “Living Machine” water system
  • Artificial limestone from CO2 waste

The most innovative aspect of the Mobius Project is that it integrates food production, energy generation, and water treatment in a synergistic cycle. The building is capable to handle most of the biodegradable waste from local urban areas using composting and anaerobic technologies.

This project could help generating a sense of community and reconnecting people with food while addressing many of the infrastructural requirements of sustainable living in urban areas. It is an ongoing project by Exploration Technology.



The Biomimetic Office Building

The Biomimetic Office Building is considered to be the first office building that has ever been thoughtfully designed using biomimicry. Designing a building that goes beyond conventional approaches requires new ways of working. To encourage limitless ideas and working approaches, the concept of this building was carried on at first without major constraints, for example, there was no specific site and it was a very open approach to capital cost management and long-term value. Some of the best design consultants in Europe and crucially involved a world-renowned professor of biomimetics were appointed to the design of this project.

On of the more important principles that the building incorporates in its design is the use of daylight the primary driver of the building form. The team found inspiration from:

  • the Spookfish that has an amazing mirror structure from his eyes which point downwards and focus low-level bioluminescence into his retina,
  • the brittlestar -a star that leaves as much as 500 m below the ocean and to protect itself against predators, it is covered in optically perfect lenses that focus light into receptors in order to detect predators before they see it,
  • the cuttlefish bone, which efficiently places material to create a very rigid structure with very thin walls at the top and the bottom,
  • termites, that have already design a passive cooling in their habitat and,
  • beetle wings and mimosa leaves, that provide a shading system letting in the right amount of light




Cuttlefish bone
Source: Shutterstock



Other inspirations were taken from: bird skulls, sea urchins and giant amazon water lilies for the structure; penguin feathers and polar bear fur for the environmental control; and hornbeam leaves for the solar shading. It was predicted that when built it will  be one of the lowest energy office buildings in the world.

The Office Building Model


We should never start with reality. Always start by identifying the idea and compromise as little.

Solar energy from nature

One approach to solar energy uses PV -solar photovoltaics to capture sunlight with semiconductor materials that convert it to electric energy. However, this energy is not easily transportable given the electrical grid of many countries. Therefore, we need to rely in an efficient way to collect and stores the sun energy for use whenever or wherever is needed. An answer to this conflict could be found in mimicking the process of photosynthesis.


The Optical Society of America – Lynn Savage

Photosynthesis begins when the pigments within a plant cell act as antennas that capture photons. These antennas then generate electrons that pass the energy along to other molecules in the multistep process of energy capture, redirection and storage. Plants ranging from daisies to trees chiefly use chlorophyll-containing cells to effect this process (some photoactive bacteria have an analog material, dubbed bacteriochlorophyll). In chlorophyll-containing plants, the process of photosynthesis splits water molecules (H20), releasing oxygen and storing the energy produced by that chemical reaction inside a carbohydrate molecule. The energy resident in each photon is transferred into the final organic compound product, which the plant stores as adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for later use.

One or two types of pigments are necessary for a completely functional system: Photosystem I refers to the absorption of light via the main type of chlorophyll by itself. Photosystem II requires a second pigment. Light-harvesting polymers must be able to absorb sunlight over a significant span of the spectrum as well, in order to not waste photons.

More information



Using the right synthetic materials, this process can serve to split water molecules, sending the hydrogen to fuel cells such as batteries, for an easier transportation. Unlike PV, which uses readily available water stream sources to hydrogen to be stored and burned as fuel,  mimicking leaves allows for larger fuel production. Another aspect in which this approach focuses is the maximum use of the whole spectrum of sunlight. Ultimately, we look to capture as much energy from every wavelength as possible.


Daniel Nocera, professor of MIT and researchers are recently working on something called “artificial leaf”: This device, similar to a common leave, is capable of turning the energy of sunlight directly into a chemical fuel that can be stored and used later as an energy source.

The device is a silicon solar cell with different catalytic materials bonded onto its two sides, it does not need external wires or control circuits to operate. When it is exposed to light in a container of water, Simply it quickly begins to generate streams of oxygen bubbles from one side and hydrogen bubbles from the other. If there is a barrier to separate the two sides, the two streams of bubbles can be collected and stored separately, and used later to deliver power.

The artificial leaf is a thin sheet of semiconducting silicon made entirely of inexpensive materials that can be easily found in earth— mostly silicon, cobalt and nickel —. This materials work in ordinary water. Bound onto the silicon is a layer of a cobalt-based catalyst, a material whose potential for generating fuel from sunlight was discovered by Nocera and his co-authors in 2008, which releases oxygen. The other side of the silicon sheet is coated with a layer of a nickel-molybdenum-zinc alloy, which releases hydrogen from the water molecules.

MIT News

David L. Chandler, MIT News Office
September 30, 2011