Sundered Peak

through the mind of kyle tolle

Nature as Technology

In my last post, I talked about how lawns are odd. But grass is nice. It can take wear of travel, is soft to the touch, and keeps mud and dirt off one’s feet. Dirt and other items fall through the blades of grass, which keeps the walking surface clean. And it helps make a home more comfortable.

But the inside of a dwelling doesn’t get much direct sunlight and water, so we invented something artificial to simulate grass - carpet.

Carpeted homes which are closed to the outside environment miss out on some natural benefits of grass. Sunlight, rain, and the plant’s regular living functions keep it clean. Dirt and other debris can be carried away by the wind, or by other animals. Nature doesn’t need a vacuum cleaner because the system cleans itself. Instead, in our closed, non-living systems, we have to keep the carpets clean.

Grass (and vegetation in general) can make an area cooler. Through a process called transpiration, a plant releases water into the air around it, which cools the plants, and, as a result, its surroundings. Transpiration works similarly to how sweating keeps us cool. Because the materials we use in carpets don’t actively cool themselves, we have to resort to other methods, like fans or air conditioning.

Grass is self-healing. It repairs itself as it gets injured. Carpet just wears and frays. Grass also replenishes and spreads itself through seeds. Carpeting must be replaced occasionally and you can’t grow more carpet from your existing floor.

There can be downsides to grass, however. Bugs and creatures live in grass and we find some of them annoying. Especially if they bite! Carpet can host pests, but it’s less likely since the carpet isn’t much of a food source or habitat. And grass can be worn down quickly, if the same path is followed. This is how trails in forests are established - just walking them a lot.

A popular architectural theme these days is that homes and buildings are more open and allow in more light. We incorporate an increasing number of natural elements within our homes. I see homes of the future using grass instead of carpeting. They’ll’ve been engineered to let in light and breezes, water the ground, provide nutrients in the soil, and reduce the incidence of pests. We’ll take advantage of the benefits of grass, particularly the natural cleaning and local area cooling, and still have a comfy living space.

Humans have a lot of technology, but we can’t emulate the most basic features of living organisms. We need to learn how to take existing, proven technology (living things) and adapt them to fit our specific needs.

How many times have humans spent years working toward ideas like home-cooling-carpet or self-healing-carpet, only to later realize they’ve just reinvented something that already exists in nature? Instead of reinventing the wheel, let’s use the ones we’ve got and build a vehicle on top of them already. We’ll get a lot further, faster.