VIBIOM - The biomimetic city: theory, risks, applications (2014)

Scientific coordinator: Jean-Philippe Pierron (IRPHIL) –
Disciplines: Philosophy – Urban hydrology – Energy and building – Solar energy
Laboratories: CETHIL – LGCIE – IRPHIL
Partners: Industrial Chair University of Lyon 3 – Research and Teaching Chair INSA Lyon


The ecological impact of rapid urbanisation calls for thinking about what a genuinely sustainable city would be. One of the most fashionable responses today consists of saying that it would be “biomimetic”. Given the observation that ecosystems exist on earth that do not cause or suffer from the same ecological problems as ours – generalised pollution, exhaustion of natural resources, loss of biodiversity, etc. – it seems plausible or worth exploring the idea that, to solve these problems, our cities of tomorrow should imitate or draw inspiration from the living world.

The project goals are to:

– Carry out multidisciplinary thinking on the concept and challenges of the “biomimetic city”, combining a team in the humanities (IrPhil), two teams in engineering sciences (CETHIL, LGCIE) and a biologist from the INRA.

– Explore the risks caused by the application of a biomimetic or bio-inspired approach beyond its traditional field of application (manufactured objects) to the primary form of human habitat (the city).

– Imagine concrete applications of the concept of a biomimetic city, focusing on water, energy and building.

The project uses a highly multidisciplinary methodology to study the question in all its complexity and with all its consequences.

At the theoretical level, certain questions are posed:

– What are the natural models that a biomimetic city can draw on? Organisms, as some 19th-century philosophers, engineers and urban planners already believed? Termite mounds, as James Lovelock has suggested? Forests, as proposed by Michael Braungart and William McDonough? And could we also envision a hybrid model, such as a garden (Matthias Henning)?

– How can we understand the relationship between the biomimetic city and the entire philosophical tradition of art as “imitating nature”? Would the biomimetic city be an imperfect imitation (Plato) or a creative imitation (Aristotle, Ricoeur)?

– What will become of human beings in a biomimetic city, and how can we avoid the danger of a city designed and managed in a purely biopolitical manner (Foucault)? And what would be the poetics of inhabiting it (Bachelard), of public space and human relations in a biomimetic city?