Category Archives: Designer Spotlight

Biomimicry & The Biomimetic Office Building


An Interview with Michael Pawlyn, Architect & Author

In The Biomimetic Office Building, lighting takes its inspiration from the translucent four-eyed spookfish and a spindly-legged cousin of the starfish, the brittle star, both deep ocean dwellers. The building’s glazed glass exterior nods to a mollusk’s iridescent shell, while our own double duty spinal column is echoed in support columns that also encase the building’s energy systems.

To Biomimetic Office Building designer, architect Michael Pawlyn, the natural world teems with models of brilliant design efficiency. Pawlyn’s book, Biomimicry in Architecture, inspired and challenged architects, urban designers and product designers to look to Nature for beautiful models of resource efficiency.

It also called for them to move beyond sustainability, which Pawlyn characterized as “minimizing the negatives,” primarily of resource and energy consumption, versus the regenerative model that is biomimicry. The Biomimetic Office Building is the latest project undertaken by Pawlyn and his Exploration Architecture team. The design, which uses biomimicry to rethink the workplace into a self-heated, self-cooled, self-ventilated, day-lit structure that is also a net producer of energy, will strengthen the case for biomimicry by drawing a brighter line between restorative, responsible design and cost savings. In addition to biomimicry, the project incorporates the principles of psychologist, Craig Knight, such as plants in the workplace, to address employee well-being, job satisfaction and productivity.

Biomimetic Office Building

The Biomimetic Office Building uses biomimicry to rethink the workplace.

“The design debate has shifted over the last 10 to 15 years from resource and energy saving to improved productivity,” said Pawlyn. While upon completion the Biomimetic Office Building promises to be one of the world’s lowest energy office buildings, energy costs are tiny compared to employee costs, such as salaries. And according to Pawlyn, design of The Biomimetic Office will maximize substantial human resource investments through gains in productivity of as much as 25 percent.

This grounded, practical cost-benefit equation, however, belies the project’s ingeniously fantastic soul. The building infrastructure, for example, is modeled on the bone structure of birds and cuttlefish. Everything about a bird must be light, strong and efficient to enable flight. While delicate, bird bones are actually far from fragile. In particular, their skulls are made from multiple layers of very thin bone. The layers lend strength without the added weight that could impede flight. Similarly, the layers that comprise cuttlefish bones vary to add reinforcement only where the animal needs it for movement, support or protection.

In bird skulls and cuttlefish bones, Pawlyn found that “complex forms that use minimal materials in exactly the right place,” is often the operating principle in Nature, and their ingenuity was incorporated into key structural components of the Biomimetic Office Building, the floor slabs and columns. Sections of the floor that will be “working hard” by taking on more of the stress of the structure and weight will need denser concentrations of concrete. Columns and floor slabs earmarked for lighter duty can be hollow, their voids used for secondary purposes, such as, housing wiring or temperature control components.

skull & shell

The building infrastructure is modeled on the bone structure of birds and cuttlefish. The glazed glass exterior nods to a mollusk’s iridescent shell.

For further temperature control, the building design calls for intricate, identical shades, able to respond automatically and, if necessary, separately to changes in light the way plants such as the mimosa pudica, or sensitive plant, and Venus flytrap move in response to touch or other external stimulation. Another tropical plant variety, the epiphytic anthurium, which grows on other plants close to the rain forest floor and efficiently captures and makes use of scarce sunlight, is providing food for thought for a subsequent phase of the Biometric Office Building design.

In consultation with work space designers and psychologists, biologists and even primatologists, Pawlyn and Exploration Architecture continue to seek innovative design solutions that draw upon the billions of years of wisdom found in Nature, challenging not just our thinking about the final product or outcome, but the very process by which we arrive there.

“Don’t start with reality, start by identifying the ideal and then compromise as little as necessary to meet constraints of budget and buildability,” says Pawlyn. “If you don’t start by identifying the ideal then you’re very unlikely to find breakthrough ideas.”

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An Interview with Figamma, a Colombian Design Firm


On my last visit to Bogota, I had the pleasure of visiting the architectural firm Figamma, recognized in Colombia for their architecture and interior design projects. They told me about their work methodology that starts with the floor as the foundation for their choice of colors, patterns and textures.

Where and how do you find inspiration for your projects?
We start by meeting with our client a few times to better understand their needs and their company culture. We then browse their brand book looking for design elements to spark inspiration. We also search the web, magazines and other resources for inspiration. That’s how we choose the designs, textures, materials and colors that will be used in our final design.

You’ve said that most of your projects start with the floor design. Can you elaborate on that?
We start by defining a basic color scheme for our client’s spaces. Then we choose a carpet that will set the tone. Next we look for base and finishing materials that will create harmony in those spaces and give them the unique look we strive to achieve in all our projects. And because we know how important adaptability and durability are to each client, we create designs that will stand the test of time.

What are the benefits of using modular carpet tiles in your projects?
By using modular carpet, we get:

  • Flooring that is easy to replace on site
  • A floor that’s easy to install
  • Great acoustic properties
  • A warmer, more sophisticated look
  • More durability for our clients, thus avoiding them unnecessary changes

How does modular carpet tile provide value to your projects?
The new formats are well suited to our floor design needs. They allow us to combine multiple textures, colors and shapes for endless design options.


From left to right: Lina González, Natalia González, Luz Piedad Santa, Fernando González

From left to right: Lina González, Natalia González, Luz Piedad Santa, Fernando González

About Figamma:
Founded in 1994 in Colombia, Figamma is a family business that provides architectural and interior design services for various projects, including corporate and commercial spaces, hospitals, and homes. In its 20+ year history, Figamma has worked on some of the most iconic projects in the country, putting to good use its deep knowledge and understanding of its clients’ needs and preferences.

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Q&A with Kari Pei, Global Product Designer for Interface


Kari_Pei_2_blogWe recently welcomed Kari Pei, recognized design leader in the textile industry, as Interface’s new global product designer. She will work closely with our internal product design and development teams as well as sustainability leader David Oakey Designs.

Kari is equally at home in the design studio and on the factory floor. Her extensive resume includes work with globally celebrated fashion houses, manufacturers and hospitality brands such as Starwood Hotels, MGM Resorts International, Knoll, Wolf Gordon, Maharam and Jhane Barnes.

Her passion for sustainability coupled with her design expertise and insight made her the perfect choice for this new role. Even though she’s just settled in, she graciously answered some questions so that you can get to know her better. We can’t wait to see her work come to life on the floor!

1. Where are you finding your inspiration right now?

Currently, Interface’s focus on social sustainability is the genesis of my inspiration. The Net-Works program really brought gravity to our idea of social sustainability.

But, in thinking about social sustainability, ideas about commonality among people begin to come to mind. I am struck by the simplicity and universality in textiles from around the world and from a large span of ages. The mark making and patterning from 10th century Korea to 19th century Central America have a common language. Therefore, people come together and seem much more similar than different. In a way, that is a kind of social sustainability we create by using a common dialogue through craft. Incorporating the suggestion of “craft” into design gives a reference to that common language, which I find very inspiring.

2. How does flooring set the tone for the design of a space?

Flooring establishes the hierarchy of the space. It can suggest area designation and delineation. It can soften, harden, calm or activate a space by the change in color, scale, texture and pattern. Flooring informs the use of a space; i.e., for task seating, wayfinding or socializing.

3. What three favorite trends are you seeing right now?

Painterly effects, varied, textured effects and biophilic-inspired patterns.

4. What is your favorite place?

In my life, it is in the hammock of our family house in Katonah, NY, gently swinging while listening to the cacophony of sound made by the wind rustling through the leaves. In the world, it is anywhere I learn about culture.

5. What is your “must have” design tool?

Pencil and paper or Photoshop.

6. What trends are you seeing in the hospitality industry?

The trend I see in hospitality is “uniqueness.” Every hotel wants each of their projects to be considered “unique” in its place in the world. They each have to offer something that is individualistic to that particular hotel so it is memorable and people return to it in order to experience it again.

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The Art of Storytelling

Jennifer Busch

Mike Suomi Headshot 1_web1Michael Suomi, Principal and VP of Design at Stonehill & Taylor in New York and founder of the think-tank organization Futuregreen Hospitality Forum, leads the way on design and sustainability



IF  How would you describe your design process in one word?

MS  Storytelling.

IF   Where do you turn for inspiration during your creative process?

MS  I am drawn to both the well of history and the vanguard of contemporary art for inspiration.

IF   How have you seen the hospitality industry change over the course of your career?

MS  The cross-pollination of ideas from everywhere (nightlife, fashion, nature, museums, nesting, handmade materials, crowd-sourcing, etc.) has evolved into exciting forms of hospitality we could have never imagined when I started as a designer 25 years ago. The “micro-room” hotel, Airbnb, and the ubiquitous “branded bed” are examples of radical shifts that have now become quite common in our industry. It is thrilling to imagine what the next 25 years will bring!

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IF  You are a leading proponent for sustainability in hospitality design. What are the most important trends in sustainable design in this market segment at the moment?

MS  What excites my designers right at the moment is “upcycling”, which we are looking at for a major project in St. Louis. Later this month the think-tank organization that I founded, Futuregreen Hospitality Forum, is exploring the inherent sustainable opportunities that could come out of the current trend of “smaller, faster, cheaper” production. 

IF  Other than sustainability, is there anything in particular happening in the design world right now that inspires you?

MS  Many — The visual representation of data by people like Aaron Koblin and Edward Tufte; the DIY creativeness of the band OK Go; the intersection of interactive theater and dining; pop-up; glitch art; forgotten spaces; always authenticity.

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IF   How does flooring help set the tone for a hospitality space? What does the flooring solution contribute to the overall design solution?

MS  The floor, like the ceiling, is usually the largest expanse of material in a space. It sets the stage for all the other layers of design to determine the overall tone. Based upon material, finish, pattern, color, and texture, flooring can make a space feel relaxed or formal, energized or calm, classic, intimate, flowing, historic, bold, crisp, hygienic, or any other vision the designer wishes to convey.

IF   If you were able to give one piece of advice to young designers interested in the hospitality market, what would it be?

MS  Listen.

IF    What is your favorite space that you have ever been in?

MF  Gustave Caillebotte’s “The Floor Planers” in the Musee D’Orsay.

#3 - The Floor Planers

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Designer Ken Wilson Takes a “Rational” Approach

Jennifer Busch

Ken Wilson, FAIA, FIIDA, LEED Fellow, Design Principal, Perkins+Will

Ken Wilson, FAIA, FIIDA, LEED Fellow is one of the A&D community’s earliest and most well regarded sustainability leaders. His own firm, Envision Design in Washington, D.C., was known for its pioneering approach to sustainable design principles, and also had some 90 design awards to its credit when it was purchased by Perkins+Will last year. Now, as a design principal for the firm’s DC office, Wilson leverages the resources of his larger firm to continue his binary approach to his own work and that of his team, standing firm on his belief that good design and green design are one and the same, and the industry should be 100% committed to both.


How would you describe your design process in one word?

KW:  Rational.  (As defined by the Encarta Dictionary:  “governed by, or showing evidence of, clear and sensible thinking and judgment, based on reason rather than emotion or prejudice”)

What do you enjoy most about your work?

KW:  I really enjoy working with engaged clients who understand that good design will help their business.  I equally enjoy the collaboration I have with my design teams, promoting innovation, and building enthusiasm for our projects.  I am invigorated by how good our younger staff is.

You were an early advocate and design leader in the shift toward sustainable design practices. How have you seen the industry evolve in terms of that shift?

KW: There has been a huge evolution since 1999 when we designed the headquarters for Greenpeace and LEED was in early development. I give the USGBC credit for changing completely the way the design profession thinks about buildings and interiors.  LEED gave us a common vocabulary with which to talk about green design and showed that green building isn’t just about energy reduction.  A lot of people today continue to criticize LEED unfairly and I just don’t get it.  Sure, LEED is not perfect but it has done unbelievable good.  I can’t imagine where we would be without it.  With regard to building products and furnishings, almost everything has gotten better.  Problem areas have been identified and creative solutions have emerged.  But there is still a lot of room for improvement.  What concerns me these days is that the design community and our clients have become complacent. Everyone seems to assume that green design is just going to happen when we should be pushing for even better designs and products.

What do you believe to be the primary value of good design to your clients?

KW: The primary value is money, plain and simple.  It is astonishing how many clients still don’t get this.  You don’t need a Harvard study to tell you that a happy and healthy staff is going to be more productive, will have less absenteeism, will have less turn over, and be the best recruiting tool you have ever seen.  Good design supports all of this.  Of course it is important for a company to have a good culture as well, but you can’t have a good culture and bad design.  On an annual per square foot basis, businesses pay 10 times (and often more) for the cost of their staff compared with the cost of their space.  Given that disproportion, a relatively small investment in a better design can yield huge results.

What are you working on currently?

KW: I’m working on a very progressive law firm that is in the process of rebranding itself completely.  It is a perfect time to design a new space that supports the new branding effort.  The legal profession is changing and I have really enjoyed working with them on what that might look like.  And of course they want to be LEED-CI platinum.  I’m also involved in a number of other projects that are all over the map in terms of size and project type.  I love variety!

How does flooring contribute to the overall design solution for a project?

Flooring plays a big part because it is everywhere.  You want the flooring to be supportive of the overall design strategy but never THE design strategy.  Nowadays, with offices being so open and walls coming down, flooring is taking on new importance in defining different areas within a project.

If you were able to give one piece of advice to young designers just starting out, what would it be?

Work on being as well rounded as possible.  Design is only a small part of what we actually do.

What’s next on the sustainability horizon?

KW: There is greater emphasis now on human health and wellbeing.  This includes taking a hard look at what is going into the materials we specify and what their lifecycle is.  We spend over 90% of our time indoors so the design of healthier interiors could even be considered preventive care.  Imagine that?

You are the ONLY person who has achieved FAIA and FIIDA, and is also a LEED Fellow! How cool is that?

KW: Last I counted, there were about 11 or 12 of us who have fellowships in both the AIA and IIDA.  We used to joke about forming a club.  I suppose it is pretty cool to be the only one in the world that is also a LEED fellow.

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