Student Work: Tareq Alzawawi's hands-on approach to Nature-Design Philosophies


"Nature's Design Narratives" Tareq Alzawawi MID '19

Tareq Alzawawi [MID 19] first discovered his interest in biology and design during his undergraduate studies in architecture, but it was his time at RISD—and Intro to Biomimicry taught by visiting faculty Emily Kennedy, PhD in particular—that confirmed the two subjects as the direction he wanted to pursue in his work. This line of inquiry led Tareq to take on an assistantship with the Nature Lab, where he has been developing the Lab’s upcoming biomaterials collection and library, and has since grown into a body of thesis research, titled “Nature’s Design Narratives.”

Tareq’s focus is at the intersection of biology and design, where he studies nature’s design logic and analyzes how it manifests itself. In the fall of 2018, he constructed an Independent Study Project with Nature Lab Director Neal Overstrom in which he investigated a certain species of desert beetle that collects water from the morning fog. Tareq sought to replicate the beetle’s water-gathering ability as a product designed to combat air pollution. To develop this product application, Tareq looked to his home country of Kuwait, and more specifically to the desertification issues in the region. A site evaluation also revealed a steady decline in air quality since Kuwait began producing oil in 1947.


Taking cues from biomimicry, Tareq proposed a design that hews closely to the form of the desert beetle and uses analogous techniques to draw moisture from the air. This water would then be channeled into the ground, leading to an increase in vegetation and subsequent CO2 absorption. Stimulating plant growth has the adjacent benefit of combating the desertification endemic to Kuwait, but Tareq’s design also has global applications: 1/3 of all land on Earth is subject to desertification.

Tareq’s thesis work beyond the beetles consists of a series of experimental projects that gradient from digital to analog methodologies. An example from the purely digital end is Algorithmic Growth, in which objects are generated through computational mimicry of nature’s biological morphologies to question the aesthetic properties of naturally occurring forms. In the middle is Hybridization, wherin Tareq 3D scans existing biological specimens, then algorithmically morphs them together to visualize different bio-morphology hybrids. And finally is Bio-based Materials, which focuses on purely analog research into materials derived from grown biology, i.e., egg shells, which—like coral and sea shells—are made from calcium carbonate. The goal of this last project is to understand the sustainable profile of biomaterials to better make them, use them, and maximize their longevity.

With each new experiment, Tareq is extending his research into Nature-Design Philosophies with the ultimate goal of achieving biodesign, biophilia, and biomimicry all in one. It is his belief that a design methodology that succeeds in doing so will be the future of design practice.

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