Vaults of Knowledge

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cat whiskers

Cat whiskers inspired Zoo architects.

Growing older, occasionally I mull about what my life would be like if I knew in my teens what I know now. Don’t we all? But that is just decades – what if I had thousands of years to make and learn from mistakes and hone my knowledge?  As an architect I have been blessed with many opportunities to marvel at and observe incredibly talented artisans and trades people with a lifetime of knowledge about their specific areas. Many work with several other subcontractors, designers, and engineers to mold and work materials to produce elegant solutions to complex problems in the building industry.

I love nothing more than being a part of a team that produces something extraordinary. It takes millions of conversations and connections with many thousands of people who, in turn, connect with many more thousands. All of their combined knowledge, everyone’s collective decades of experience continually improve upon prior work, an engine harnessing coordinated knowledge. Imagine if we did have the chance to grow for many more thousands of years – what could we build? What exquisite solutions might that knowledge inspire?

The first night in the jungle on a trip to Peru in 2007,  I stayed awake bathed in the sound of heavy, pounding rain all night laying comfortably in bed in a simple but protected open air accommodation. Rain gave way in the early morning hours to hoots from howler monkeys in the surrounding treetops. At daybreak, a long boat fought to transport 20 of us up a swollen river towards deeper jungle. Fighting the river all day, the sun set too early, so the skipper took  a guide on board to sit on the prow of the boat and call back directions to help avoid submerged obstacles. Whole trees, fallen from eroded banks upstream, turned into sluggish torpedoes. I marveled at the power of nature and the swollen brown river as I moved closer to a glimpse of what had only been a dream.

In Peru, I learned that we do indeed have access to knowledge that has been packaged in extraordinary ways, shapes and sizes. Solutions to problems we encounter every day surround us, waiting to be studied and used as inspiration: animals, microscopic organisms, plants… every living, dying, existing natural object and interconnected system. Drawing inspiration or solutions from nature is biomimicry. In the Zoo’s architecture department, we created a new type of barrier based on whiskers, antlers, and antennae which is now used widely throughout other zoos. The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park have enormous vaults of knowledge residing in huge numbers of animal and plant species with staff as guides to help unlock abundant solutions to today’s challenges. We are introducing companies to a new way of looking at solving problems without the past “heat, beat, and treat” mentality of the industrial revolution. We are on the forefront of a gentle collaborative revolution with nature and San Diego is proud to be central in this wondrous way of looking at our charges.

Robyn Badger is a San Diego Zoo Global architect.