WDCD Live Amsterdam 2017: Activation Session Report

Surviving the Flood on a Giant Pelican


Published in Climate Action & WDCD by

‘Nature has a set of design principles that boil down to three notions: Optimization, Cylce and Interdependence,’ said Fred Gelli, owner and founder of Brazilian strategic design agency Tátil. Next to his work for major brands including Coca-Cola, P&G, Philips and TIM, Gelli also has been a university professor in the fields of Ecodesign and Biomimicry.

Mankind is the only species on earth to work with exactly the opposite approach to nature’s design principles. ‘We humans seek maximization instead of optimization,’ Gelli said, illustrating the statement with a stretched Hummer limo. ‘I once saw one in gold with red leather inside in Russia,’ he noted.

Humans invented trash

‘Instead of circular we work linear,’ he continued. ‘We humans invented trash, which in nature doesn’t exist. Finally, we view things in a fragmented way as opposed to nature where everything is interconnected. Nature has developed in 3,8 million years, based on an amazing amount of R&D. And the good thing is that there is no copyright. We should attack all the complex problems we have by trying to think just like nature and learning from the innovation processes in nature.’

Gelli then mentioned several examples of biomimicry, i.e. designs inspired on the designs of nature. A shopping centre in Africa mimics the way termite mounds keep the inside temperature constant by opening and closing windows at the right time. The antimicrobial nature of shark skins inspired the design of antimicrobial surfaces to be used in hospitals. And the shape of whale fins has been applied to make windmills more efficient.

The Flood Game

After this introduction the session participants were invited by session host Graham Stuart of branding and design agency VBAT to participate in a game developed in collaboration with students from the experience design course of Hyper Island. In this ‘Flood Game’ the participants, divided into several teams, had to come up with ideas how to survive a flood in Amsterdam over a period of three days. Ideas had to be inspired on examples from nature, for which cards were distributed with all kinds of animals and plants and their specific features.

Among the designs that came out of this idea generation was a giant pelican-shaped floating object. The beak of the pelican would be used to catch fish while at the rear a large wheel would be mounted to generate energy powering an alarm light and a radio antenna. A leaf shaped roof would be made water repellent so that the persons underneath would sit dry.

Giant coconut

Another concept included a giant coconut to live in, with an anglerfish light to attract fish that would be stored, again, in a pelican beak. There was also a huge floating object inspired on the floating bladder of fish, with a cheetah’s tail for balance and steering and pitcher plants to capture and store food.

The imagination was limitless, but the main lesson was that nature can be a great source of inspiration in the design process. The website asknature.org is a fantastic information source for this.

Top photo: Fred Gelli on the best designer of all – mother nature (photo Leo Veger)

BIOMIMICRY: THE FUTURE OF DESIGN was one of four Activation Sessions exploring the theme of climate action and technology at WDCD Live Amsterdam 2017.


Participants broke into small groups for 'The Flood Game' (photo Leo Veger)

Participants broke into small groups for 'The Flood Game' (photo Leo Veger)

Fred Gelli during the session (photo Leo Veger)

Fred Gelli during the session (photo Leo Veger)

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