Connection and Design: The World Through Science and Art

Plan Author

  • Kathryn Lyon, 2014

Fields of Concentration

Sample Courses

  • Course: General Ecology & Ecology Lab
  • Course: Architecture as Sculpture/Sculpture as Architecture
  • Tutorial: Energy in Ecological Systems
  • Tutorial: Nature-inspired ceramics

Project Description

Review of biomimicry and ecological design, with case studies.

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

    • Jessica Cuni, Green Mountain College


My Plan, like my life, is split between science and art. The thread that runs through the entire body of work and attempts to hold it all together is a general exploration of how we relate to, understand, use, and/or learn from the natural world that surrounds us.

The largest component of my Plan is a research paper reviewing biomimicry and ecological design, with case studies in solar energy and agriculture. In the main body of the paper, I explore the histories and theories behind these design approaches, as well as provide examples of how designers are using them today. The first case study specifically addresses biomimicry in solar panel design, focusing on ways we might improve efficiencies by learning from processes and structures in the natural world. The second case study addresses ecological design in agriculture, and proposes some sustainable alternatives to contemporary agricultural practices. Overall, this paper explores some of the ways in which ecological design and biomimicry can help to design sustainable technologies and practices.

The independent portion of my Plan includes both writing and artwork. The written piece reflects on my relationship with Marlboro’s natural community, and explores different ways to connect with the natural world, as well as our reasons for connecting. In particular, it looks at the science/art dichotomy, or reason/intuition dichotomy, and explores why both a scientific and artistic point of view are important. The artworks that make up the rest of my independent component also address ways of knowing the world and the relationship between science and art.

The third and final component of my Plan is a series of both two- and three-dimensional artworks. These incorporate and challenge science and structures, and are rooted in my experience of the natural world. Like the written portion of my independent, they address different ways of knowing the world, and some attempt to bridge the (imaginary) boundary between science and art.


“The rules of energy allocation and interconnection dominate even our constructed human society. Power grids, shipping lanes, and flight paths link together disparate communities around the globe, all to facilitate the flow of energy. Similarly, the Internet facilitates the flow of information. Although these principles of energy use and interconnection, as well as other ecological principles, apply to our human world, we have failed to thoroughly incorporate or understand them. For example, we are rapidly depleting fossil fuels that required billions of years to form. Our manufacturing paradigm of ‘heat, beat, and treat’ creates materials through processes that require vast amounts of energy, extensive physical manipulation, and that lead to excessive pollution of the atmosphere and natural environment. We have altered almost half of the planet’s land surface, increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, and driven about one-quarter of the Earth’s bird species to extinction (in addition to also threatening many other organisms with extinction). Some experts estimate that worldwide extinction rates are ten to one hundred times what they were before humans began to dominate the earth. Despite the widespread consequences of our actions, today we still rely heavily on fossil fuel energy. But this finite resource will not last forever, and in order for society to persist, designers, producers, manufacturers and inventors must begin thinking like ecologists.”

“Artist’s Statement: I want to be a scientist. I like reason, structure, and systems. Art is insubstantial. I want to be an artist. How can we best relate to the world around us? I approach art and life analytically. I create rules and systems to justify my decisions and give my work conceptual value. But sometimes I worry that in this systematic approach, I lose something deeper. An intuitive approach has the potential to reveal what this something is; logical systems do not. I think intuitive art represents the whole, and systematic art the sum of its parts. I want to express both the sum and the whole. My art is the material expression of this conflict between two ways of knowing the world, and my attempts to reconcile them.”


My Plan process was extremely organic. I stuck to a general theme of nature-oriented design, but as I read more and more on a whole number of interesting topics everything snowballed together until I was writing not only about biomimicry, but also ecology, my own experiences in the woods, and ecological design; my artwork responded to this by itself expanding and diversifying to fill my studio space and Drury Gallery.

I LOVED my Senior 2 semester, being completely immersed in Plan. I loved trekking from Cottage Land up to my art studio, and putting in four or five hours of creative time before heading further up the hill for a tutorial with Jenny in the science building, and then heading back down again for a cozy evening spent writing and reading with my housemates. And repeating that every single day…what a wonderful way to spend your time!