Nature and technology often seem to be at odds, but there are times when one can actually aid, inform, and improve the other. Even the most futuristic tech can benefit from taking a close look at the way natural structures formed by billions of years of evolution work. It’s especially cool to see cases where a fusion of these two apparent opposites results in something interesting and functional, with hints of what we might be able to produce on a much larger scale in the near future.

Close-up of the latticework on the Radiolara #1's seat.

A new biomimicry project by Lilian van Daal entitled “Radolaria #1” uses 3D printing technology to produce organic nature-inspired forms that get their flexibility, adaptability, firmness, and stability from the same structures that make up microscopic life forms.

Radiolaria #1 is a full-scale 3D-printed chair that uses nature’s laws to “improve, adjust, and innovate the production of soft seating.” Not only does this unusual seat go about supporting the human body in a brand new way, but it does so using energy and materials as efficiently as possible. Absolutely no glue was required to assemble it, as the whole structure is made from recycled polyamide material provided by Oceanz 3D Printing.

"Radolaria #1," a 3D-printed organic chair by Lilian van Daal.

To come up with the unusual latticework seen in the chair’s supportive surfaces, van Daal studied the forms of the unicellular Radiolaria and Bryozoa microorganisms: different types of zooplankton found floating in the world’s oceans. The designer notes that Radiolaria’s structure, when amplified by 3D printing and linked together in a grid, helps produce varying levels of flexibility that eliminate the need for common chair materials like foam for the seat and back. Meanwhile, the lattice-like connections within the skeletons of Bryozoa inspired the shapes of the frame and connection points.

Recent innovations in 3D printing technology have made it more accessible than ever before, with 3D printers reducing in size and consuming less energy with each passing year. Van Daal says that in the four short years since she completed a similar project, “Biomimicry Soft Seating,” 3D printing has helped cut her production time and energy usage by 50 percent.

“Nature may seem at first glance random and free-flowing, but if you look at a microscopic level, you can find symmetry and geometry in almost all cell structures,” she explains. “The intricate shapes of flowers. The mesh-networks of fungi. The perfect geometry of organisms. They have been crafted, remodeled, and burnished during billions of years of biological trial and error. Implementing their unique and meticulous properties in design has been difficult, but recent technology has fueled possibilities for new development of products and systems.”

Close-up of the latticework on the Radiolara #1's back. "Radolaria #1," a 3D-printed organic chair by Lilian van Daal. Close-up of the Radiolara #1's latticework,

As 3D printing continues to evolve, it’ll be interesting to see how designs like this chair bleed into everyday built environments. Can you imagine 3D-printed architecture with organic forms like this, and how much something like that could change the look of cities around the world?

For more cool biomimicry-inspired 3D-printed designs, check out this chandelier that creates a forest of light, these lamps modeled after the veins of leaves, and this living chair made of fungus grown in a 3D-printed mold.