Leonardo da Vinci - Our Great Grandfather of Biophilic Design

Leonardo has long been my superhero, even before superheroes were in vogue or before I understood the concept of biophilic design. Maybe because he was one of the greatest artists, capturing the beauty of humanity in his paintings, or maybe it was his great inventiveness with machinery balancing science and art. I greatly admire his curiosity which led him down some amazing rabbit holes. His genius of “Synesthesia”, the merging of the senses, totally changed my life and approach to design. And I’ll never stop marveling at his Vitruvian Man, where he did the impossible of squaring the circle and changed mathematics, philosophy, religion and put the human in the center of the universe.

Perhaps one of his greatest lessons and gifts is his relationship to nature - Biophilia. He used nature as his ultimate teacher. He learned to see from her eyes regardless if he was painting and turned to dissecting a cadaver to understand the muscle underlayment or studying the aerodynamics and structure of a bird to design a flying machine and even observing a turtle’s autonomy and defense mechanisms in the design of a military tank. Nature was his teacher.

This year, 2019 marks the 500-year anniversary of his death. This summer, I had the opportunity to visit his home of Vinci, Italy, high in the Tuscan hills intermingled with rolling hills of olive groves and grape vines. His small stone home still stands. In the small town of Vinci, the church where he was baptized and many of the original buildings and streets where he walked still stand and recall his presence.

I also visited four museums dedicated to the man, his genius and works. I marveled that all of this vision was from one person. His home portrayed Leonardo the man, another to anatomy, biology and botany. Another featured his art, although the originals are scattered around the world. My favorite museum was dedicated to his inventions where many of his inventions were rebuilt from his sketches with material from his time. All featured his marvelous notebooks and sketches. They were beautiful, visionary and inventive.

Today, we are still discovering and uncovering his extraordinary works and vision in science, art, philosophy, anatomy, medicine, engineering, botany, geology, mapping, light, theater and yes, his painting. My take-away of his 500-year-old message for all of us today is- human-centric thinking, observe nature as our teacher and get out of our silos. Heeding this message, we will all see this magnificent world a little richer.

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