2021 OSCAR BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: MY OCTOPUS TEACHER

Written by: Sheena Moses



“What she taught me was to feel that

you’re part of this place, not a visitor”

- Craig Foster, Filmmaker of the 2021 Oscar Winner

My Octopus Teacher



The Netflix documentary “My Octopus Teacher” won the 2021 Oscar for Best Feature Documentary earlier today and will be IEN’s first write-up in our new and

exciting series on movies and documentaries relating to environmental protection and climate change.


But what could IEN – a Green Buildings Consultancy company, possibly have to say about a documentary about octopuses, you might wonder. “My Octopus Teacher” is a heartwarming story about a relationship that was formed by the filmmaker – Craig Foster and an octopus he stumbled upon whilst free diving in the underwater kelp forest in False Bay, near Cape Town, South Africa. Upon this discovery, Craig follows said octopus for a whole year, developing a deep understanding of the gorgeous creature, from its timidness, to its intelligence and incredible ability to adapt to its surroundings. But more than that, Craig Foster notes how his relationship with the octopus helped him develop an understanding of himself, and how his year of observing her made a significant impact on his life.


Now, imagine if Craig Foster was a designer, engineer or inventor who took that understanding and translated it into his designs, the end result (no, not a 20-feet skyscrapping octopus!), would be designs that mimic the adaptive nature of octopuses, its ability to blend in with its surroundings seamlessly in order to survive (nature inspired architecture that can stand the tests of time) or high efficiency equipments and systems that mimic the creatures’ propulsion techniques.


This, is Biomimicry.


The earth and its many inhabitants have been around way longer than humans have stepped foot on this planet, the oldest known octopus fossil dates back 296 million years! And they live in all seven seas! To have survived that long on planet Earth requires incredible adaptability skills and survival instincts that might appear to be an area of expertise that us humans can surely learn from, having only been around for only about 5 million years.


The study of Biomimicry looks at nature as a model for developing innovative designs and solutions to human problems (read: climate change). Biomimicry has been around a long time but also forgotten by many. The invention of Umbrellas, some 1,700 years ago was inspired by children who used lotus leaves to shield themselves from the rain. The first umbrellas were made using silk, which was also a result of nature inspired design – the wife of the Yellow Emporer, Leizu was having tea when a cocoon of a silkworm fell into her tea and unraveled unto a strong, soft fabric. The aerodynamics of the famous Japanese Bullet train by engineer Eiji Nakatsu (who is also a birdwatcher) was inspired by the beak of a kingfisher.


Biomimicry provides us with an opportunity to improve the designs and systems that surround us, but this can’t only be up to the engineers and designers who happen to spend time watching nature as a hobby. It should be up to engineers and designers to make time to watch and study nature and incorporate that into their designs. This is our takeaway from the lovely documentary, “My Octopus Teacher”, and we hope that it inspires all us designers and engineers to find ourselves a teacher from nature, be it a snail, coconut tree, or tapir, and we hope that it will impact our lives as it did with Craig Foster.