Although the specialized knowledge of mathematics and material science is essential in the field of structural engineering, the role of structural engineers in the design process should not be limited to the technical. Structural engineers have an obligation to the arts. We can make choices that contribute to the architects’ vision and improve the efficiency and aesthetics of structures.
Throughout my education, however, the focus was rarely on the aesthetic implications of our work, and it is safe to assume that most aspiring engineers are taught to place aesthetic issues in the back of their mind, or completely in the hands of the architect.
However, structural engineers can become structural artists if they have the right tools. We need sources of inspiration, just like any artist, and a promising source is nature. Natural forms and patterns can spark innovative and exciting solutions to engineering problems. Organic forms are inherently efficient and much of what we perceive as aesthetically pleasing has its roots in nature.
Engineers also receive an educational benefit when looking toward nature for inspiration because the act forces us to take a more holistic problem-solving approach. Great structural artists like Robert Maillart and Pier Luigi Nervi wrote against the tendency to overcomplicate analyses. They believed that a structural engineer should take a step back, study the problem from a more holistic viewpoint, and be confident about how the chosen structural form resists the applied forces.  By becoming bogged down in the calculations, we can lose sight of the heart of the structural design process. Nature is a resource that allows us to temporarily forget the numbers and attack the problem from a direction that may lead to a better solution: an efficient design with a surprisingly simple elegance.
Although a macroscopic approach in the design process is advantageous, engineers should obviously not “shoot from the hip” and use overly simplistic approaches that inaccurately model the structural actions involved. We live in the age of the computer, with powerful analysis tools that save time and money. It is not practical to play with strings and soap films in the office all day when we have form-finding computer programs, but we should not allow the computer to become a crutch that hinders our creativity or clouds our instincts.
We also cannot blindly mimic natural forms. It is limiting and opposes the definition of an engineer. An engineer creates things that have not previously existed, and innovative designs will most likely not spring from a picture of a plant. It is important to “look inside and find the interior motif that builds outward again.”  There exists an underlying technical precision in all of nature. As the architect Santiago Calatrava quotes from Einstein: “God does not roll dice.” Nothing is accidental. The seemingly chaotic patterns in nature have a definite order, such as fractals, geometric shapes that reflect coastlines or the branching of trees and arteries—or the numbers that define the Fibonacci series, which represent natural growth patterns, such as the spirals in snail shells, sunflowers, and pineapple skins. 
The best key to success is to maintain a balance between the vital holistic viewpoint and our fundamental technical expertise. For example, we can create tree columns to support a roof, which leads to an efficient method to channel vertical forces, limit the number of columns required, and improve the aesthetics of the structure. However, a tree never supports heavy loads from the tips of its branches. Instead, the pattern of branching is most likely for the efficient transport of water and nutrients and to maximize exposure to the sun. Thus, we are careful when materializing this inspiration by designing the branches of the tree columns with the proper proportions and geometry, a task that could not be accomplished without a solid understanding of the behavior of the material under the applied forces.