Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Evolution or Regression (?) of Organic Architecture

This picture belongs to a competition I participated with my partner arch. Luis Makianich, " Proyecto Utopia", in 1989. It is an Utopian city, where the buildings grow as organisms. They were feeded by a cyclotron. We had a second award. Personal files.

There could be a dialogue between past and present architectures. This dialectic exists in particular situations in history.
Frank Lloyd Wright introduced the word “organic” in 1908, as part of the philosophy of architecture. Organicism was an interpretation of Nature, a guide for the design process, by looking at Nature’s principles, harmony between human constructions and Nature would be promoted. It was an answer to industrialized cultures, a resistance to science and technology but not a rejection to them. Buildings were considered as organisms in themselves. The organism would include urban planning, the building, furniture and surroundings. It is important to point out that this philosophy does not mean imitation of Nature, forms would never copy the morphologies found in it. Organic architecture was an element of social reform that involved concepts of organic society and organic economic systems: the universe as a whole organism.
Overtaken beliefs of inhibited tradition of decades of '20s to '50s, where architectural demonstrations had components of a mystical fundamentalism to dominate the masses, we face the new theories of the 60s, where most of the studies were not based on history, although they considered the existence and distribution of historic buildings; architects shared with Le Corbusier's the idea that architecture could socially transform to men and should reflect some ordering principles of nature. This idea of considering the architecture underlying a cosmic scale, is expressed as "metaphysical school" and its leader, Louis Kahn, in 1960 defined what "the building should be": The order is intangible, while organic architecture was a total break from the association of order and geometry. The most prominent critics of this position were Kevin Lynch, Christopher Alexander and Jane Jacobs, who urged a more humane approach to urban planning, based on information of what happens in cities. Alexander was the first one to incorporate mathematical concepts in his studies, realizing that the city was a complex organized in the manner of a biological organism.
Over the last three decades there has been new developments in organic architecture. Though it is difficult to recognize where the organicism lies…

The organic analogy is not based on biological science, but rather in the shapes, the metaphores and the ecological analogy, it means the adaptation of the building to its environment. We find zoological and botanical allusions; there is a “zoomorfic” architecture, a botanical architecture assisted by softwares that mimic the biological evolutions, we also find organicing principles in Nature, as the Fibonacci series and the spiral habits of shells (P. Steadman, 2008), or fractal patterns. In general, these designs are connected to green (environmental) architecture. The main critic for botanical and zoological mimic is that these buildings are ruled by the form, but do not work as full organisms do.

Nautilus by Senosiain architects.

Plantis. By Elena Pavlidou. 2007. From

The design process follow six tendencies:

1) Composition that works from inside-out. The designer takes into account the user’s needs, the program. The organic form grows and develops out of the material. Forms is not imposed a priori, it is discovered by the future users’ goals and the environment. The client is usually involved in the process, even in construction.
2) A more universal tendency is the rejection of the Euclidian forms by accepting curvilinear and “organic” shapes. This is the reverse of the composition from inside-out. The architecture is originated in the form, function follows it. The designer refers explicitly not only to the shapes in nature, he also incorporates the local terrain. There is a desire for continuity, rooms have no boundaries and spaces are overlapped. (Biodynamism).
3) An intermediate option is organic but not essencialy an anti-functionalist one. The analysis of the users’ program and the properties of materials result in non orthogonal shapes, for example when using branches, stones, bamboo. Though, bricks can also be used, hanging from a steel frame. If steels usurped the forms produced by bricks, the product would be a conceptual hybrid.

4) Designs that reflect the desire to live in a rural way of life, in harmony and contact with Nature, as a rejection to global cities. House and landscape interpenetrate, boundaries between them become indistinct. (P. Steadman, 2008). Rocks, water an trees could be incorporated inside the structures.

Window looking like an eye.

5) Biomimetic technology. Designs where Nature is implicit, but only in the substance of their component materials. For instance, goats raised by Nexia Biotechnologies in Montreal, have a spider gene that produces the protein of spider silk, developed in their milk. This protein is being used in a new fiber that is five times stronger than steel. It would apply in sutures and then in the construction industry. (National Geographic, January 2003) “Life has had millions of years to finely-tune mechanisms and structures (such as photosynthesis, or spider’s silk) that work better than current technologies, require less energy and produce no life-unfriendly waste. The emulation of this technology is the goal of biomimicry, the art of innovation inspired by nature.” (Holverstott, Brett. What Can Architecture Learn From Nature. GreenBizSite. September 7, 2008).
6) Organic architecture that embodies the human spirit, it goes beyond the minimum shelter, it has to be something that enhances human lives. It is the theoritical idea of the seed, landscape and spirit. And it reminds me the whale bones dwellings in the Artic, all of them embeded with religion and symbolism. It is like returning to the origins. The result produces original forms. In this sense, there is a close connection between the new organic architecture, land art and Natural architecture.
Land art, Earthworks, or Earth art is an art movement which emerged in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s, in which landscape and the work of art are inextricably linked. Sculptures are not placed in the landscape; rather the landscape is the very means of their creation. ( Land art is a different appreciation of Nature, to be understood as a protest against the austerity of the gallery and commercialization of art. Now, it is also focusing on “environmental” art, in order to offer a new understanding of the place in which we live. And Natural architecture is an emerging movement that is exploring man’s desire to reconnect to the earth, through the built environment. It is a link between man and nature, a new appreciation of Nature that combines Art and architectural design, by means of activism but no protests. The results, often resemble Indigenous architecture, though without the primigenius symbolism.

Natural Art-architecture. 'weidendom' by sanfte strukturen, 2001

Natural Art-architecture. 'toad hall' by patrick dougherty, 2004

Ideas seem to be the same at this point, but, after all, primitive huts made by whale and mammoth bones and-or trees were built with cosmological principles and cultural ideologies that have played an important role in primitive dwellings patterns, as they show traditions and myths. Maybe instead of evolution of organicism, architects and artists have a regression to the primitive roots. There is too much we can learn from Nature: systems, materials, processes, structures and aesthetics. It is a matter of choice.
Further readings

Frank Lloyd Wright and the Principles of Organic Architecture. By Kimberly Elman
Holverstott, Brett. What Can Architecture Learn From Nature. GreenBizSite. September 7, 2008
B. L. Powel
Steadman, Philip. The evolution of designs: biological analogy in architecture and the applied arts. New York, 2008

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