The "organic" term is kind of overused these days. Generally, it’s about a fresh, clean, natural, healthy brand or product. In architecture, the word portrays the harmony of man-made structures and natural environment of the surroundings. Here's a simple guide on one of the most impressive approaches in the architectural realm.
Frank Lloyd Wright and the Emergence of Organic Architecture
American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) is regarded as the father of organic architecture. In his 1910s essay, he coined the phrase to describe his approach to designing architectural structures that coexist with the natural life inhabiting that space. In his words, “it should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.”
Before green buildings received the hype that they do today, Wright had lived and designed his works to be as organic as possible. His brilliant organic creations—Fallingwater, Kentuck Knob, Taliesin, Rosenbaum House, and many more—exemplify his theory and continue to inspire today.
As one of the most incredible organic architecture designs from Wright, Fallingwater is considerably the most famous private house of the 20th century. Set atop a waterfall in Bear Run, this summer camp is made up of cantilevered concrete forms. The concrete-and-limestone exterior fits the surrounding environment: natural rock formation and a lush, green forest. Furthermore, when you step inside, you will also still feel the “back to nature” vibe thanks to the rough stone floors.
The Essence of Organic Architecture
Due to the abundance of buildings in the shape of curves and free forms, a misconception on how organic architecture should look like started to proliferate. Some also suggest that organic structure should be energy-efficient, sustainable, and using organic materials.
Defining organic architecture could understandably be a bit confusing, but surely it is neither an aesthetic nor sophisticated movement alone. Every structure is a response to its motive, the time in which it is constructed, the condition of its location, as well as the personality of its architect and/or inhabitants. Consequently, organic design is unique to each other, yet there are some common features as the essence of organic architecture.
Basically, organic architecture is often described as a translation of the "all-inclusive" concept of Wright's organic design, whose main principles teach us to strike a harmony that unify both nature and architecture as a single entity. Structures, materials, mass, motifs and basic architectural elements might be deliberately repeated throughout the building to further enhance the nature within.
The Unsung Heroes of Organic Architecture
Besides Wright, there are architects who are also quite influential in shaping the organic architecture attitude and values. One of them is "father of skyscrapers" Louis H. Sullivan (1856-1924). He believes architectural design should highlight the revolutionary principle of "form follows function". Working under him, many architectural historians said that Wright was influenced by Sullivan's works.
The tripartite Schlesinger & Mayer department store, Sullivan's work in 1899 (present day the Sullivan Center) is the great example of Sullivan's design ethos. He used the ornamental cast-iron inspired by nature along the first floor of the building and the unbroken cellular wall facade. Not to mention, the geometric and natural shapes were replicated in the street level windows and entrance pavilions.
Another noteworthy representative of the organic architecture movement includes Antoni Gaudi. His stunning Casa Mila is obviously a quintessential organic, modern building style that always tempt a horde of tourists in Barcelona, Spain. Along with Fallingwater by Wright, La Casa Mila predominates as one of the oldest remarkable samples of organic architecture in the world.
The quirky design that has an inside-out, constant curve comes from the use of ruled geometry and natural elements. La Pedrera, another name for Casa Mila, resembles the sea waves and as the hours go by, the building provides fascinating chromatic light and shadows contrasts. Not only does its exterior part blend the oneness of nature and structure, the interiors also follow the same organic and functional style. For instance, the doorknobs Gaudi created by squishing a piece of clay with his own hand to form natural shape and fit perfectly.
Best Examples of Organic Structure in Modern Era
Organic architecture has been favoured since its birth until today, and 30 St. Mary Axe (best known as the Gherkin) in the midst of concrete jungle of London's primary financial district is certainly part of the most charming premises.
If Casa Mila evokes the waves of the ocean, the building that is designed by famed architect Norman Foster of the Foster and Partners reaffirm its supposed resemblance to gherkin, a type of cucumber. Apart from its exoskeleton structure, the 41-storey skyscraper also allow ventilation flows through the entire building, which mimics sea sponges and anemones system.
On a serious note, this architecture philosophy is not only limited to the western world. Another great demonstration of organic structure is situated in Delhi, India: the Lotus Temple. Designed by Iranian-Canadian Architect Fariborz Sahba in 1986, the temple resembles a giant lotus flower as it has long been acknowledged as the symbol of unity in diversity within the country. What's also interesting from this house of worship is at the top. The 'open' lotus at the top lets steel and glass roofs provide protection from rain and allow natural lighting streams to the centre part of the temple.