In 1908, Frank Lloyd Wright coined the term ‘Organic Architecture’. His principle and design philosophy revolves around the notion that nature should be a part of the conceptualisation and building of structures. He believed that whatever is built should be harmonious with humanity and the environment. The idea sprung from the premise and theory ‘Form follows Function’ associated with another renowned architect and FLW’s mentor, Louis Sullivan. In this concept, the façade and outward appearances must resemble internal purposes. Upon further scrutinisation, Wright later merges these two ideas into one, saying that form and function are one. He believed that the concept of a building should be one with its location and environment as if naturally emerging out of the site.
This philosophy is anchored to generating feelings and creating a safe space among end-users. In a well-designed organic building, one can feel freer and calmer. A good contribution to this design strategy is paying attention to the amount of natural light penetrating the structure. Exposure to sunlight helps the brain to excrete serotonin, a hormone associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused. The ray of sunlight is also responsible for re-energizing our bodies as it increases the amount of oxygen in the blood, lowers blood pressure, and improves bone health and brain function.
The goal is to create a central mood and theme for ‘organically’ designed buildings. The flow in the flexibility of spaces and adaptability can result in the same positive energy. This can also contribute to the well-being of the users by integrating a few design elements from nature, such as landscaping. In so doing, nature and buildings become harmonious with society. To achieve this, the provision of details in the design must be considered in building structures.
An example of this design approach is the Kauffman Residence, famously known as The Fallingwater. It is a unique creation that blends with its surroundings and prioritises using linear lines as complementary to the site’s irregular shape. The architecture overlaps with a stunning waterfall, hence its name. Aside from the vertical walls, the application of local stone material enables the project to create a smooth and organic look that camouflages its environment. This residence contains an open plan for all floors and uses the same stone flooring material for the interiors and open air. This architecture was completed in 1939 in sync with the publication of the seminal volume An Organic Architecture: The Architecture of Democracy.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of New York is another example of this philosophy. Housing the museum’s collection of non-objective art, this architecture is unlike any other museum. It was also designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and took off from such a designed brief. He conceptualised the best possible atmosphere where one highlights fine avant-garde art by early modernist artists such as Kadinsky and Mondrian or peacefully listens to music. The museum exhibits an unconventional contrast with its surrounding buildings due to its spiral form as if a fusion between triangles, ovals, arches, circles, and squares, which are the fundamental form concept of organic architecture. It provides an enchanting journey to visitors by taking the smooth spiral ramp where the artworks are displayed. A strategically located skylight in the middle allows the sunlight to pierce through the interior areas and illuminate the intended spaces. Reinforced concrete is the primary material used in this project, and utilising white paint is for the interior walls – making them stand out. A masterpiece that displays a deep understanding of the context of space aligned with the modern environment.
Designed by architect Fariborz Sahba, the Lotus Temple in New Delhi, India. Is also an example of organic architecture. It displays a straightforward symbolism of a giant lotus flower. The idea reflects the hope to inhabit a new age of peace and universal brotherhood despite the collective history of ignorance and violence. The building has a nine-sided circular shape made up of 27 free-standing marble-clad petals arranged in three clusters, resulting in this magnificent form.
The Shell House by ARTechnic Architects is another great example of this style. It takes a remarkable design approach by allowing the structure to sit in the middle of the forest, surrounded by trees that give the development a respectful way to be with nature. As if coexisting, the building is strategically positioned, allowing a single tree to stand in the middle and become a focal point. The floors and rooms provide privacy but extend to the outdoor spaces using a wooden platform.
The art of organic architecture also emphasises that whatever can be preserved should be preserved, whatever can be prevented should be prevented, and whatever is taken should be given back. The use of curvilinear elements help develops a sense of movement in space. And, of course, appreciating nature and respecting it is a top priority. In conclusion, it refers to the design of buildings, structures, and spaces balanced with their natural surroundings and tailored to the function they should serve.
The principles of organic architecture include the following:
- Shelter: Provision of safe spaces and comfortable dwellings
- Spaces: Observing a natural circulation flow and elements of surprises that create a sense of discovery
- Nature: Inspiration may be derived from the surroundings
- Peacefulness: a sense of openness, free of clutter and serenity is also a goal
- Language: design speaks
- Ornamentation: must be an integral part of the structure
- Simplicity: clear and easily understood
- Mechanical components and furniture: provide the best spaces where each of the fixtures becomes a part of the structure
Rudolf Steiner said, “Man can only experience true harmony of the soul where what his soul knows to be its most valuable thoughts, feelings and impulses are mirrored for his senses in the forms, it follows that well-designed buildings can exert a healing and spiritually supportive effect on both individuals and society”. As our surroundings come back to life, we become more alive.
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