“The curve is the line of gods.”
Unconventional, different and still cautiously dabbled in, the curvilinear style of architecture has made its way into people’s hearts. With architects like Frank Gehry, Antoni Gaudi, Zaha Hadid, etc. breaking the need for angles and perpendicular lines, curves have propelled themselves to the forefront of the architectural consciousness. Its response to the landscape, adhesiveness with nature and significance with the environment makes it a striking and relatable feature in architecture, with its appealing front making it memorable and acceptable. This does not take away from the increased challenges, in designing and construction, that come along with. So, what makes the curvilinear style of architecture this sought after?
Why curved architecture?
Curved forms are rightly associated with fluidity, dynamism and unhindered movement. The way they exude this fluidity is what enables people to relate to the structure, making it acceptable. Explained best in the words of architect Charles Deaton, “If people do not have angles, then we should not live in boxes”. What adds to this allure is the direct inspiration that it takes from nature, the aspect of biomimicry playing a substantial role in the making of such buildings. This ability of curvilinear architecture, of being fluidic and influenced by nature, allows them to blend with the free form of landscape.
In addition to these aesthetic qualities, curvilinear architecture has proven to provide an upper hand with structural strength and climate responsiveness, over the years, as well. Curved roofs have been found to make buildings wind-resistant, less susceptible to being damaged by high-velocity gusts. Particularly resistant to hurricanes and tornadoes, they have proven their effectiveness in case of earthquakes and heavy snowfall as well. Furthermore, it reduces the effect of heat on the building while increasing airflow and providing better structural stability. Hence, curved architecture has proven its worth under several facets, getting more accepted with the passing time.
So, when did we start seeing and accepting curved structures?
The introduction of curved architecture into this world
While the common notion allows us to believe that curved architecture came into existence with software that brought ease in 3D modelling and technologies that enables these models to come to life, curved architecture traces its roots way back. The influence of the curved form shines in the earliest structures of Roman Architecture. Structures like the Marcello Theatre (built in 13 BC), the Pantheon (126 AD) and the Colosseum (80 AD) are proud and famous examples of the allure and success of curved architecture from the oldest of times.
As time progressed, curved architecture widened its horizons in the form of widespread arches and domes. Starting from the simplest designs, these slowly adjusted to vaults, adopted different styles and started becoming more embellished. The introduction of domes, still considered as one of the most significant achievements of the renaissance, now started being more and more accepted. The flagship bearer of this beautiful structure was that of Florence Cathedral. Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, this was the first prominent documented dome. What is lesser known to the people in the extreme efforts and brainpower that led to this majestic creation. Based in a time devoid of the technology it houses now, the dome was planned with the help of various mathematical and physics concepts. It managed to be built using merely four million bricks, through a double-layer system that did not even require any scaffolding!
Onset of curved architecture in religious buildings
The wide acceptance of this dome invited curved architecture to various religious structures, artistic designs and even residential edifices. This party started with traditional Chinese buildings. The ‘gong’ buildings adopted this curved style, ever so slightly, for their imperial buildings. They believed that this made their structures stand out and resonate with importance and supremacy. Soon, they imitated these styles into their religious architecture as well. In addition to Chinese temples, religious architecture glorified these curved structures, further, through the conical spires in the western churches and golden domes in mosques.
Effect of Industrial Revolution
While curved architecture had gained a significant amount of importance by this time, its effect was still limited to smaller structures, domes and roofs. The industrial revolution is what brought significant change to this style of architecture. With the advent of lighter materials possessing strength much higher than the existing ones, and more advanced tools and machinery, construction became easier, and ideas boomed. Despite these opportunities, the era of war and dictatorship curbed the imagination of thinkers, limiting the use of curved architecture to circular columns and mere advancements in domes and facades.
The flowering of biomimicry
It was the Einstein tower, established in 1924, that marked the onset of a more exciting and bolder usage of curves in architecture. With this astrophysical observatory, Germany began the modernist era, where architecture started getting inspired by biomorphic forms, for their designs. This idea of using nature to create buildings is what led to curved architecture, becoming the sensation that it is now.
Reaching the peak of curved architecture
The 1950s saw Frank O Gehry and Henry Moore raise the roof, with designs like Guggenheim museum and Haus Der Kulturen der Welt. Their unimaginable designs and lack of any straight lines gave architects and designers the confidence to challenge notions, work ahead and break shackles, paving the way for structural expressionism. This beautiful journey has culminated with empowered architects like Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, Norman Foster, Oscar Niemeyer and I.M. Pei breaking all rules and creating structures that make the public relate to architecture the way they never could, before.