The earliest form of architecture arose as a need for shelter in the form of carved caves. Over centuries, architecture began to be imagined in a formalised fashion with the realisation of geometry. The fundamental science of forms and their order, geometry contributes to the process of composition and design in architecture.
The ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian wonders were primarily based on basic geometrical shapes and ideas. Highly symmetrical and geometrical forms reached their zenith during the Renaissance Period with the introduction of the Golden Ratio as seen in Andre Palladio’s villas.
Since the industrial revolution, the advent of new materials and technology has led to a shift in design constraints, concepts and requirements. Architecture, as a whole, evolved to adapt to the changing society. This was also an opportunity for architects to give wings to their imagination and experiment on a large scale. The developments facilitated abstract ideation, allowing architects to discard the mundane rectangles and squares and delve into the unwritten rules of geometry to create aesthetic abstract forms.
The Sacred Geometry of the Circle
The circle is deemed the most perfect shape in geometry with no defined beginning or end. Encompassing all of space and time, the symbol of infinity represents rationality, stability and unity. In 1784, French architect Étienne-Louis Boullée described the sphere, a 3-dimensional circle, as “ideal and perfect form since no trick of perspective can alter its appearance”.
From the Tholos, the Greek temples to Roman architecture, the circle found wide usage in floor plans and domes and roofs. Even in modern times, buildings like the Guggenheim Museum in New York helmed by architect FL Wright, the office tower of Australia Square, Sydney by architects Harry Seidler and Associates or the Marina City apartments in Chicago designed by architects Bertrand Goldberg Associates, the use of circular geometry has been restricted to the plan.
Al Dar Headquarters, Abu Dhabi – MZ Architects
The idea was to “create a simple building that would possess the calm, ideal beauty of classical architecture while also having considerable expressive power, a building that would compete with the iconic architecture of the UAE and create a sense of place and identity for the area.” The skyscraper was conceived as a giant clamshell with two circular curved walls of glass mirroring which was associated with the seafaring heritage of Abu Dhabi and the sacred geometry of the circle.
Defined by toroidal geometry to create a perfectly circular elevation, the curvature of the facade was achieved using flat triangular pieces combined into a diamond-like shape laid along the diagrid. The facade and roof are connected seamlessly through a glass and structural band that takes the form of a zipper to create a continuous surface. The backbone of the building exudes a monolithic look to the entirety of the structure.
Guangzhou Circle, Guangzhou, China – Joseph di Pasquale
Guangdong Hongda XingYe Group headquarters, the Guangzhou Circle is a landmark building in China. Also housing the GDPE Guangdong Plastic Exchange, it smashes the pigeonholed idea of skyscrapers. It draws from the royal symbol of an ancient Chinese dynasty, the jade discs, which is reinforced by the reflection of the structure as seen in the river. The Chinese numerological tradition of Feng Shui has also been addressed.
The Italian renaissance theme ‘quadratura del cerchio’ or squaring the circle comes to life in the orthogonal interiors that ‘square’ the perfect circumference. The main interior space is the exchange hall placed underneath the central hole which, with a 48m diameter, has no equal in the world. The 33 floors grouped to create two rows of volumes are juxtaposed on either side of the building, cantilevering up to a maximum of 25m.
Parametric Design: Architecture of the Future
“What sells is sold”, the guiding philosophy of new-age architecture has rendered parametricism as an inseparable part of architecture today. A Parametric design is essentially characterised by curvilinear forms based on a defined computerised algorithm. The idea of abstraction and fluidity it represents along with stunning aesthetics has redefined contemporary architecture, shifting away from bourgeois orthogonal geometry.
Having successfully implemented parametric designs in the 1990s, Frank Gehry is credited to be the pioneer of smart digital design. Gehry’s new language of architecture can be reflected in some of his classic works like the fish-inspired pavilion for Barcelona’s 1992 Olympics to the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the New Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. The sensual curves moved away from the humdrum white blocks and flashy glass buildings.
Dame Zaha Hadid, popularly known as the Queen of Curves, worked with parametric designs extensively. About the complex structures she developed, Hadid said, “There are 360 degrees, so why stick to one?” Of the redefining instances in the history of architecture, her designs of the Galaxy Soho, Heydar Aliyev Centre and the Beijing Daxing International Airport occupy the topmost mantle in modern times.
More and more architects today draw inspiration from parametric design to develop complex curvilinear structures, breaking away from the typical rectilinear geometry to explore the wildest possibilities and bring them to life.
Oculus World Trade Centre Transportation Hub, New York – Santiago Calavatara
The southern end of the World Trade Centre Plaza is home to a white freestanding mass, the Oculus, much in contrast to the towering grey skyscrapers around it. Adjacent to the Ground Zero memorial, the transportation hub is shaped like a ‘bird being released from a child’s hand.’ The parametric structural steel ribs rise above the concourse as gently curving outspread wings.
Glass panels in between the ribs allow natural light in, acting as a symbol of hope while the structure itself attempts to humanize the adjoining monstrous architecture in memory of the victims of the fatal attack on 9/11. A skylight running along the length of the Oculus’ spine opens on September 11 annually to honour the martyrs.
Burnham Pavilion, Chicago – Zaha Hadid Architects
The Burnham Pavilion was commissioned as a temporary structure in Millennium Park to mark the centennial of the Chicago Plan proposed by Daniel Burnham in 1909. The shell-shaped pavilion composed of 7000 pieces of bent aluminium framework pays homage to Chicago’s tradition of cutting edge architecture, bringing together new ideas and a memory of the bold historic urban planning.
Inaugurated on 4 August 2009, Zaha Hadid conceived the pavilion to assert the possibilities of computer-aided design to create complex geometries. The use of recyclable and reusable materials like polyester-cotton blend fabric for the construction of the pavilion, allowed for it to be recycled after dismantling the pavilion on 31 October 2009.
Of the three layers of fabric, the outer layer filters daylight while the innermost layer acts as a projection surface in the interior. Aimed to promote reinvention and improvement at an urban scale while provoking public discussion, it attempts to redefine the future of cities.
With the kind of technology at humankind’s disposal today, it would not be incorrect to say that the cities of the future would look straight out of a sci-fi movie. Structures considered unfathomable today might just be what the future looks like. Bizarre gravity-defying buildings, the most abstract of all forms or an entirely new take at what geometry is, all of it seems a plausible idea of what is to come.
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