Architects and painters, before starting a new project, have an empty canvas in front of them. The cleanness of the canvas or white paper opens infinite possibilities of design ideas for a future project. But how should an architect start his/her projects? How do architects get inspired? Some architects find inspiration by the historical context of the site, others prefer to retake materials’ qualities, and finally, some architects prefer to observe their surroundings and the environmental typologies. The latter design approach is what characterizes some projects that are the result of forms inspired by nature.
For instance, one of the first projects inspired by natural morphology is Binet’s Monumental Gate for the 1900 World Fair in Paris, France. Binet’s architecture is the result of analyzing illustrations from Ernst Haeckel, who created a morphological illustration of natural creatures. Therefore, this is one example of how nature’s anatomy influences architects; as this project, numerous architectural buildings have adopted the same source of inspiration.
For that reason, we will introduce you to 15 projects around the world from different architectural periods that retake the importance of observing nature and reflecting its qualities.
1. Beijing National Stadium in Beijing, China.
The constructivist stadium, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, hosted numerous sports events during the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and Paralympics. The National Stadium is known as the Bird’s Nest, as the name says, it describes the building’s façade. Moreover, the steel structure’s concept was inspired by Chinese culture and Nature. First, the design represents the Chinese culture’s philosophies, such as “Yin Yang,” which highlights the importance of harmony. The façade design retook the physical qualities of the nest of birds that contributed to the stadium’s infrastructure. The aesthetic stadiums demonstrated to be a resilience design that highlights the importance of natural structures.
2. BIQ Building in Hamburg, Germany.
If you were wondering why the building is green, we have an answer for you. The BIQ building or “the Algae House” is a Bio Intelligent Quotient building that renovates energy. The panels around the building have an essential role in the building’s structure, and they serve as biofuel and shading protectors. However, the panels are filled with microalgae that absorb the exterior natural light, and it performs photosynthesis. As a result, algae exposure maximizes the growing process of the organisms. The natural process also heats the water inside the “Algae House” and optimizes the building’s performance. Lastly, the “bio-skin” has decreased the building’s expenses and has demonstrated the world’s alternative solutions for sustainable architecture.
3. Flor de Venezuela en Barquisimeto, Venezuela.
In 2000, the pavilion was built for the Expo 2000 World’s Fair in Hanover, Germany. The Venezuelan architect Fruto Vivas was influenced by the national flora known as the orchid. As a result, Vivas designed a kinetic building which creates a shelter for occupants. The structure consists of sixteen centralized petals; the structure opens and closes depending on the weather. By closing the petals, the interior creates a shelter on rainy days. Until the present, the pavilion exhibition about natural biodiversity was found in Venezuela’s picturesque landscapes.
4. Keller Fountain Park in Portland, Oregon.
The fountain was named after Ira C. Keller, a local businessman. At present, the fountain is part of the design of an urban park, which was designed by the renowned landscape architect Lawrence Halprin. The inspiration for the park’s fountain was the Cascades of the Columbia River Gorges in Portland. The landscape architect retook the natural qualities of the cascades and transformed it into an architectural fountain. The primary purpose was to reconnect to the urban open space with the essence of nature. As a result, the Keller Fountain created a gathering space with extraordinary architectural qualities that retook nature’s importance.
5. Kunsthaus Graz in Graz, Austria.
The unique shape of this museum eye-catches the attention of many visitors in Graz. The biomorphic structure of the also called baby hippo or “Friendly Alien” is inspired by natural forms, but at the same time, the structure does not replicate any of them. The geniuses behind the architectural composition are Peter Cook and Colin Fournier, these two architects won the international competition among 102 projects submitted. Fournier and Cook worked along with Dr Marcus Cruz, and part of the design was inspired by analyzing microscopic images of aquatic microorganisms. After analyzing biomass, they translated the natural language into their design. For instance, one of the most representative features are the angular apertures which redirect the sunlight and creates a dynamic system between natural lights and interior spaces.
6. La Alhambra in Granada, Spain.
Alhambra is a complex of residential palaces and green areas that Muslim and Christian royalty used to reside in Southern Spain. The architectural style relates to the different architectural styles from the medial to Renaissance times. Therefore, the monumental complex is known for its paradisiac features as well as its highly detailed architecture. Part of the ornamentation was influenced by natural stalactites and its characteristics Moorish architecture. Amongst the relieves patterns, some reliefs are inspired by honeycomb. The Alhambra is a tourist attraction not only for its magnificent structures but also for its aesthetic details.
7. La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain.
The cathedral is known as Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece in the north of Spain. La Sagrada Familia started its construction at the end of the 19th century, and its architectural design works with a concept based on the forest’s atmosphere. Therefore, Gaudi’s design indicates a response to a deep understanding of nature and structural interpretation. The interior columns are designed with ramifications; this is inspired by high trees in the forest and their capacity to receive forces. Another captivating quality of the structure is the ceiling’s design with works for the correct interior ventilation; it is based on how termite mounds work. It is incredible how the complexity of nature’s structures creates an ingenious ventilation system for architecture. Finally, Gaudies ming analyzed a myriad of natural anatomy and function and interpreted it into architectural design. The design of La Sagrada Familia has not been completed since then, and investigators are interpreting Gaudi’s models and drawings to complete his masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia.
8. Lotus Temple in New Delhi, India.
The Lotus Temple was one of only nine Mashriq in the world and it is also known as the “Temple of Bahá’í”. The monumental construction was designed by Farinborz Saha and he looked to tell a narrative through sacred symbols and numerical repetitions. Farinborz Saha was inspired by the concept of the Lotus flower that is a purity symbol in Hindu tradition. Consequently, the Lotus Temple is composed of 27 marble-clad petals, nine pools, and nine entrance openings which correspond to the mystical number. Since its inauguration, the monumental construction has been in the eyes of the world and its architectural design has received multiple awards. Thus, the mystical monument reflects the beauty of Hindu architecture.
9. Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.
The ArtScience Museum was inspired by nature, the Lotus Flower, and the design incorporating sustainability solutions. The architecture of the museum was designed by Moshe Safdie, which recreated the petals of the Lotus flowers, and by others, they interpreted it as an open hand. “The welcoming Hand of Singapore” introduces each finger with a wide opening for illumination for interior galleries. All the architectural elements are centered by an opportunity that redirects stormwater and recycles the same natural source.
10. Nature Boardwalk at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, United States.
The pavilion is a fiberglass and wood structure designed by WRD Environmental in Chicago, United States. Where did this shape come from? Well, the architecture firm was inspired by the animal exoskeleton. The hollow spaces between the wood structure and the interior allow the occupants to appreciate another perspective of the surroundings and in the exterior works as a water canal system. Moreover, the structure’s creation looked to revitalize the Lincoln Park South area and transform the polluted space near the urban pond. After it was built, the projects restored the local ecosystem and contributed to the existing biodiversity.
11. The Beijing National Aquatics Center in Beijing, China.
The aesthetic structure is also called the “Water Cube,” the location of the National Aquatics Stadium is close to the “Birds Nest” Olympic Stadium in Beijing, China. The concept for the Aquatics Stadiums started with conceptualizing water and sea bubbles formation as the central theme in the cube. The structure’s exterior was designed with a transparent dual cushion envelope inspired by sea bubbles. In addition, the sustainable facade demonstrates an organic design that optimizes the building performances by using the sunlight to heat the interior. As a result, the final design innovated environmental management techniques and engineering fabrication for sustainable construction.
12. The Gherkin in London, United Kingdom.
In 2004, Fosters and Partners completed the design and construction of the first sustainable skyscrapers in the United Kingdom. Since then, the building has been highly recognized for its environmental performance. The ventilation system is inspired by aquatics organisms, such as anemones and sea sponges. Analyzing these systems helped them design the air ventilation system that flows through the skyscraper’s interior in London. As a result, the ventilation system is a thermo-comfort regulator, and it has decreased the architectural impact in the environment.
13. Turning Torso in Malmö, Sweden
The also known twisting torso is the tallest residential skyscraper in Malmö, and it is characterized for its ninety degrees rotation. The architect who designed the 190 meters high building was Santiago Calatrava. Halliday Avray-Wilson’s torso sculpture inspired the Spanish architect, and then he created the sculptural residential building. As a result, the Twisting Torso Building represents the human anatomy, the spine, and it consists of nine cubes, which increase their rotation. The cubes are held by external infrastructure and the interior, staircases, and the elevators communicate the nine boxes. Consequently, the public has positively responded to the sculptural skyscraper and its adaptation to the cityscape.
14. Olympic Fish Pavilion in Barcelona, Spain.
At the end of the 20th century, the sculptural Pavilion was completed in Barcelona’s seafront. The golden steel sculptured mesh designed by Frank Gehry has been one of the top ten of Barcelona’s public attractions. Frank Gehry’s sculptural fish is also called “El Peix” by the local population. Moreover, the inspiration for the golden sculptural mesh was a fish, and this animal-inspired not only the pavilion shape but also the mesh qualities of the structure—the mesh changes as the fish skins with the sun’s reflection creating an iridescent effect. Since 1992, the Pavilion has been opened to the public, and this aesthetic structure is another example of Gehry’s prolific career.
15. Quadracci Pavilion at the Milwaukee Art Museum in Milwaukee, United States.
The museum design creates curiosity to the public and invites them to discover the Art Museum architectural wonders. Santiago Calatrava’s design is the result of an observative process of Lake Michigan; the building merges the natural and urban facets of the local culture. For that reason, Santiago Calatrava designs a widespread wing that protects the building and provides shadows to the museum’s interior spaces. The Panels adapts to the architectural design and creates a dynamic between the sun paths and the museum itself emulating the wings of a bird when it opens and closes.