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Organic Architecture

 

The term "Organic Architecture" was made famous when Frank Lloyd Wright used it to describe his particular approach to architecture. Yet, the word "organic" itself was never fundamentally important in the definition of the term. In fact, when discussing the meaning of the word organic in the 1950s, Wright mused that had he wanted to give his approach to architecture a name at that point in time, he would have perhaps used the term "Bionic Architecture". The interchangeability of the word "organic" suggests that Wright knew full well the importance of having simple identifiable slogan that represented his architectural philosophy. The fact that he identified the word "Bionic", which was gaining popularity in both science and science fiction at that time, indicates that he was probably conscious of choosing a phrase that while embodying his architectural message, also positioned himself at the forefront of pop culture.

Despite the insignificance of the word "organic", the term "Organic Architecture" is still representative of a certain attitude to architectural design: an attitude that was held by Wright, and a series of architects that have followed him.

The problem with the word "organic" is that in its contemporary usage, it implies meanings that are incorrect of the original definition of Organic Architecture.

Probably the most common misconception is the belief that Organic Architecture is curved and free form. I find it confounding when I read explanations that cite Frank Lloyd Wright as a practitioner of organic architecture, then go on to say that Organic buildings are curvilinear. Wright's buildings are very seldom curved, and are certainly never free form. Where he does use curves, he uses circles, which are obviously governed by a strict geometry.

Another common misconception is that Organic Architecture is inherently environmentally sustainable. While being environmentally sustainable is important to Organic architects, it should be integral to all architectural design, Organic or not, and thus really cannot be considered as a defining characteristic.

Organic architecture stems from a reverence of the natural environment and an understanding that the wellbeing of the human psyche cannot be nurtured by removing people from the natural world in which they belong. To this end, Organic buildings grow from the ground as one with their site, but they also provide occupants a connection to the exterior environment.

Organic architecture is not a stylistic or aesthetic movement. Each building is a response to its program, the character of its occupants, the time in which it is designed, the conditions and the qualities of its site. Because each of these conditions will never be identical, each Organic building will be unique. However, because the intent to create buildings that are at one with their site and that allow for connections to the exterior is a fundamental philosophy shared in all Organic Architecture, there are a few common characteristics.

Geometry
In spite of the popular belief that free forms are natural, nature is not free form. It is predictable and comprehensible. It is governed by rules and patterns, and it is by understanding these rules that people feel comfortable in their environments. Organic architecture utilizes strong, rational geometry to create a comprehensible building that can be understood as a single entity.

Materials
To enhance the connection of the interior to the natural environment, natural materials such as stone and wood are commonly utilized in Organic architecture. Because large slick surfaces feel inherently artificial, where they are necessary, they are often given textures or applied with patterns to break up the surface.

Mass
In order to break down the sense of enclosure, Organic architecture often is composed of recognizable, individual masses (see Box Theory ), that due to their arrangement form a shelter. This differs from the typical method of creating architecture by using surfaces or envelopes to form the interior space.

Glass
The way glass is used is critical part of organic architecture. Glass provides views to the natural environment, but also breaks up the forms of the building. This reduces the building into its individual masses, and breaks the sense of enclosure. Where glass is used, it is important that the materials are carried through, from the interior to the exterior, and that the glass itself has a minimum visual impact.

The Site
Organic Architecture is always informed through a response to its site. Wright said that the building should be "of the hill" and not "on the hill". In this way organic architecture should nestle itself into its site and weave around the existing trees.

This web site was intended as a resource for those interested in Organic Architecture. It contains a collection of photographs and descriptions of organic buildings that I have been able to visit and photograph. The projects are listed by architect, and then by chronological order. You may click on the thumbnail images on the right to bring up additional photos of each project. I have personally found online sources for Organic architecture lacking, and hope that my contribution can provide a useful addition to the understanding of organic design.

This web site was made possible by the Peter Hunt Prize that was awarded to me in 2006. A special thank you must go to Peter Hunt Architect for making this possible.

 


Copyright 2013.        Andrew T Boyne Architect.        A: 69 Stanley St Nedlands 6009 Western Australia        P: 0423601604         E: architect@andrewtboyne.com