What is Organic Architecture?

1. Overview of the Topic – Summary:

From Wikipedia: Organic Architecture is a philosophy of architecture which promotes harmony between human habitation and the natural world. This is achieved through design approaches that aim to be sympathetic and well-integrated with a site, so buildings, furnishings, and surroundings become part of a unified, interrelated composition.

Essentially organic architecture is also the literal design of every element of a building: From the windows, to the floors, to the individual chairs intended to fill the space. Everything relates to one another, reflecting the symbiotic ordering systems of nature.[1]

The idea of organic architecture refers not only to the buildings’ literal relationship to the natural surroundings, but how the buildings’ design is carefully thought about as if it were a unified organism. [1]

2. What is the focus of this Topic?:

While the term “Organic Architecture” was coined by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959),[2] there have been many architects and designers who have pioneered these designs, perhaps less as a style (such as Art Nouveau), and more as an overall design approach.

This approach is to design with the natural surroundings and systems of the natural world in which the building exists. It is to live in symbiosis with the natural surroundings and systems of nature, and less about a specific design style or the use of specific materials and/or methods.

Architect and planner David Pearson proposed a list of rules towards the design of organic architecture. These rules are known as the Gaia Charter for organic architecture and design. It reads:

“Let the design:

  • be inspired by nature and be sustainable, healthy, conserving, and diverse.
  • unfold, like an organism, from the seed within.
  • exist in the “continuous present” and “begin again and again”.
  • follow the flows and be flexible and adaptable.
  • satisfy social, physical, and spiritual needs.
  • “grow out of the site” and be unique.
  • celebrate the spirit of youth, play and surprise.
  • express the rhythm of music and the power of dance.” [2]

3. Why it’s listed here – What is the relevance to Architectural Medicine?

The general concept of Organic Architecture is to approach architectural design to live in symbiosis with the surrounding environment, both in form and function. This means that the building is in harmony with the natural environment and ecology, and strives to provide this harmony to decrease the ecological impact, while also providing a healthy built environment for the occupants.

This approach echoes the goals of Architectural Medicine, which is to design the built environment to be healthy for it’s inhabitants, the local and global ecology, and to provide wellness and well-being for quality of life. By utilizing these design approaches of Organic Architecture, designers and builders can provide a building solution in materials and methods that support this goal.

4. Common groups and individuals involved with this topic:

There have been many cultures around the world, and throughout history, that have focused on architecture as a symbiotic design process with the locale. This vernacular approach, both in function and form, can be seen in historic buildings, from the ancient Mayan and Chinese architecture, to the more modern day design approaches of Japanese architecture that embraces nature.

Other modernist architects in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere held complementary and often competing views of how architecture could best emulate nature. Key figures in the U.S. included Louis SullivanClaude BragdonEugene Tsui, and Paul Laffoley, while among European modernists Hugo Häring and Hans Scharoun stand out. [4]

The architects and designers Bruce Goff, James Hubble, Alan Hess, Bart Prince and David Pearson, are also significant figures in Organic Architecture in their work and design approach.

Rudolf Steiner’s architecture and designs, such as the Goetheanum were also significant in this design approach that are outlined in the paper titled, “Ways to a New Style in Architecture.” [5]

5. Resources:


Top image-design by Eugene Tsui (Tssui)