The idea that a building should sit naturally in the landscape, take advantage of what the site has to offer and at the same time be a manifestation of the life and spaces within that structure attracted me to the Organic Philosophy in architecture. Today we are looking at ways to respond to nature and work with it. Many of these ideas have been around for thousands of years but new technology is helping us in ways we never had before. Principles of organic architecture are the fabric of good design.
What is Organic Architecture?
Organic architecture is a philosophy of architecture which promotes harmony between human habitation and the natural world through design. It’s approach is so sympathetic and well-integrated with its site that buildings, furnishings, and surroundings become part of a unified, interrelated composition.
“Organic is not something hanging in a butcher shop window.” -Frank Lloyd Wright during interview with Mike Wallace 1958.
Over recent years the term “organic” became a term much more associated with food than a characterization of the organization of parts to a whole. Organic Architecture comes from a process of designing that starts from the inside and works its way out. The results are spaces that flow together in harmony and function much like a living organism. Materials are true to themselves, wood maintains its character, stone acts as only stone can, solid and massive, anchoring itself to the earth. The building sits upon its site often as if it grew out of it.
Today Organic Architecture may often be confused with what I call Biomorphic Architecture or architecture that has the form of a living organism. While Biomorphic Architecture can be organic, Organic Architecture does not need to be biomorphic. Organic Architecture is about appropriateness and how spaces relate, often we start with a motif and a grid system. The grid can be rectilinear, triangular, and even circular, this gives the design order and harmony, just like you a melody and beat in a piece of music. The grid can help in setting up structural systems, layouts, and insure a minimum of material waste.
There are many other terms that you hear today when discussing modern architecture. Terms such as “sustainable,” “green,” or “passive solar.” All these terms are inherent attributes in good Organic Architecture. A building should be appropriate to its site by orientating itself for proper solar gain, yet provide for summer shading and day-lighting, never forgetting elevating the life that will take place in those spaces, the spiritual, if you will. It is the Organic Architect’s charge to compose all this together in a building that suits the client’s needs functionally, lifts the client’s aspirations, and meets their budgets.
Frank Lloyd Wright and Organic Architecture
Frank Lloyd Wright was the great master of Organic Architecture and explored its forms his entire life. His work was often copied although less often with the understanding of the principles that went behind the ideas.
In 1932 Wright started the Taliesin Fellowship to expose young aspiring architects to the philosophy that was behind this great architecture. Wright did not want the apprentices to imitate his work but rather to understand the organic principals in order to go out and create buildings that would enhance the lives of those they touched. The focus was to build buildings would grace their surrounds rather than “dis-grace” it. At Taliesin the apprentices learned about organic architecture by fully participating in a life rich with beauty, hard work, elegance, and design. The Fellowship and school of architecture continued after Frank Lloyd Wright died in 1959 and both continue today.
My connection with the Taliesin Fellowship goes back to 1985 when I worked extensively in the Frank Lloyd Wright Archive at Taliesin West for about two years cataloging, photographing, and encapsulating not only Mr. Wright’s original drawings but also parts of his extensive art collection. I am deeply grateful to Bruce Pfeifer for giving me this opportunity and feel it gave me a great base upon which to continue my education in architecture with the School of Architecture.
In 1987 I officially enrolled in the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture and as all the apprentices participated in construction work, maintenance of the buildings, work with Taliesin Architects on actual projects in the drafting studio, classes and all the aspects of life at Taliesin. I feel fortunate to have worked directly with architects such as Wes Peters, Johnny DeKoven Hill, and Charles Montooth all of whom worked together with F.L. Wright. In fact Wes was often called Mr. Wright’s right hand man and did the engineering for some of Wright’s greatest projects such as Fallingwater, the Johnson Wax Buildings, and the Guggenheim Art Museum in New York City. In those years we prided ourselves that we were in fact apprentices and if anyone referred to us as a student we would quickly correct them with “apprentice.”