Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What do you mean, "Organic"?

I think a definition for "organic" is a good place to start as my first real post to this blog-after all, it's right there in the title. There are a lot of definitions floating around out there so I will focus on what my understanding is of the term and of the philosophy.

The first person to really use the term was Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1939 he wrote this: "So here I stand before you preaching organic architecture: declaring organic architecture to be the modern ideal and the teaching so much needed if we are to see the whole of life, and to now serve the whole of life, holding no traditions essential to the great TRADITION. Nor cherishing any preconceived form fixing upon us either past, present or future, but instead exalting the simple laws of common sense or of super-sense if you prefer determining form by way of the nature of materials..."

Most people in the organic community also give credit to Wright's predecessors, H. H. Richardson and Louis Sullivan. But the organic tradition has continued to evolve. Wright continued it himself until his death in 1959, and there were numerous apprentices who expanded the range of the genre, such as John Lautner, and --- Then there were those who were not affiliated directly with Wright, but who carried forward their own vision, such as Bruce Goff.

Through the eighties and nineties, the torch has continued to be carried by many others-Bart Prince, Kendrick Kellog, James Fox, and my mentor for a time, Will Miller. Many of these current organic architects can be found at

So: Organic Architecture. For me, any project has a number of ingredients that go into the stew: What does the site suggest? What ideas does the client bring? Lastly, what intangible ingredients does the Architect add?

Every project has a site, and every site has a character all its own. An organic design is going to absorb that character on a macro and micro scale, and become something that belongs to that site. This may be expressed in an intangible or symbolic manner, or in a quite tangible manner, using materials directly from the site, or expressing ornament derived from features of the site.

In a similar way, every project has a client or clients who have their program to apply. An organic design is not only going to solve the nuts and bolts requirements of the program, it is going to absorb and express the personality of the clients in some manner, just as it will express the will of the site.

So it is the special art of the Organic Architect to combine all of this in a synergistic way, creating a unique vision for this Architecture.

Architect and writer Alan Hess has called Organic Architecture "the other modernism". He has a point. There are many features of modernism which have been taken up and incorporated into the organic tradition. I will comment further in the future about the differences between the two, but there are a few key differences I will note here. One is that modernism often is about dominating the site, not becoming one with the site as I have described above. Another difference is the cold and machine like qualities of pure modernism. Organic Architecture emphasizes warmth and human scale. Ornament is not a crime, but is something to be celebrated.

Another area I will comment on in more detail later is the relationship between Organic Architecture and Green Design. Organic Architecture of course long predates the current interest in Green Design, and even the energy conscious architecture of the 1970's. Though Organic Architecture is not focused solely on being "green", the focus on the site necessitates that being energy conscious, using local materials, recycling by re-using found materials, etc. simply makes Organic Architecture green by default. You can be green without being Organic, but you can't be Organic without being green.

So there is a short primer and a good start for this blog. Go Organic!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

...and so it begins...

Today is my first post to this blog. I have been considering doing this for a while, and with the current slowdown in the economy, I actually have time to devote to getting started. It's my intent to periodically post some thoughts on a number of topics-local, regional and national, with an emphasis on organic architecture and green architecture. But I might just write about anything that interests me. I'm still getting this forum set up, so bear with me. Eventually this site should be a source of a lot of interesting stuff and some cool architecture.