Organic Architecture

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Organic architecture

The principles of organic architecture rely on the integration of form and function, in which the structure and appearance of a building are based on a unity of forms that stresses the integration of individual parts to the whole concept, relating it to the natural environment in a deliberate way with all forms expressing the natural use of materials.
Design/Illustration: Bart Prince, Architect

Organic Architecture


a 20th-century trend in architecture, particularly widespread in the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s in the United States and Western Europe. The goal of organic architecture was the creation of buildings whose forms were dictated by function and surroundings, as is the case with organisms in nature. The concept of organic architecture was first formulated in the 1890’s by the American architect L. Sullivan, who was influenced by the evolutionary theory in biology. The concept was further developed in the theoretical works and designs of one of Sullivan’s protégés, F. L. Wright, whose basic design goal was the creation of uninterrupted architectural space, as opposed to the division of space into separate parts that was typical of more traditional architecture. The first of his designs to embody this principle were his prairie houses (Willits House in Highland Park, Ill., 1902; Robie House in Chicago, 1909). Wright’s sensitivity to the specific properties of natural materials was combined with a romantic attitude toward the natural landscape, of which the building was to be an inseparable part. At the same time, Wright rejected simple mimicry of nature.

Organic architecture has become one of the more widespread trends in contemporary architecture in contrast to the technologically oriented extremes of functionalism that occurred in the mid-1930’s. It is unlike functionalism in its careful consideration of individual needs and human psychology.

Influenced by organic architecture, regional architectural schools developed in Scandinavia (for example, the designs of Alvar Aalto). In the United States, the California school of architects, led by R. Neutra, applied organic principles. In a number of countries, the trend was responsible for bringing about an interest in local architectural tradition and folk architecture. As time passed, the popularity of organic architecture was paralleled by the widespread rejection of functionalism. In Italy the architect B. Zevi adopted the theory of organic architecture in the late 1940’s. In 1945 the Association for Organic Architecture was founded in Rome. Its program emphasized the humanistic side of the movement.

The organic architecture movement as a whole was ideologically confused. Its unifying principle remained Wright’s personal authority. The movement’s abstractly humanistic ideals led it away from the urgent social problems that confront architecture. Its emphasis on individualism led to the rejection of standardized and industrial building techniques. Elements of deurbanistic utopianism conflicted with the practical problems confronting architecture and construction after World War II. These problems called for mass industrial construction. All this limited the scope of organic architecture primarily to private homes, villas, and suburban hotels.

After Wright’s death in 1959, organic architecture dissolved entirely into the various architectural tendencies of the 1960’s, which emphasized more efficient architectural designs. Several general principles, types of structure, and individual devices developed in organic architecture continue to be widely used in architectural and artistic design.


Wright, F. L. Budushchee arkhitektury. Moscow, 1960. (Translated from English.)
Wright, F. L. An Organic Architecture: The Architecture of Democracy. London, 1939.
Zevi, B. Towards an Organic Architecture. London, 1950.


Organic architecture

Architecture whose design is established in accordance with processes of nature rather than based on an imposed design; a design philosophy of Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959) based largely on his early-20th-century assertion that a building (and its appearance) should follow forms that are in harmony with its natural environment. The materials used on the exterior should be sympathetic to the building’s locale, thereby relating the building to its setting, as if it were the result of natural growth. Thus, use should be made of low-pitched overhanging roofs to provide protection from the sun in the summer and to provide some weather protection in the winter, and maximum use should be made of natural daylighting.
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