A Guide to the Organic Architecture Style

A Guide to the Organic Architecture Style

Architecture
By Dikran Seferian June 27, 2022

No architectural form intertwines human establishment with the natural realm quite like organic architecture. It is an approach that strives to harmonize with the untamed environment in an effort to bridge the gap between nature and structure. The result consists of buildings, furniture, and overall atmospheres of living spaces that are either built around or inspired by the natural ambiance. It was the organic architect Frank Lloyd Wright who said “Houses should not be boxes set together row on row. If a house is to be architecture, it must become a natural part of the landscape. The land is the simplest form of architecture.”

Origins of Organic Architecture 

The term “organic architecture'' was originally coined by Frank Lloyd Wright, whose fascination with nature allowed him to build living spaces inspired by natural styles and processes. Wright’s structures were not only vivid but also sustainable. Born in the rural parts of Wisconsin, the renowned architect spent much of his adolescence working on his uncle’s farm which drew him closer to nature. It was the natural vibrancy of the domesticated crops, untapped woodlands, and the river valleys of Wisconsin that led to him discovering this organic form of architecture.

In 1908, Wright explored the concept of organic architecture in his book titled In the Cause of Architecture. The book outlines the importance of sustainability in architecture and expresses the following propositions:

  • Everything from fenestration to furniture should assimilate with the design of the structure.
  • The building should appear as if it is indigenous to the surrounding ecosystem.
  • The color scheme of the building should draw its inspiration from the fields and woodlands around it.
  • The design of the structure should prioritize simplicity and repose. This involves reimagining distinct rooms as open spaces.

Wright further highlights the qualities of his architectural style in Language of an Organic Architecture which he wrote in 1953. Today, many iconic buildings that feature the organic style of architecture are historical landmarks. They also serve as an inspiration for architects looking to build sustainable houses that blend into their surroundings.

Principles of Organic Architecture

Organic architecture centers itself around creating harmony between living spaces and nature (Daderot/Wikimedia Commons).

Organic architecture centers itself around creating harmony between living spaces and nature (Daderot/Wikimedia Commons).

The very essence of organic architecture is to achieve a sense of harmony between houses, surrounding landscapes, and the inhabitants. Certain qualities further define the philosophy behind this architectural form. 

Interacting With Nature

Nature is, and will always remain, the cornerstone of organic architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright designed many of his buildings such that they manifest interdependence. Wright created a sort of complementarity between his works and natural elements such as rocks, plants, and water. His organic creations accentuated the raw nature of materials, displaying unfinished wood, stone, and anything that reflected the surrounding environment.

Creating a Unified Ecosystem

Organic designs in natural architecture are essentially ecospheres in and of themselves. They uphold the notion that human structures should not dominate the existing landscape, but rather be a natural extension of it. 

Shaping a Journey With Space

The organic style of architecture aims to shape a flow within itself via natural light, sky visibility, and the surrounding environment. The direction of sunlight determines window placement whereas floor plans are mainly open to maintain the flow with minimal interruption. 

Elements of Organic Architecture and Interior Design

Living spaces in the organic architecture style feature elements that revolve around the notion of form following function. It’s also common for materials, structures, and everything in between to repeat themselves throughout the living spaces. This indicates a rather holistic and intentional approach to organic design in architecture

Basic Materials

Natural materials appear in abundance throughout living spaces that follow the organic design (Stilfehler/Wikimedia Commons).

Natural materials appear in abundance throughout living spaces that follow the organic design (Stilfehler/Wikimedia Commons).

Organic design makes systematic use of natural materials wherever possible. You’ll notice an abundance of natural wood in addition to other organic materials like jute and seagrass. Complementing these materials are other simple media such as glass, steel, concrete, and cast iron.

Open Floor Plan

Open concept layouts are a nod to the surrounding wide landscapes.

Open concept layouts are a nod to the surrounding wide landscapes.

Another central element of organic architecture involves alluding to the wide-open landscape of the outdoors. This essentially translates into open-concept layouts as well as a blend of indoor and outdoor spaces, establishing a sense of freedom for residents. Glass-screen doors, for instance, help in unifying the indoors with the outside environment.

Neutral Color Palette

Neutral shades and solid tones that hint toward the outdoor landscape are common in organic architecture.

Neutral shades and solid tones that hint toward the outdoor landscape are common in organic architecture.

A color palette featuring neutral or muted colors is a mainstay in organic-style living spaces. This includes an abundance of accents in solid hues reflecting wood and earthy tones. You may also notice light-colored walls creating a bright and airy atmosphere.

Modest Ornamentation and Minimalist Features

Minimalist elements and nature-inspired motifs constitute a major aspect of the organic design style.

Minimalist elements and nature-inspired motifs constitute a major aspect of the organic design style.

The organic form of architecture prefers clean lines and natural textures over highly ornate features. Embellishments are kept at a minimum, making way for nature-inspired elements. Natural patterns and shapes often appear in wooden coffee tables and other accents throughout the living spaces. Interior spaces in the organic style are also known to feature minimalist elements. You’ll notice simple curves and lines in everything from sofas to sideboards.

Modern Organic Architecture

Architects of today often have complementing perspectives on the organic architectural style — although clashing at times. The organic works of modernist architects such as Louis Sullivan, Hans Scharoun, and Paul Lafooley are known to stand out from the organic approach that Wright established.

Modern organic architecture involves utilizing new types of concrete as well as cantilever trusses. Not having to use visible beams and pillars, for instance, allows architects to design the iconic swooping arches. Structures in the modern version of organic architecture are hardly ever linear. Instead, they feature wavy lines and curved forms that resonate with the surrounding ambiance — think the Sydney Opera House.

The Sydney Opera House is an iconic example of modern organic architecture.

The Sydney Opera House is an iconic example of modern organic architecture.

Notable Examples of Organic Architecture

You can find iconic buildings that showcase the organic architecture style just about anywhere in the world. Among the most notable ones are Fallingwater, Taliesin, and the Rådhuset Metro Station.

Fallingwater

Frank Loyd Wright’s Fallingwater has earned various accolades over the years (Somach/Wikimedia Commons)..

Frank Loyd Wright’s Fallingwater has earned various accolades over the years (Somach/Wikimedia Commons)..

Designed by none other than Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater is an exemplary testament to harmony between nature and structure. Wright built the house in rural Pennsylvania in the late 1930s to serve as a summer retreat for the Kauffman family. The heirs of the affluent family later donated the home to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, to preserve it as a landmark.

Wright aimed to blend the structure with the surrounding environment as much as possible by placing it above a waterfall in the woods. This blend is evident in every minor detail such as the absence of a metal framework between glass and stone walls. Instead, the glass fits directly into a caulked recess within the stone for a more natural appearance. A staircase extending from a cantilevered space reaches all the way down to the flowing water below. Among other accolades, Fallingwater was named the “best all-time work of American architecture” by the American Institute of Architects in 2007. 

Taliesin 

The Taliesin house is a tribute to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Welsh Ancestry (Stephen Matthew Milligan/Wikimedia Commons).

The Taliesin house is a tribute to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Welsh Ancestry (Stephen Matthew Milligan/Wikimedia Commons).

Named after the Welsh bard whose name translates to “shining brow”, Taliesin is another one of Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpieces. This enchanting piece of organic architecture pays homage to Wright’s Welsh ancestry. Its name refers to its brow-like position on the edge of the hill in the Wisconsin River valley. In the words of Wright himself, “you should never build on top of anything.” Wright also expresses that “If you build on top of the hill, you lose the hill. If you build on one side of the top, you have the hill and the eminence that you desire.”

Much like Wright’s Taliesin West in Arizona, Taliesin’s organic design allows it to blend into the natural ambiance. Its horizontal lines are meant to imitate the hills and the shorelines around it. Initially serving as Wright’s home and architectural studio for him and his students, Taliesin is currently a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Rådhuset Metro Station

The Rådhuset Metro Station is unlike any other subway stop in the world (Arild Vågen/Wikimedia Commons).

The Rådhuset Metro Station is unlike any other subway stop in the world (Arild Vågen/Wikimedia Commons).


If you think organic designs can’t get any more natural, you probably haven’t seen the Rådhuset Metro Station in Stockholm, Sweden. This unique take on organic architecture is one of Sigvard Olsson’s creations. From the outside, the entrance is nothing out of the ordinary. But make your way down the escalator and the rawest form of this architectural style quickly reveals itself. The station features exposed bedrock in its unrefined shape, showcasing the cave-like elements of the underground space.

DS

Written by
Dikran Seferian

Written by Dikran Seferian

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