Curve in the cityThe role of organic design in urban locations

21 October 2014Shares


You know where you are with the right angle; it's neat, precise, ordered. Roads in a grid pattern mean you don't get lost; right-angled buildings can have efficient floors. In densely populated areas where space is at a premium, it makes sense to keep things straight.

But what is gained in efficiency may be lost in aesthetic and distinction. A recent visit to Barcelona was a reminder of how nature can inspire heroic architecture - through the handiwork of Antonio Gaudi.

Drawing inspiration for its columns from the form of trees, his world-famous La Sagrada Familia polarises opinion. Yet it is undoubtedly a project built for the future; an unfinished gift for those living beyond the visionary’s years.

Casa Batllo, in contrast, is arguably more thoroughly ‘Gaudi’. Known as one of his most emblematic works, it is impossible to visit the site without being struck by his sheer freedom of imagination and attention to detail. With every feature seemingly meticulously considered, the building consists of no right angles, but copious curves and undulations. As the construction was supervised by Gaudi throughout, the building took shape under one single vision. The style is consistent, focussed entirely on natural influences: organic shapes and authentic materials. Gaudi believed that since straight lines and sharp corners are rarely seen in nature, there is no place for them in the building form either. He made no secret of his intention to use nature as his starting point, famously saying, “originality is returning to the origin”.

Whilst the Segrada Familia may be more commonly renowned as Gaudi’s ‘masterpiece’, being the 'go-to' sight for tourists visiting Barcelona, perhaps we should look first to buildings like Casa Batllo for inspiration. Its architectural uniqueness demonstrates the potential for organic architecture to exist within urban locations. If you agree with the notion that "it is the quality and intensity of experience that distinguishes places from space"[1], maybe we should look to the curve before the right angle when seeking to create architecture which is not only appealing but also which creates a distinctive sense of place.

Here in London, it is the curve not the right angle that gives the city its distinctive skyline. Much may have been written about the Shard's sharp imposition, but it is the curves of ancient - St Paul's cathedral - and modern - the 'Gherkin' and the London Eye - which make the city so recognisable.

With its curved form contributing to its being voted 'favourite new building' by Londoners earlier this year, the Gherkin is an example of how the curve creates distinction and appeal. As the debate on London’s skyline continues it is interesting to see which proposals are making the headlines. From the curved arches of Heatherwick’s horticulturally-inspired Garden Bridge to Frank Gehry’s organic designs for a new building by Battersea Power Station, the visceral is clearly on the agenda. Perhaps not surprising when you remember that the whole of London is built along the edge on one big river curve.

 


Author: Sarah Moor

 [1] Relph, E. Prospects for Places. In The Urban Design Reader, Larice, M., Macdonald, E., Eds.; Routledge: New York, NY, USA, 2007; pp. 119-124.

Images: Gherkin www.theguardian.com, Garden Bridge www.heatherwick.com, Battersea Power Station: www.bdonline.co.uk, www.inhabitat.com