The Role of Nature in Architectural Creativity
Nature is everywhere It affects and can be found in every inquiry of creativity. Humans have imitated nature; they have learned from trees to build adobe; borrowed the Visions of wildflowers to create capitals for columns. The waves of the sea gave them motifs for moldings and decorative details. Nature is central in mimesis. Nature is obviously central in the metaphor. Perhaps the greatest metaphor of them all, Nature is a source of many metaphors of varying significance. It lends its characteristics and its ingredients for contemplation of serenity, hardness, and sublimity the calm of the sea, the sound of the waves, the shape of the land, the mood of the seasons.
Nature is present in the poetry of the poets. And it is certainly present in the poetry of any poetics. It has lent its name (“natural,” “naturalistic”) to everything that appears “real”; it is the source of emotions, moods, and the aura of space and time. Many of the emotions generated by nature arc intangible: the changes of the hour, the passage of the time as seen through the colours of the elements, the mountains and the sky, the filtering of light through the clouds, the moon and the sunset. All of these are intangible situations that make their presence felt via observations or the influence exerted on us by the tangible elements of nature (mountains, sky, sea, valleys, animals, organisms).
Nature is in a sense unclassifiable, for it touches everything, giving the blow of life and shaping the prerequisites for the existence and the growth of things. It is the reason for every transformation, while at the same time it is the hiding place of the obscure, the forest of the unknown. Belongs to the intangible as well as to the tangible, Its “ever presence ” and its “ unclassifiability ” make it necessary that discussions on nature cover all the topics of creativity, be they tangible or intangible. The didactic potential of nature in the visual, spatial, and constructive sense makes it possible, on the other hand, to address it separately, under the umbrella of the tangible channels
We focus on this aspect here, although it is inevitable that an. inquiry into nature will occasionally have to address both issues (tangible and intangible). It is a matter of didactics as well as of value that we have decided to addre55 nature separately and to locus 00 it through the lens of the tangible. W believe there is extra need for renewed attention to the tangible ingredients of nature, because we hope that the mood, the feelings, and the auras that can be grasped by the inquiring architect will bring about an antidote to the current state of alienation to which both architects and the architect— created environment have been subjected during recent years.
THE PRIMORDIAL INFLUENCE OF NATURE
Nowhere will one find a stronger inspiration of nature exerted on human artifacts than in ancient Greece. The Greeks revered nature. They celebrated the seasonal changes and integrated them into their lives with annual ceremonies and festivities. There were gods and semi-gods for the forests, the earth, the sky, the water, and fertility. The muses, imaginary ladies of inspiration who gave their collective name to music and to eternal creativity, lived in natural domains in creeks or in the dense forests
Nature could speak to man, and vice versa. Young men and women were transformed into elements of nature. Greek mythology is full of myths of this duality.
The mountains all were calling and the oak trees answering.
Oh. woe, woe lot Adonis, He is dead.
And echo cried in answer. Oh. woe, woe for Adonis.
And for the loves wept for him and all the muses too.
Apollo’s friend, the young Hyacinthus, dies a tragic death as his god friend hits him by mistake wish the discus. The boy dies, and a wildflower is born. The nymphs, the muses, the other wildflowers cry. Narcissus, Hyacinthus, Dimitra, Persephony, Beauty, or evil, the earth: the seasons. life and death, mats and nature, exchange roles and arc interdependent in ancient Greek mythology. Ovid in his “Metamorphoses” transformed them into a poem (epic). The sea world, the waves and dolphins, octopuses and seashells, gave their geometric forms to the decoration of the palaces of Crete and Mycenae. The wildflowers and the thorns became, according to the myth. Corinthian capitals: the helix, natural form of proportionality and growth of life. Offered its image to the ionic capital.
The natural beauty of ancient shrines was exquisite; next to tree-shaded springs, above olive-carpeted valleys, in the shadow of majestic mountains (Delphi), or by rolling rivers (Olympia), looking at the setting sun by the sea (Sounion), and so on. Olympus, the metaphor for the home of the ancient Greek gods, was the country’s highest mountain; Parnassus another mountain of highly articulated beauty, more easily accessible to humans was for the poets the home of their eternal retreat.
Nature had a dual character for the ancients: the “sensual” and the “cosmic.” The first aspect included everything they could see, feel, and experience. They built on the surroundings they could see and feel, they enjoyed, played, prayed to their gods and revered every “natural beauty mark” and every unique natural formation. The second was the remote universe, the cosmos; they tried to grasp it with their minds and express it with their art.
The first was a tangible appreciation, and they built by respecting the tangibles of nature; they conserved it, keeping what was beat for agriculture and livelihood intact, while building houses along the topographic contours, on gentle hills and mountains, in social, economic, and energy- efficient ways. They followed the natural laws of least energy and waste. They learned from their goats and sheep, and followed their paths to cut roads. And they were very careful with their settlements to observe the holy views, east and west, and to place the important buildings of their holy precincts accordingly. The “Atticos tropos of building” (that is. the way they used to build in the province of Attica, where Athens is located) was a way of respecting the laws of natural building, yet at the same time revering views and the holiness of the Athenian cosmos. The view to the
holy Mount of Hymettus to the east was carefully preserved through considerate placement of the Parthenon and the erechtheion, Doxiades found through his measurements that the “Atticos tropos of building” was a universal design practice dependent on the important poles of access to a complex , complex of public buildings or to a holy compound. Most history of architecture texts open with these particular topics. The most sensual and inclusivist of them all is The Earth, the Temple and the Gods, by Vincent Scully.
It was the concern for the intangible side of nature, however, that constituted perhaps the greatest glory of the ancient Greeks; they conceived it sometimes through visible elements, such as the stars, the moon, and the sun; at other times they felt it. Perceiving it as pure spirit often intoxicated by it. Elpenor, one the comrades of Ulysses, lost his life while under the spell of the beauty of heaven filled with stars. He fell of the fiat roof of the adobe where he had lain down to sleep and never returned to his beloved island eternally captive to the land of Circe, sacrifice to the testimony of the celestial adoration. Such personal instances of the inexplicable gave birth to the sciences and philosophy. The whole civilization started as the human effort to communicate and understand the part of nature that was not readily comprehensible. One could say that the whole process of human development and evolution was the product of a love affair with nature; a continuous effort to communicate with its universals and laws, and through them, to communicate with the other human brings.
If one accepts that the essence of aesthetic delight is the ability of a work of art to stimulate similar feelings and emotions in people and to make them communicate with the work of art, and through it with the artist and all the others, then nature is certainly the ultimate communication of aesthetic power.
Cognition of the visible world became possible through the existence of light. Through human attention to nature; it subsequently gave birth to the arts. Leonardo Da Vinci believed in and revered nature. Using words similar to Dante’s he wrote that “painting is the grandchild of nature.” And perceiving nature’s eternal endurance, he went as far as to suggest that “painting endures (as it comes directly from nature), while music dies immediately after the performance.” This suggests his rather fanatical reverence for nature, something that often characterizes those who speak openly on its behalf in theoretical terms. For Leonardo, art should be consistent with nature. His concept of creativity was one of ”inventiveness in maintaining fidelity” with nature.
This attitude was important for it was adopted later in history and generated one of the two major poles of the naturalistic versus abstract inquiry, the dialectic of which brought about the evolution of art. Interrelated with the cognitive power of nature the power that gives the artist the ability to “see,” are the concepts of perception. The eye, and the brain. Both together are the filters of human appreciation of the natural didactics.
There are whole theories suggesting ways to enhance a wholesome development of the two, particularly the mind, and there are suggestions that we perceive differently with the two distinctive sides of the brain. The debate over the eye versus the brain in terms of perceptual supremacy has always preoccupied artists, and frequently affected their work habits, the way they went about studying and sketching nature. The eventual process of their creativity, for Leonardo as well as for Michelangelo, the eye and the brain were more important than the hand, the tool for the ultimate execution of art. Michelangelo wrote: “One paints with the brain, not with the hands,” and he held that “the criterion of art consists not in universal principles, but in individual ones, the concrete judgement of the eye.” He concluded that only after many years of searching and effort is the artist able to embody his thought in stone.
Scores of artists subscribe to the power of the brain; in fact, much of the art done in the studio, away from the immediacy of the object that might have stimulated a work, is due to the training of the eye to see, and the ability of the brain to store and carry the visions for some time, waiting for the moment of eventual expression. Wassily Kundinsky said in this regard when speaking about his childhood that he could see with his brain. He passed his exams in statistics only when he managed to see and register the whole page in his brain. He applied this technique to his study of nature; he loved it, wandered around it, saw and stored it in his brain: “Years later manage to paint a landscape much better through my memory in the studio rather than staring at it in the countryside
We wholly endorse these attitudes and suggest that one should ask oneself to just “see,’ and al our personal perception an”’ try to “explain’ what one sees. It will be our personal explanation of things that will eventually prepare us to enter into the broader debate at the highest levels of aesthetics. And we must learn to see what interests us as architects the most: the shapes, the formations of the various natural entities, the light and its filtering through the elements, the materials. Both architects and artists of the calibre of the ones cited here have looked into nature as part ot’ their immediate interests. We can safely suggest that the cinematographer is at this time the more inclusivist, since the filtering of light through the atmosphere is perhaps more important than the marble was in the time of Michelangelo.
Michelangelo believed that the form the artist imparts to his material. preexists not only in the mind of the artist, but also in the material. The artist is therefore in an ongoing metaphysical struggle with the form and the secrets of nature, a process of disciplined discovery through which he or she tries to find the commonality of the form that was in his or her brain as well as hidden in the material. Perhaps this was all Frank Lloyd Wright was trying to say when he addressed the subject. Only Wright, though an extraordinary lover of nature, never found the extraordinary nature of materials the way Michelangelo did. He occasionally failed. contrary to his claim to understand. Perhaps architects are doomed to failure because of 40 the peculiar nature of the discipline. It has to deal with many materials, as opposed to the one (or the very few) of the sculptor, yet Wright as well as the many other architects who sought to learn through nature, learned many of its secrets, the many aspects of the blending of nature with the site, the placement of a building on it. its orientation, the thermal and climatic repercussions. Sometimes even the formal aspects of architectonic genesis.
THE CONCEPT OF THE ROMANTIC
Humans, especially primitive humans, lived wisely with nature. Some great works of art, poetry, literature, and architecture have been the results of our absolute love and longing for a symbiotic relationship with nature. There were times when this love took the form of art movements, as was the case with what is known as the Romantic movements in art and architectural history. These issues must be addressed carefully because the didactics and usefulness of’ nature as a design channel are dependent on the well conceived as opposed to what we consider to be the ill-conceived appreciation of the Romantic lens.
The second, the fifteenth, and the nineteenth centuries experienced Romantic attitudes in the arts—literature, poetry, and music, as well as architecture became fascinated with an artistic sensibility toward the remote, the distant—both in time and place—to the strange and unfamiliar rather than the current, the relevant, and the familiar. Artists revered the past, the strange, the exotic, and the summary of all the Romantic movements, both in Europe and later in America. Was ancient Greece, and the attitude of its people toward nature.
It can be easy to oppose romanticism, especially on the grounds of expediency and currency it is more difficult, however, to understand that its probably the dissatisfaction with the compromises and solutions of the contemporary practices that brings people to dissociation from the status quo and its operations and makes them seek answers elsewhere, times, when things were always “better.” One could build out of compassion a very strong argument in favor of all the romantic people of the past and the present if one were to admit the unpleasantness of today and make just a simple suggestion about the beauty of ancient Athens and its contemporary counterpart. Yet one could make an equally strong argument against such attitudes based on unrealistic romantic propositions, the antiquarianism at their base and the danger of submitting the present to cults of the extinct. We realize all this, and yet we prefer to take the attitude that romanticism has been a soothing antidote to the vulgarities of the trivial and the occasional shelter of those who always believed in a better, poetic, and idealized world.
We regard the various Romantic movements as the constant opposition to the trivial, the compromised professional, the strictly con-structural and the one-sided. Anyone who believes as I do, as Cassirer and Vico did. That human creativity is largely dependent on the mythical and the primordial, will have to be a Romantic of sorts. Anybody who believes that architecture should satisfy the emotions above all else is a Romantic of sorts. In this sense, all the Romantics and Romantic movements, especially in architecture, performed an extraordinary role in bringing architecture back to poetry, helping to push architecture a step forward and away from the trivial. Nothing is lost in this sense, as the critical resolution of the arguments from either side will eventually bring about new understanding and critical evolution.
Arcadia, one of the real provinces of the Peloponnesus took on mythical dimensions in the minds of Romantics of all centuries, symbolizing the idealized element in nature. Arcadia and Paradise became synonymous, and poets such as Milton attempted to capture it in words. Arcadia, or what became in the longings of mortals “the Arcadian dream,” symbolized the ideal natural environment of a happy existence in nature, as opposed to “Pandemonium,” the “disorderly and incomprehensible landscape.” an environment of claustrophobic building. “inadequate to contain the angels,” with inappropriate lighting and a chemical atmosphere.
The most significant theoreticians and aesthetes of the pass, especially John Ruskin and Geoffrey Scott, aligned themselves with nature and cook an active part in the Romantic issue, either as advocates (Ruskin) or opposers (Geoffrey Scott). Ruskin is more significant for architects because he saw ways so look at nature from every possible angle—by searching through landscapes, clouds. The mountain, or looking at details such as the petals of flowers, birds, or natural “obscurities” such as the eagle’s nest. The sketches Ruskin did are paradigmatic of the discipline every designer should have. Scott became Ruskin’s opposition, charging him with diverting attention from the present through a focus on the antiquarian and the remote, what he described as the “fallacy of romanticism.” Scott’s criticism was only one incident in the ongoing dialectic of the evolution of ideas about the influence and effect of nature on architecture and the arts, The two key poles of this debate have been nature on the one hand and the man-made on the other.
Although romanticism has come to have rather negative connotations today, especially to chose who are committed to reality, it has been an ingredient in the making of almost all the important architects of this century. All of them have been Romantics of sorts in the natural, Arcadian. and didactic sense. The best among them have had a very clear and concrete understanding of the era they lived in. None of the pioneering architects of the twentieth century were Romantics in the antiquarian sense, although all of them were Romantic with regard to the idea of the Arcadian, the Paradisiac.
WELL-CONCEIVED ATITUDES TOWARD NATURE: FROM THE POETIC SULLIVANESQIJE TO AALTO INCLIJSIVISM
The examples of Louis Sullivan. Frank Lloyd Wright. Le Corbusier, Eliel Saarinen. Gunnar Asplund, and Alvar Aalto assure us today that to be a Romantic in the non-antiquarian sense does not represent a fallacy or a weakness. On the contrary, it strengthens architecture, enriching it with feeling and sensibility. We will call such appreciation of nature a case of “the well-conceived Romantic.” The attitude accompanied by antiquarian formal expressionism we would classify as “ill-conceived.” The first sign of a person’s “well-conceived” Romantic impulses is to make it a goal to seek exceptional natural surroundings for his or her own habitat. Given the opportunity, all creative people seek living in nature as a means to fruitful inspiration. Architects and poets are primary examples. Those who, for one reason or another, could not achieve a personal habitat in exceptional natural surroundings took to the road to discover the secrets of nature and the uniqueness of the land. Walt Whitman and John Steinbeck are examples.
It is not accidental that most creative artists seek exceptional natural surroundings for their own habitat. Picasso, in a sense, equated nature to his art and to his goal of life. When he bought his estate in southern France. he called his dealer in Paris to inform him that he had purchased a Cezanne. The dealer asked, “Which one?” Picasso replied. “The original.” He had just bought a property in a landscape that had been drawn repeatedly by Cezanne.
George Braque. Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee. and a great many other painters, as well as architects such as Luis Barragan, Lawrence Halprin, Dimitrios Pikionis. and Miguel Angel Roes, have learned from nature and demonstrated its lessons through their work and writings. Sketching nature and natural formations has been their favorite way of studying living in close proximity with nature for prolonged periods of time has been equally significant. Sometimes, a special association with nature became a turning point in an artist’s life. This was the case with Kandinsky. He had always felt that his personal ability was weaker than anything done by nature. He finally got reassurance and strength from trips to the Russian countryside and prolonged study and observation of its lines and planes, and their intensity and definition.
Yet I believe that nobody sees nature in more dynamic ways than architects, because they are looking at it from so many more points of view. They care about the ways and laws of the construction of the various natural elements, and they care equally about the “whys” of the changes and the dynamism of natural phenomena. The reciprocal relationship of architects with nature has occurred at the intangible as well as the tangible levels. They have reacted to it intangibly
• Through metaphoric inspiration Through mental association
• Through ascetic reliance, personal adoration, and even personal “sacrifice”
They has reacted Co it tangibly
• Through buildings integrated with the lines of the terrain, in plan as well as in section
• Through “enhancement:” of the lines of the terrain by opposing lines to those of the predominant configuration of the site, or by creating tension to neutral and uninspiring natural conditions.
• Through direct man-made opposition to the terrain, in plan or in plan and section
• Through total subordination to nature leaving the terrain profile intact, while berming” or “submerging” the building.
• Through unification of the interior with the exterior, either through view and fenestration strategies. Or through incorporation of elements of the exterior in the interior
• Through reliance on materials
• Through imitative traction, as follows: literal interpretation of nature, or substantial/existential interpretation of qualities and laws of nature
• Through an “inclusivist” reaction, where all of the above merge into one interrelated system of reciprocal relationships, incorporating both intangible as well as tangible considerations.
It has been customary to study all of these possibilities through refer- mice to examples from vernacular and regional architecture. We suggest here attention to cases of specific architects of this century. Rather than to the vernacular model, because we believe it is more important to study nature through examples of people who work within the highly pragmatic. The urban, and the technological. The framework for the professional involvement of most architects anyhow.
Louis Sullivan will always be among the greatest architects, a great pragmatist and innovator, yet one who saw nature in its most dynamic spiritual and metaphoric way. He “saw” the storm, the various seasons. He let the moods of the epochs affect his spirit. This gave “mood” and “dynamic quality” to his own work. He speaks of the silence, the bare and dusky trees, the melancholy of the day. He makes observations that only ascetics make. He meditates:
What ineffable, what unspeakable sadness here! What Miserere is Nature chanting, here, with numberless voices unbearable to our ears?”
And he equates the depression of winter to the sorrow of art throughout the land. After the sadness of winter, “Spring, Spring’s the epoch of Creation!” But Sullivan also needs winter—the oppressive, unpleasant situation of the sad; he will try his soul, he will test his strength and fortify his courage.
In the process of testing, understanding, trying to understand the spirit of nature. Sullivan will become a poet. His own master showed him unhappiness in order to help him become an interpreter, a poet. In return, he will pass his passion onto others: Frank Lloyd Wright. his most important disciple, will continue this tradition, but he will get a lot more involved with the tangible; he will tell his own apprentices “Stop reading books and do nothing but study nature and sketch.” He will further suggest them to continually and eternally sketch the forms of the tree. “A man who can sketch from memory the different trees with their characteristics faithfully portrayed will be a good architect!”
It has been well documented that Frank Lloyd Wright revered nature and regarded it as the source of inspiration for his organic architecture. The word “nature” was frequent in his speeches, and two of his major written works, The Natural House and It, the Nature of Materials, revolved around the concepts of natural construction, symbiosis and natural harmony. He complemented nature and referred to it occasionally in order to codify his architecture. This was the case with his prairie style, inspired by the prairie to whose planes he tried to respond through an emphasis on the horizontal.
Unlike Louis Sullivan, whose love for nature resulted in naturalistic decorative motifs on otherwise robust buildings, Frank Lloyd Wright remains to this day the architect par excellence whore buildings have an absolutely symbiotic integration with nature. We can hardly find a stronger case of integration of the man-made with the natural than Wright’s house for the Kaufmann family O Bear Run. Pennsylvania. This house, also known as Fallingwater. is interwoven with rocks, vegetation, and the water, and set in a terrain of uncommon natural irregularity and dynamism.
In this instance Wright achieved integration with nature via the strategy of opposition. dynamic cantilevers. straight lines, and abundant use of glass in direct conjunction with natural materials such as stone. He achieved complementarity with nature in several other projects and in several other ways: in Taliesin East, via decisive Cartesian composition, in close juxtaposition with free-standing trees, bushes, and free-flowing elements of the terrain of the estate, outside the boundaries of the “house” proper. In Taliesin West in Arizona. the harmony came through the strategy of consonance; the lines of the buildings follow the lutes of the desert, acting as a horizontal summarizing reference for the irregular skyline of the desert hills in the background. The materials—desert stone, wood, and canvas—act as regional catalysts. uniting the building with the place and the “light” of the region. In his Mann County Civic Canter. he worked with nature by “subordinating” it: The linear buildings of the complex literally “crawl” over the serene hills of the terrain, elevating the whole into a harmonious combination of the man-made with the natural. He showed the possibility of total integration with nature through absolute submergence via buildings that are berming into the landscape (house for Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Jacobs in Middleton, Wisconsin) or others that were totally underground.
Wright attempted to universalize his love for nature and to transfer his own compassion to the American people. He wanted them to reach a life of natural and technological compatibility, His planning theory (Broadacre City) had nature at its foundation, a fact that made critics charge him with anti—urbanism and agrarian irrelevance, Wright’s affinity for nature comes across as an affair of total inclusivity. the “graduate” state of the human— nature interaction, where many possible strategies can coexist in every instance with the possibility for harmonious coexistence in each and every one of them, provided the dominating synthetic spirit derives its power from nature.
Contemporary cultures that exhibit a rather “religious” attitude toward nature are the japanese and the Scandinavian. The former has affected Frank Lloyd Wright. while the latter is best epitomized by the work of Alvar Aalto, The Mediterranean Basin has stimulated a rather diverse reaction of people toward their environment, and the human-nature equation often appears as a resolution of antithetical and often severe relationships. Sometimes with “love—hate” dimensions. We can have a sense of the broad regional relationships between human and nature if we look at the ways through which some of the most important architects of our century regarded nature, and how the mobility afforded by our era and the architects’ exposure to various natural surroundings and natural didactics has affected design strategies.
COMPLEMENTARY THROUGH ANTITHESIS
A rather peculiar case of architect—nature interaction .Appeared in the preceding list of tangibles. Antithesis has frequently been considered polemical, and architects who attempted buildings that oppose the silhouette of the terrain have been often considered enemies of nature. Using this generalization, most classical architecture, including the siting of the Parthenon and of other ancient temples. would be anti—natural. We are about to argue that the picturesque or the “appearing natural” are not necessarily natural and that it is indeed possible for a highly tectonic-looking form, a man-made form if you wish, to be more in tune with nature if ii follows its laws, if it has internal and structural logic, and if it is the result of a “ cosmotheoritical ” approach to architecture.
Cubism and the whole Mediterranean attitude has been an affair with the nature of Complementation through antithesis. It is the case of the geometric solid placed decisively on the natural terrain. Next to Braque and Picasso. it is Le Corbusier who is more significant for the architect in this respect. Born in natural surroundings of exceptional beauty. he was trained to love nature, to live with his classmates in the mountains of the Ura region, to sketch the trees and flowers and even to make resolutions about building monuments dedicated to nature. Both his father and his teacher at the school of art in La Chaux-de-Fonds were instrumental in guiding his attention and opening his eyes coward nature. The early sketches of leaves and flora inspired some of the decorative motifs of the Villa Fallet, one of the earliest projects of the young Le Corbusier. But we believe that the significance of his early expeditions to the mountains and the nature of Switzerland became apparent much later. when he had seen other lands and become spellbound by the intoxicating effect of the exotic Mediterranean.
We believe that it was the confining feeling of living in the subliminal spell of the Swiss landscape—humans moving in the sharply defined space between mountains—that made the youth seek other, perhaps more “liberating,’ spatial experiences in other lands. Le Corbusier had known the finite (spatially finite) through Switzerland. and he found the infinite (spatially infinite) in the Mediterranean. in the Greek islands. These exceptional physical environments complemented his palette on nature. Years lacer, the majestic mass of Mount Athos and Missolongi. subliminally “floating’ on the calm of the infinite Mediterranean horizon, were transformed into the mass of the Marseilles block, the project for Algiers. or the government center of Chandigarh. The vast open spaces between the “mountain”-like buildings were playing the role of the calm sea and infinity.
Although others have argued in favor of natural insensitivity, the creation of machine objects and the anti-natural through the evident sharpness of the opposition. I am inclined to suggest that Le Corbusier. On the contrary, attempted the creation of a new state of natural equilibrium, an intermarriage of sorts: The marriage of the two landscapes of the extreme, directly out of the storage of his subconscious, the “finite” of the Swiss Alps and the “infinite” of the Mediterranean. I believe that if I were to speak of I.e Corbusier’s god, I would have to conclude it was nature. It was that richness he sought, those green and open spaces.
“Sun. Space, Green” became Le Corbusier’s pursuit. Homes and cities had to include all three. Poetry was the means through which he sought nature. Le Corbusier’s architecture was the product of a searching youth. one who looked for more than what surrounded him upon birth. His reaction to nature was universal, not regional, and so he dealt with it abstractly, often failing, or at least failing in the eyes of those who understand the human—nature interaction only as a symbiotic relationship similar to those achieved by Wright and subsequently Alvar Aalto and the other good regional architects of the world.
NATURAL INCLUSIVITY AND THE REGIONAL INGREDIENT
There is no doubt that the nature of Scandinavia, its climate and seasonal adversities, played a significant role in the unique affinity of its architects with nature. All three major pioneers, Eliel Saarinen, Gunnar Asplund, and Alvar Aalto, had personal relationships and personal attitudes toward flu—cure covering all aspects of synthetic and creative considerations, so as to be typical of the model 0f inclusivism.
For EliC1 Saarinen, who had no canonical design background. nature provided a major source of learning. Along with his associates. Herman Gesellius and Armas Lindrgren, he learned everything he came to know about materials from nature. Such direct naturalistic learning inspired projects distinguished for their rusticated textures, something that appears to those who do not know as Romantic. Yet such a characterization would be unfair, as these architects created honestly, for the region, whatever they had seen and observed in the region. Theirs was not an academic abstraction, but a direct imitation of nature—Nature as they saw it and Nature as they found it expressed in the Kalevala, the epic poem of Finland. Hvitträsk, Eliel Saarinen’s studio/communal residence, is the best example of the possibility for direct learning from nature and natural symbiosis (with terrain, materials and climate). Although Hvittrãsk may deceive many as Romantic, no one would think the works of Gunnar Asplund and Alvar Aalto Romantic. Both architects were influenced by nature through immediate observations and a spiritual appreciation. This was coupled with a disposition to accept the technological, an attitude that leaves no doubt as to where they stood with regard to formal imitation and romanticism.
Alvar Aalto considered Gunnar Asplund “the foremost among architects.” In a eulogic commentary following Asplund’s death and published in the magazine Arkkitehti in 1940, he called Asplund’s affinity for nature a source of inspiration and a path to creativity. Recollecting a personal experience with Asplund while visiting the latter’s Scandia Theater a few days before it was completed, he pointed out Asplund’s comment regarding his inspiration for the indigo-colored interior with the yellow light fixtures:
“While I was building this I thought of autumn evenings and yellow leaves,” said Asplund. It is through reference to Asplund’s love and reliance on nature that Aalto eventually states his own conception of the art of architecture as an architecture for “the unknown human.” Nature and architecture are inseparable: “the art of architecture continues to have inexhaustible resources and means which flow directly from nature and the inexplicable reactions of human emotions” (Aalto, 1979).
There is no doubt that Aalto himself had exactly what he had perceived as the great qualities of Gunnar Asplund. And there is no doubt, that these two Scandinavian architects represent two key personalities whose work proves inexhaustible possibilities for creativity through the path of nature. Alvar Aalto lived much longer and did many more projects than Asplund to make his own case and to distinguish himself as the major architect from Europe whose creativity largely depended on his love and study of the visual characteristics and secrets of nature. He followed many strategies when dealing with nature, including topographical integration through consonance, integration through the use of materials, strategic incorporation of materials to enhance interior—exterior harmony (Villa Mairca), and even the strategy of natural enhancement, for he believed the building should sometimes become its own landscape (as in the cases of the roof of the Lapia house in Rovaniemi. and the pyramidal roof of the lecture hall! engineering building at the Otaniemi Institute of Technology). Aalto sketched and painted nature constantly, and he had very strong exposure to its temperament through living, fishing, and hunting in the countryside of his native Jyvaskyla since early childhood.
He had learned to revere and treat nature as an equal. One cannot survive in the harsh Scandinavian landscape if one does not respect nature. Because of this deep knowledge. Aalto addressed issues of substance (the protection of the joints from natural adversities, the use of the right materials, the use of local materials that fit the regional climate, and so on). He went as far as the use of metaphors from nature (particularly evident in several of his buildings), never resorting to a literal interpretation of the natural, a weakness observed in the efforts of several of his disciples.
DISCIPLINING THE INTANGIBLE INTO THE NATURALLY TANGIBLE
Reima Pictili is one of Alvar Aalto’s most celebrated disciples. He designed buildings inspired directly by metaphors from nature, and frequently resorted to literal interpretations of natural forms. His earliest such building, the Dipoli student union at the university of Otaniemi—Helsinki. was inspired by the natural metaphor of the primitive cave,” a shelter where the student, a contemporary primitive, searches for knowledge and truth. Pietilã, a “primitive hunter” himself, views creativity as a case of survival; the architect is in search of game in the jungle of ideas. Several of his buildings look like caves, undulating lakes, waving sand dunes, spiraling winds. It is admirable that the brilliant sketches of one of the most complex imaginations of the era have been translated into buildings; but the transformation of natural looking buildings into reality is a costly and unlikely “natural” proposition. For the mere fact that nature uses the law of least energy, whereas one must spend extraordinary amounts of energy to construct the natural—looking, irregular forms of the imagination Any architectural form. no matter how much it may resemble a form that can be found in nature, or no matter how charming it may be as a statement of architectonic expressionism (as is the case with the plans of the Pietila buildings that Come across as the brushstrokes of an Expressionist painter) is inappropriate and “unnatural” if the laws of nature must be violated for its creation
The basic laws of nature that are absolutely relevant to architecture are following:
The law of gravity
The law of least energy
The law of attraction of opposites
The law of habitat (symbiosis, complementabilty of regional item
The Law of time of life cycle (infancy-grow-reproduction-maturity-decay. death)
Of course, the human goal has been to defy death; yet “immortality” in architecture is achieved, we believe, much more easily through the tested natural strategy of adherence to the laws of nature. Rather than by resorting to a literal interpretation of its forms. The metaphor can take us away from the pitfall of the literal, as it can claim its ideal through words, without negating the architectural goal of implementability and the need to build. So it is appropriate ate here to stress the superiority of the metaphor as a creative channel, as opposed to the literal. Architects who looked at nature through the broadest metaphorical lens, and who made buildings through straightforward architectural and construction techniques, are on the best track of the creative channel. Jorn Utzon is a case in point. He has been vet-v sensitive in his response to the pragmatic circumstantial requirements of nature in the microscale (making his forms and spatial decisions respond accordingly). while he has achieved buildings of communal and monumental significance inspired by natural metaphors. but transformed into most imposing complexes of up—to—the-minute building technology and perfection. Utzon “graduated” from the expressionistic Sydney Opera House to efle highly tectonic Bagsvaerd Church near Copenhagen. where the sky inspired metaphor of the interior space has been achieved through the straightforward means of post and beam construction and industrial technology.
TEACING (ING STRATEGIES)
Teaching strategies in the design studio should include the following;
1. The study of and exposure to architects who, like Utzon, Le Corbusier, and Asplund, produce buildings that do not have natural-looking form, but chat logically and through materials ate derived from and related to nature. These precedents are appropriate for what we consider to be the well-conceived model of imitation of nature. Imitation of nature should mean understanding and imitating the laws of nature, not its forms.
2. Exhaustive discussion on the prevailing laws that were at work in the generation of a particular form of nature should play a dominant role in the creative process when dealing with natural phenomena.
3. The studio should include paradigms of works by Frank Lloyd Wright and Alvar Aalto that have been totally integrated or that complement nature in subdued, non opposing ways, even though, in certain in- stances, their forms may act to extend or complete the image and silhouette of landscape configuration.
4. Discussions of regionalism, and reference to typical regional architectures, vernacular or contemporary, should be part of the same inquiry. The core of this discussion should focus on materials and their performance due to climatic constraints, lighting intensity, and the textural peculiarities of a region.
5. The fifth category that should be discussed hat to do with paradigms of buildings that are totally “absorbed” by nature, “bermed.” or even buried in their terrain. Works by many energy-concerned architects should be used, along with the habitats of subterranean animals. The architect should constantly ask her or himself questions of a psychological nature, such as; How would I feel if I were to spend my life underground?
HABITS, TECHNIQUES, AND TOOLS OF TEACHING
The major thrust of the teaching strategy will be devoted to the direct storage process. And to the direct sketching from nature. Sketches must be done with time, effort, and discipline. Activities such as backpacking, group expeditions, mountaineering, hiking and sailing, always with sketchbook at hand, are most important. The extraordinary camaraderie that develops among the members of a studio that “adopts” a particular landscape, a mountain, or the coast of an island for the study of nature becomes a lifelong experience; personal observations, accompanied by memories, discussions, and incidents from the experiences of the group give an extraordinary human dimension to the sketches, each one of which acts as a catalyst between the divinity of nature upon sight and the human condition on the earth.
Such dynamics have been known and practiced by some of the best and most sensitive design instructors of all time and, astonishingly enough, of very different design inclinations. Highly sensitive and poetic instructors such as Dimitrios Pikionis, Robert Walters. and the diametrically ‘opposite Mies van der Robe sought such instructive situations for their design students through the islands of Greece, the mesas of New Mexico. and the valleys of Switzerland. Pikionis tried to make his students unravel the secrets of the microscale, the architectonic detail, the simple but so substantial element of nature, the flowers and the olive trees. Walters asked them to make buildings and cities through observation, sketching, meditation, and transformations of the rock formations of the desert and the mesas of New Mexico and Arizona. Mies would invite them to his Swiss country home and give them specific sites for on-the-spot exercises on the human- nature interaction.
These examples suggest the universality of the spell of nature for diverse people. It is the overall common denominator for all designers who must feel down deep chat encountering the secrets of nature brings one into direct contact with the highest creator of them all.
Sketching and drawing are indispensable to any process of teaching through nature. Very important theoreticians and architects of the past, such as Viollet-le-Duc, John Ruskin, and Le Corbusier, occupied themselves with direct drawing from nature and natural formations. John Rus— kin is very significant for the student, because his study of natural form covered a wide range, including written analysis of his personal explanations for the reasons and the phenomena that caused certain forms to happen. The formation of the rocks and. their typological varieties, the curves of waves and leaves, the wings of birds, and the formation of the clouds kept him exploring. Ruskin has shown a way that can be followed by everyone: to make constant theory about the object under observation, always with the goal of transferring the lessons to the man-made artifact or the work of art.
The study of 1eave by Ruskin is perhaps more relevant for the architect. He has shown us how this simple detail of nature can be the key to the making of a building or a city. The drawing of a leaf becomes much easier if one observes the stems, the nodes, and the branching arteries than if one were to draw the outline of the leaf’s shape. Drawing a leaf can help one conceive a building not as the arbitrary outline of exterior silhouette, but rather as something determined by its organizational structure, the circulation and the movements inside it. The study of a mountain can be equally relevant. Through a variety of depictions. Including the naturalistic sketch, the cubic representation (where the various masses are individualized and express the role of individual parts to the whole), or the drafting of negative space, (the sky above the mountain peak and the shadows on its sides), it can reveal the interrelationship of positive and negative and the dependency of a building on its surroundings. One could finally extract details out of the whole, assign them size and function, thus training the eye and stimulating the spirit to the fit between form—function—scale as related to possible structural implications.
Le Corbusier held that nature will not reveal its secrets unless you are willing to take the time to see and study it. Le Corbusier saw in the direct drawing a means of creating. He loathed the camera, “a tool for the idlers who use a machine to do their seeing for them,” while he held that “to draw oneself, to trace the lines, handle the volumes, organize the surface
- all this means first to look and then to observe and finally perhaps to dicover and it is then that inspiration may come.” For Lc Corbusier, to draw on one’S own was the real and truthful education, the way out of the fallacies and the perpetuation of myths in textbooks.
The candid and honest student, after much exposure and disciplined effort to draw and “see” nature from as many angles as possible. will probably conclude that not everything thus derived can be constructed, that it might be extremely difficult and uneconomic to attempt to structure such forms, and that one ought to adhere to the laws of nature rather than defy them. It is the structural and construction impossibility which handicaps most of the literal derivations from nature that finally brings discipline into the process and prudence into the final decision.
The route .to creativity through direct observation of nature, even imitative abstraction and exaggeration of scale, can be exceedingly rewarding. The instructor should attempt at least one comprehensive design exercise (including going and living for some time with the studio group on the natural site) to explore its possibilities.
Nature influences many channels of architectural creativity. It is ever- present and unclassifiable, powerful inspirationally and as a tool. Its presence is obvious in metaphor, in mimesis, in transformation, in materials. People and architects have revered and studied it since ancient times, sometimes in well-conceived ways, other times not. This chapter addresses nature in light of the concepts of “Romantic,” “pragmatic,” “tangible,” “intangible,” and through broad reference to the strategies of “dealing with nature” used by architects such as Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright. Le Corbusier, Eliel Saarinen, Gunnar Asplund, Alvar Aalto, Reima Pictilä, and Jorn Utzon. The focus is on the tangible and imitative didactics of nature. The stress is on the need to sketch from nature, to acquire the habit of experiencing varying natural surroundings and attempting design exercises with nature as the focus.