Tag Archives: NATURE

#176: THROWING A CURVE BALL

September 29, 2023

Absolute World Towers, Ontario, Canada (photo by Tom Arban)

Drafting tools (photo by Anthony Poon)

In the good ol’ days of architecture, walls were straight, flat, and perpendicular. With the introduction of drafting triangles, we were excited to draw walls that were angled. But drawing a curve was tricky. Those French curve templates had limits.

With today’s drafting and 3D technology, we can throw a curve ball at the past and explore simple bends, compound curves, organic forms of all shapes and sizes.

Yurt and igloo (photos by Yang Shuo, Unsplash and from buyersask.com)

For vernacular houses, such as a yurt or igloo, curved surfaces were not an indulgence of the architect’s ego. Rather, common sense coupled with the laws of nature resulted in rounded shapes, wind resistance, structural efficiency and reduction of wasted materials.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum , New York, New York, (photo by Nicholas Ceglia, Unsplash)

Frank Lloyd Wright explored curves, but as pure circles and arcs—meaning, as simple forms limited by the tools of the trade and indifference to the Avant-garde. As graceful as Wright’s Guggenheim museum is, the design is carefully composed compared to the fluidity and excess we see with today’s explorations with curvature.

Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, New York, New York (photo by Iwan Baan)

I remember in architectural school (here and here), teachers of limited imagination associated curvaceous forms with the woman students, stating supposed allegiance to sensual “feminine” shapes. On the other hand, straight lines were hard and masculine, even threatening. For children, a protruding right-angled corner of a coffee table could be literally dangerous, as compared to a voluptuous round table—thought of as maternal even. In 1909, American psychologist Kate Gordon Moore argued, “Curves are in general felt to be more beautiful than straight lines. They are more graceful and pliable, and avoid the harshness of some straight lines.”

Wood Ribbon Apartment, Paris, France (photo by Salem Moustefaoui)

Recent brain scan studies have shown how curves in architecture contribute to positive emotional experiences and psychological health and calm. The opposite results: Corners, straight walls and perpendicular lines bring upon a sense of fear, such as with a sharp weapon.

Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, California (photo by Ashim D’Silva, Unsplash)

One reason for our allegiance to curved surfaces and forms lies in nature, which contains more curves than straight lines. And the field of Biophilia has demonstrated our instinctive desire for nature and the resulting well-being and happiness. Similarly, the human face—its shapes and forms—contains curves. A joyful smile is one of the most powerful and elemental curve.

Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (photo by David Castro)

Perhaps for centuries, we have favored softer forms—walls that curve, roofs that bend and structures that arc. Thanks to today’s technology, we can explore the curvaceous shapes within our imagination, then represent them on the computer screen or on paper. Technology allows the architect and engineer to develop curvy ideas as virtually implementable in brick and mortar. And it is technology that ultimately allows a builder to construct the curved shapes in reality.

Museo Internacional del Barroco , Puebla, Mexico (from washingtonpost.com)

I conclude with Jessica Rabbit and her explanation of her curvaceousness, “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.”

Hillside House, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Anthony Poon)

#96: OUR DESIRE FOR NATURE

February 15, 2019

Park Royal, Singapore (photo from geekchicblogger.blogspot.com)

Biophilic Design refers to our instinctive association to nature and the resulting architecture that enhances our well-being. It has been suggested that Biophilic Design offers a healthy and productive existence, as well as happiness and joy.

Thorncrown Chapel, Eureka Springs, Arkansas (photo from inhabitat.com)

Goals for this prevalent design movement include the generous use of landscape inside and out, abundance of natural and artificial light, organic materials and textures, good indoor air quality and ventilation, and thermal and acoustic comfort—just to name a few. And our biophilia, meaning our love of nature, extends beyond architecture.

The Spheres at Amazon, Seattle, Washington (left photo from aarbmagazine.com; right photo from ar15.com)

Monster companies, such as Amazon, Facebook and Google, use Biophilic Design to offer a healthier, happier and more productive work environment. This we know; so let’s expand our discussion of design and the creative arts, beyond the built environment.

Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, by Ansel Adams, 1944

From photography to vintage botanical prints, from classical painters to amateurs—capturing nature in two dimensions have driven artists for centuries.

Botanical art, left: giclee prints (photo from etsy.com): right: Sweet Orange (art from thegraphicsfairy.com)
(photo by Polina Belyaeva)

Similarly, sculptors are drawn to the forces and mysteries of our natural environment. Here, installation artist/sculptor, Patrick Dougherty, combines his love of natural materials with his background as a carpenter.

left: Na Hale ‘Eo Waiawi,’ by Patrick Dougherty 2003 (photo by Paul Kodama); right: artist at work (photo by Smithsonian Magazine)

Looking to the surrounding landscape for ideas, the world of fashion and glamour draws upon themes, patterns and colors in our natural world.

Shoes by Pierre Hardy, Summer 2015, from “Force of Nature” at the Museum at FIT (photo by Eileen Costa)
Dresses of nature: left by Yiqing Yin, Fall/Winter, 2012; right by Alexander McQueen, Spring/Summer 2012

A popular icon of body art, flora/fauna is prevalent in the tattoo culture.

Nature in tattoos (left photo from Pinterest; right photo by Little Tattoos)

Similar to tattoos, the two-dimensional imagery of nature and its associated visual power provide graphic designers an infinite palette.

Nature in graphic design (left photo from amazon.com, right art by Peter Fox)

In baking a cake, rarely are these flowers real. They are usually just cream, butter and sugar. The origin of this longstanding decorating theme is unknown. Why does a wedding or birthday cake need to have flowers all over it? Why not birds and butterflies?

Nature in baking (photo from weddbook.com)

With his Sixth Symphony, known as the Pastoral Symphony, Beethoven choose to compose in a countryside setting, allowing the comforts of nature, its vibes and currents, to move him to write classical music. Other composers, such as Vivaldi, captured the abstract character of each season through melody, harmony and rhythm.

Music inspired by nature, left: The Four Seasons, by Antonio Vivaldi, 1723; middle: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, by Claude Debussy, 1894; right: Pastoral Symphony, by Ludwig van Beethoven, 1808

Whether a painting or a wedding cake, whether a building or a tattoo, Biophilia and biophilic design occupies our every day. In his 1984 book, Biophilia, Harvard professor, E.O. Wilson, introduced the concept, that we all have “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.” Then he gave it a name, associated it with architecture and design, and we now have the moniker to label our innate love for nature: Biophilia.

Final note. Not everyone chooses biophilic design. In my article, White on White on White , we see that some do not seek a comfy house made of rustic wood and covered in vines. Rather, some individuals desire the modernity of a steel and glass, white house—ordered, abstract, simple, removed from the common traits found in our evolving nature and its living organisms.

© Poon Design Inc.