The diversity of Mother Nature has through evolution always surprised by giving many intrinsic forms which still continue to emerge. Intact nature provides not only dynamic and unusual organic shapes but also delivers liquids which are essential for our existence and have been a challenging inspiration in architecture and design. These organic materials can dictate the shape of an environment and a form of a design. Liquids can be metaphorically interpreted as continuous curved lines which adapt to fluid materials where in the built world the complexity of curvatures remains intact but the materials used are mostly solid. The result of such forms is an organic, nonlinear composition whether it is applied to the interior or to the exterior.
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The term organic denotes a living entity but in terms of architecture may sometimes refer to dynamic, curved or fluid designs although it should really mean the type of architecture that relates or consists of living matters. This dissertation will mostly convey terms such as fluid, liquid, curvilinear, curved and complex curvatures in terms of a shape in the fields of design and architecture. All of these in relationship with solid materials can have different and unrepeatable experience of a space. This fluidity deviates from straight lines and right angles, forms which we are used to in everyday life, therefore fluid spaces might bring innovations in the perception of architecture and interior spaces.
There are many important factors whether such fluid architecture inspired by liquids and organic forms will be tangible in the future, these factors are technology, knowledge, concept, but the most important feature will be the acceptance of these new forms. The initial idea for this dissertation sources from the fact that the evolution of the human species started in a liquid. As this theory has become more applicable in the past decade with extravagant designs it could be extensively developed and may even become a solution in the future of architecture and design. Complex organic forms, underwater hotels, liquid materials etc, are becoming a challenge for architects and an interest for the people. There are some creative architects who are discovering new areas of such complexity and materiality throughout a design and their works will be explained in the following chapters. Some architects actively participate in the progression of design and some remain at making conceptual statements only. If the latter becomes a reality it will also depend on the perception of an individual. This perception and emotions together with functionality will be introduced with curvatures in relation to materials from primitive men, ancient Greece to current architecture. On one hand, some tendencies of using curvatures in a space came naturally because of the endless organic environment but on the other hand, it still feels unnatural. It seems that a straight line has always dominated and has become universal in architecture, therefore the interest lies in curvilinear spaces and their effect on its users. Some spaces can be so exaggerated with complexity that they can give a melting effect. This illusion has also brought about new ideas of a space where rigid furniture coincides with solid architecture, therefore blurring the lines between unusual and traditional lives. Uncertainties and challenges in the human perception of such spaces could be potentiated with real liquids. Perhaps strong, utopian and futuristic ideas will force technology, design and architecture to stop mimicking liquids and start controlling them.
Importance of materials in relationship with nonlinearity
Curves and the inspiration from curvatures come from nature, which deviates from straightness and existed on Earth long before a straight line. Curves could be found in the shapes of mountains, trees, shadows and also of the human body. Evolution has created organic patterns and natural formations which can be seen for example in clouds, sand dunes and animal markings. These nonlinear structures were also in an important relationship with materials such as stone, water, wood, etc., and were never a result of a straight line throughout evolution but have often been an inspiration for architects.
However, an interesting shape is in fluids such as lava or water which have both contributed to the existence of life. It can be said that the shape and the movement of a liquid can be presented as numerous uncontrolled curvatures in a three dimensional space. This fluidity was depicted in prehistoric times when prehistoric men tried to have control over a graphical presentation of it. Curves were made on different materials which were chosen on the basis of how manipulative they were. Aesthetics did not matter because the importance was based on the consistency of materials. Some were easier to control than others and the crucial aim was to get the inspiration for the image from the curves of nature. One can say that this link and the control over curves and materials was fundamental for the evolution of human confidence.
The theory of confidence as a natural instinct in space can be explained with the idea of human inception. As we are conditioned with curved, warm and liquid space even before birth with the uterus being an enclosed curved space that secures the fetus and its curvature is most of the time parallel to the fetus’s back. This phenomenon can be taken into everyday observation of the unsecure feeling we get when our back is exposed. According to Valentine (1989) this fact can relate to numerous factors in our lives. Valentines gives as an example a fear women get in public space which is psychologically conditioned with a place and a memory. The author relates women’s feeling of insecurity in open space to a missing shield, a protection which a female gets from a male in a natural environment. Nevertheless, the insecurity and awareness that there is no shield to protect our vulnerable side of the body are strongly conditioned with our inception. Furthermore, this protection, according to Valentine, is conditioned with hugging a baby in order to transmit a similar feeling as it is in the uterus where the primary curved environment begins.
This primary environment also consists of liquid, a material in the uterus strongly linked with its curve, with the abandonment of the fact that liquids are materials which dictate shape because they work as one. Although there is ambiguity whether the liquid is in its shape because of the outer curve or is it the other way around the truth remains that together they have the influence as one. It can be argued that they are in synthesis therefore in control over the fetus. It is believed this common power of a curved control comes naturally and should be used more often in architecture. The use of curvatures varies from discipline to discipline. The curves can be simple or complex, and loose or tight to the body if referring to fashion industry which similar as architecture gives the protection and shelter to a body.
This discipline has played an important role in our lives throughout history. Although its biggest progress started after WW1 where fashion became a profession, the clothing source itself started with ancient cavemen. The skin of aboriginal inhabitants needed to be protected, therefore they found the source of clothing material in nature. Animal skin soon became a warm clothing to protect the human skin from unpleasant weather conditions. But what is the rough, protective fur from a mathematical point of view rather than a complex curved mesh. The natural organic shapes of the animal’s skin became the second skin for cavemen. Looking at it as a curved mesh the animal skin was, at some point, a controlled line deciding how to cover a certain part of a prehistoric human body. The link between naked skin and the warm memory of a home became essential in creating clothes. Moreover, these also gave a connotation to a home which at the time of homo erectus was a curved cave. Later in prehistory cavemen started to have control over the cave by decorating it with paintings and more importantly cladding it with fur. Even if it was hard work the control over the curves in relationship with the material had a useful outcome.
In everyday use of our homes it is safe to say that we like to have control even on the smallest of details which are usually unnoticeable. Such objects can be corners which we like to comfortably curl up. According to Bachelard (cited in Pallasamaa, 2005, pp. 27) to curl up belongs to the phenomenology of the verb to inhabit, and only those who have learned to do this can inhabit with intensity.
For all of the above factors, this dissertation aims to question awareness of these conditions in everyday use. As the control over the curved material was essential in the past it is not challenged in the present. Furthermore, why should the unbelievable and vast knowledge of complex curvatures not be related to liquids. Materials which are primary on Earth could be used more often in the new era of architectural philosophy which tries to imitate nature in its original form by introducing liquids on a larger scale.
Curves of the past
Although it seems that the understanding of organic forms and curvatures combined with materials is treated with high attention in contemporary architecture for example the works of ZHA, Kapoor, Gehry, Decq, these new age forms remain predominantly poorly used in practice of architecture and interior design. Should internal spaces be more adaptive to a human body so that its users would live in deeper synthesis with a space.
It can be claimed that primitive men lived homogeneous with their environment because nature gave them limited options. The caves were considered as raw material full of strange curves ready to be inhabited. However, apart from naturally shaped caves which came in existence through various erosion processes the ones that are of interest in this chapter are man-made.
Geographical position played an important part for cavemen in choosing the settlement of their tribe. It depended on sun orientation, security of the terrain and the majority of the settlements were directly linked to rivers. Water brought the natural source of fluid, and it is possible that the same water source shaped that rock or mountain which was appropriate for inhabitation.
When primitive man shaped the space in the rock aesthetics did not play an important role, what mattered was the skill in relation with material. The density and texture of the stone were crucial to make shape by using a hammer. The technique of flaking resulted in random curvatures, here it can be argued that this was a controlled randomness of complex lines because the spontaneous moves were based on the organic structure of muscles and bones in the body. Therefore it can be said that the principal skills of making a living space were evoked by muscular and textile senses. Furthermore, this observation was also in interest to Vitruvius (taken from Dodds and Tavernor, 2002) who compared the human body directly to the body of space which is a result of human proportion, symmetry and harmony. Furthermore, it can be argued that Vitruvius’s belief was that curvatures were made through the sequence of controlled movements which incepted from the practicality of homo erectus and not from theory.
Ancient cave dwellers were in control of their space because of practicality. Firstly, there was the role of fire where heat spread more evenly in a round space compared to how it spread in a right angle space. Secondly, there was a special “shelf” lifted from the ground, a place to sleep, which took the advantage of the fact that hot air travels up and at the same time the elevated position offered security. Thirdly, the round corners of the cave also adapted to the shape of the spine when sitting, giving comfort and security to the vulnerable back.
For the above factors it can be claimed that the curvatures in pre-historic caves did not play the part of aesthetic value but the part of performance and practicality. It seems that the ergonomics of the cavemen’s home came naturally through their body and most importantly through the material used. These two factors were later used when building bivouacs. A type of a shelter which spread from Asia and Africa to Europe, which was made from materials which were manageable and curves which were functional. Managing materials in a curved manner could have meant the lack of knowledge or indicated ignorance of the aesthetics but it was highly effective. It seems that this philosophy of that time could have been applicable in the following civilisations, yet it did not catch on because as Fine (1983) states, the ancient Greeks were in high control over the materials by using straight lines and right angles.
Spontaneous fluid forms, such as in man-made caves, may visually represent effortless work. Neither organization nor structured manipulation is needed to get simple curved formations. Even nowadays the simplicity of curvatures seems to make a statement on their own. Objects of such forms tend to be more interesting because of the shape rather than materials used. Albeit the elegance of fluid design almost feeling spontaneous it is undeniably thought through as the design makes sense and evokes feelings of unity. If the spontaneous curvatures had been an architectural element in cavemen’s homes, the straight line would have been controlled element in ancient Greece. So how was it possible that ancient Greeks, before them the ancient Egyptians, skipped the organic forms when they were never-endlessly surrounded by nature.
Dodds and Tavernor (2002, p.51) discuss where the rectangular organization of the plans in ancient Greeks architecture came from. They answer this predicament by suggesting it may have been a result of the structured political mentality of their society. Greek military (phalanx) also adopted this philosophy. When soldiers were aligned and together they had the power as one. This similarity can be for instance seen in Greek temples in the structural order of columns support the pediment. Their temples were dedicated to their gods which had control over people. Therefore a straight line in architecture presented a controlled worship of their gods.
The imposing architecture such as was used for the Parthenon may have a strong effect on an individual because of its ‘serious’ shape regardless of the material, Biagio di Parma (taken from Dodds and Tavernor, 2002) writes about the influence of linear structures on individuals. He also writes that judgment of senses when standing in such buildings gives the feeling of hierarchy. One can sense in the importance of a straight line a grandeur of the object. Di Parma also thinks about how an individual understands ones emotions which had been evoked by the linear building. On the other hand, buildings with straight, flat, vertical and horizontal elements are predominately less dynamic and are therefore easier to read and moreover, the purpose of the building is clearly conveyed. Ancient Greek architecture was also sacred and dedicated to higher forces, this religious dedication made them consider the elements of the building, which immediately communicated with the users. Predominantly right angled elements, such as the roof meant security whereas columns presented strength. These round objects, signatures of ancient Greek architecture deviated from orthogonal buildings. Timber made columns, used at start of Greek architecture, were later replaced with stone which represented durability, force and expressed imagination. The material became illustrative by adding ornaments, and organic forms were inspired from nature. It can be said that neither straight nor curved lines were important at the time because the materials gave opportunity to express worshiping of gods.
New Doric style was precise and disciplined and the straightness of lines presented order and unity. However, later organic shapes appeared on the upper part of Greek columns. First ancient Greeks depicted simple spirals and then leaves represented a control over the material. This was later emphasized by replacing the columns with bodies. The invention of the hammer brought about a materialization of gods. The embodiment of gods was again inspired from flora and fauna and different hammer techniques made that interpretation on stone possible. The forms seen in stone evoked the aesthetic created by the hammer and therefore evoked power and a feeling of control. This view has been supported from the work of Dodds and Tavernor (2002).
The control of thought derived from the proportions of the human body. Ideas on how the material together with shape would perform around the user were taken for granted. Such an environment did not have just a spiritual importance but also a functional one. Aristotle (Dodds and Tavernor, 2002, p. 32) explains “If a thing (body) is not separated from its embracing environment, but is undifferentiated from it, it is indeed ‘included in’ it – not however as in its place, but only in the sense in which a part is said to be ‘included in’ its whole.” It seems this meaning of the unity in a space is intertwined with straight and curved lines. Nevertheless, organic forms do wrap around the human body in a stronger synthesis than a right angled wall does.
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In ancient Greece organically shaped objects such as ships, defensive walls, wheels and wine pots, played an important part in the development of a craft because they were challenging. The challenge seemed to be more effective if it brought a visual experience. According to Dodds and Tavernor (2002, p. 46) prima facie means bonding with real experience. It is not the state of mind which is based on assumptions but rather the functions that are evoked in the neural system by a visual matter. Visual acceptance is based on individual perception therefore it can be generalized that both a straight line and a curve performs differently. The function of both depends on the connection of the material. It does not however mean that if visually fluid spaces are complex the materials must be primitive or aesthetically ignored. On the other hand it also does not mean that simple, clean and straight lines need complex materials. It seems that the ancient Greeks achieved a powerful meaning with vertical and horizontal stone.
Nowadays the curve has a similarly strong effect as the straight line had in the past. Complex mesh is harder to control and fewer materials can be applied but there is a difference. These unusual multi directional shapes can be visually stronger than a straight line because of certain factors. Natural light, shadows, texture, material and colour applied on a curvature may have a stronger impact on one’s perception compared to the same factors applied on a straight line.
4. Critical evaluation / understanding of relationship between curves and materials
Psychological ascertainment over the years has delivered numerous facts about the human brain and how it perceives the world around us. The brain is divided into two hemispheres where the left side is rational and the right irrational therefore more artistic. But there is still ambiguity about how lines together with materials are perceived because this action involves both sides of the brains. Space is a compound of both where the lines are perceived in a rational way because they can be expressed as mathematical formulas, whereas materials are a sensational and a subjective matter which activate the right part of the brain. Taken from Mallgrave (2010) “This fact becomes doubly important in that neurons and their circuits are highly specialized in the stimulation to which they respond. Not only are neural circuits continually processing the inputs of touch, colour, form, motion, smell and sound in different areas of the brain, but some neurons respond only to individual colours, while others only to vertical or horizontal lines”. However, this is mostly applicable for straight lines, whereas curvatures present in a space cause ambiguity and doubt concerning the depth of a space itself. Most assumptions on nonlinearity are unusual because they are rare. Since ancient Greece straight lines have dominated in architecture and organic shapes have been forgotten despite the human origins. Moreover, even if we are conditioned with curved space before birth and although the primitive man used such spaces, this was not upheld through the history of architecture. Curved spaces are not in our everyday presence and if a liquid material or at least a liquid affect is added to a space then the assumptions these curves make are even more complicated and consequently become multi-perceptive.
Perhaps one of the leading sculpture artists of the 21st century, Anish Kapoor, can deliver such complex emotions. His works explore the nature of materials and their behaviour. His pieces deliver a story and a concept, and express materiality in a manipulative way so as to influence the observer. His numerous projects consistently explore the relationship between curves and materials and what affects those two can have on people. This synthesis makes characteristics of such projects hard to describe as they offer new forms of visuality. Ineffable feelings, when one is present in a space or near a piece that has a biomorphic shape, make a counterintuitive spatial effect. These are the reactions which Anish Kapoor evokes throughout his works.
By adding more complex materials or unusually processed materials to a complex mesh a design can become fluid. An almost liquid effect becomes an illusion to a user’s eye as the space or object dissolves all physical limitation. For instance Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, an organically shaped project in the gridded city of Chicago, combines the above mentioned emotions. When one stands under the curved opening of the Cloud sculpture and looks out the clear line of the edge becomes evanescent. This effect is achieved by curved and polished metal which reflects the sky and therefore the object and the sky almost become one. It can be said that a common material such as polished metal becomes dematerialized because of this illusion.
In the interview for BBC (Tusa, J. 2012) Kapoor said “The eye is incredibly quick instrument….The eye gets it immediately – seconds. And I’m interested I think in that moment of immediate recognition or misperception”. From this statement it is blatantly obvious that the artist intentionally provokes multiple emotions by using a variety of materials and shapes.
A fluid shape embodies nature and the surrounding architecture and as a whole these make it dynamic and misleading for a visitor’s perception. Delivering a liquid effect arises extra questions out of the form itself. This phenomenological experience establishes a new rhythm in space. It also educes from the spectators the use of other senses rather than just sight. The touch becomes important as the surface is hard to read with the eyes only, so all human senses could be involved in the presence of such objects but the perception is after all still based on an individual’s opinion.
Due to the fact that art and architecture can be subjective critics often question Kapoor’s objects whether such expensive materials must be applied in order to deliver the affect which the artist wants (Higgins, 2008). The Cloud Gate would not be the same without the concave shape and it would certainly not deliver the same atmosphere without the proper reflective material. Therefore the combination of the two is crucial for the piece to perform as one, although there are also other factors that influence the piece such as texture, light and colour. The latter is the dominant factor when perceiving a space because research (Luo, et al., 2004) shows that colours in a space also evoke feelings such as excitement, energy and calmness. Therefore colours in a space cannot be negligible. If before it was mentioned that curved spaces are hard to perceive because humans are not used to them it can be said that it would be impossible for the wall to be colourless because colour together with light gives reflections, depth, emphasises a texture and evokes emotions.
However, the experience of the Cloud is not regarded as aesthetics but rather as a palpable and a multi-sensorial experience achieved by the fact that it deviates from the right angle. Looking at the Cloud from a macro scale it can be observed that it is a curved object placed in linearly paralleled city. On the other hand, the micro scale, the most reasonable use of right angles in our homes is when furniture is parallel to the walls. Nevertheless, the atmosphere in linear spaces is arguably comfortable, summarized from Mallgrave (2010) the comfort in such spaces origins from two hippocampi in the brain which have control of spatial orientation and navigation. Again, it can be argued that something organic causes the confusion. On a smaller scale disorientation around a curved wall or a sculpture, such as Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, can evoke doubt but disorientation in an organically shaped city evokes fear. This feeling is rare when a straight line dominates in the environment or is drastically smaller if the nonlinear is intertwined with the linear.
The behaviour of individuals in organically shaped spaces.
The synthesis between curved and straight lines may establish a new rhythm within a space. A mixture which is not often used in residential architecture, because it is mostly based on straight lines only, yet can result innovative if applied to everyday homes because curvatures can evoke a different life style in terms of functionality, furniture and behaviour. This is a trademark of the Canadian – American architect Frank Gehry who distorts linearity by twisting in order to get more curved shapes. When this process is realized, one can feel the movement of the manipulated straight line when in this space. Although the use of software programs pushes the boundaries of such twisted spaces, the intelligence behind this lies in materials. Firstly, the materials are explored by computer software and then brought to a higher level of complexity with the help of automobile industry and aerospace manufacturers. Because of Gehry’s complex understanding of curvatures in relationship with materials his work is multidisciplinary, a bridge between technology and sculpture which explores materials. Metals as most commonly used materials are despite their stiff properties well manipulated by Gehry. Stretched metal, compressed titanium and aluminium are adapted to the wire frame’s curved geometry which can be seen throughout the architects work. Gehry (cited in Lindsey, 2001, pp. 8) calls his approach a skin in, a process where the outer skin shapes inner spaces and makes a paradigmatic change in architecture, basically making a new rhythm to the overall experience from inside out. If Le Corbusier, the father of modern and organic architecture, exposed 5 fundamental points of architecture Gehry tries to distort and relate them.
The connection between exterior surfaces becomes so multi-layered that it affects the interior space. Although the outer experience is wavier with a futuristic carpet look it is not used inside. One cannot perceive the fluidity of the interior spaces as it is achieved from the outside due to the lack of natural light and the shadows which it creates.
The outer dynamically wavy appearance creates a movement, distorted by gravity, which can be seen from afar. Together with shiny materials it creates another illusion which makes a building look like a model or a sculpture, where on the inside the abstract’s simplicity becomes a complex reality. A mixture between straight and curvilinear allows users to have multiple interpretations and many points of view.
According to Lindsey (2001, p. 29) Gehry tries to provoke individuals creative instinct throughout his work.
If the outer looks of his works are fluid and metal the interiors are calmer as the curvatures are softened with straightness. The space becomes more rational and perhaps the reason lays in functionalism. Commonness of Gehry’s architecture is achieved by different textures and light, and if a building dominates the area from the outside the inside seems coherent. This mostly relates to Gehry’s signature work, Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, Spain. The shape of the museum was at the time irrational and made a landmark on Bilbao. Moreover, critics agreed that the building is on the edge of technology because of its complex curvatures and costly materials. Rhythmic shapes of the building establish new dynamics in the surrounding area, although critics often describe Gehry’s work as disregarded to architectural harmony. Holm (2006) an architectural critic, writes that such architecture has functionless forms, and continues to claim that it is a structural waste and that the buildings do not seem to fit the location.
However, if such futuristic design is considered as bad urban design, most individuals are affected by Gehry’s spectacle. As the architect ignores numerous factors such as climate, sustainability and surrounding area the “wow factor” is mostly delivered. It is perhaps so because of the peculiar shape a form which is orthogonal and fluid at the same time and yet bold and soft. The softness in Gehry’s work is a metaphor for the continuous harmony which can be found in mathematical algorithms. These can also express the movement of liquidity and digitally transforms it into a facade. An element which has become the architect’s signature to provoke a new movement. It can be said that this fluid design, inspired from organic forms, mimics reality. Although the design will remain at mimicking the liquids as the architect’s intentions are to visually present fluids with hard and constructive materials while real fluids, for instance lava, water, wax and chemicals, are flowing and melting. The latter pushes the boundaries of conventional architecture and delivers an extra factor to a movement in architecture.
Chapter 6. Surrealism
The interest in new and extraordinary shapes brought about a new movement called Surrealism which aimed to bring new fluid forms in order to express the subconscious mind (J. HoÄevar and K. HoÄevar, 1996). It can be said that work created in that era was playful because of its dynamic forms which manifested direct thoughts on paper. Art work was mainly characterized by liquid forms and these bold new statements were criticized at first. Introducing soft, curved lines throughout art was undeniably a bold new statement at the time. Surrealism started in the early 1920s and was innovative mostly due to the use of curvatures.
Salvador Dali was the most effective artist and perhaps the leader of the Surrealist movement. His work is formidable as his paintings were more different than ever before. His works are predominantly distorted objects on flat bi-dimensional background which indicate movement. This creates an effect of moving objects that give rhythmic patterns to the overall composition of a painting.
One of the most well-known works of Dali is the Persistence of Memory. If the artist’s work before was fluid this painting brings an even deeper impression of organic fluidity. The clocks on the painting are distorted with a clear intension to depict melting, a natural process which was a metaphor of the time. The liquid melting of clocks also brings ambiguity concerning materiality presented on canvas. If the clock is supposed to be made from brass, a solid material, then the distortion of the object overtakes the importance of material. It can be said that it is ignored as the shape matters more because of the defamiliarization. Such illusion forces the individual to focus on the melting objects despite them being in the background.
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