Master Organic Architecture Starting From Zero Skills | All Organic Architecture Concepts Explained

In this article, we are going to talk about sketching and drawing organic architecture and how to incorporate specific design concepts in the process.

So the result looks good, is innovative and get you inspired to explore this excellent architecture style.

By applying the principles here, you will be able to create concept sketches and rough design – so get ready to take notes and sketch all the principles while going through the article.

Sounds good? Let’s get started.

1. The five types of buildings we are going to study.

We can look at organic architecture as an utterly abstract phenomenon where every building I unique and just an expression of organic architecture or design.
But this will make things impossible to understand because you will be stuck in emotions that you see in front of you, so we need to go for seeing the patterns behind the organic architecture and understand logically why it works the way it does. We can see all the different subtle principles and patterns which help us visually break down and understand why the final image looks good.
There are five types of designs we are going to talk about – be sure to have a look at the video essay as well, as the visual presentation there helps make things extra clear.
1. ‘Regular’ Organic Buildings
  • Obvious visual language is specific to this architecture style.
  • You can experiment with different organic visual language.
  • At this stage, do not worry about being right or wrong; just get your ideas out there.

2. Small scale pavilions

  • These need to be simpler because they are small buildings, hence need an easy to read visual style.
  • You can make the structure apparent.
  • Use the horizon line to clear up the human scale. You don’t want these pavilions to look like more straightforward larger scale buildings.

3. Large scale futuristic buildings

  • You can go for really weird, edgy, futuristic designs because of the scale (towers, floating cities, office buildings)
  • The form can look like anything, even obvious stuff such as fruit, plants, etc.
  • Show the huge scale to justify the form.

4. Blob Architecture

  • The contrast between the organic architecture and how it interacts with the surroundings.
  • You can make it extra gooey like it’s melting, again the secret is the contrast between the building and its surroundings.
  • Large scale made to push the limits.

5. Organic Design

  • Both interior and product design work here.
  • Simple organic shapes, just one material (usually glossy)
  • Inspired by nature, look at plants, fruit, invertebrate animals.

2. Natural concepts for your organic architecture sketches.

Understanding and integrating nature is one of the first things that come to mind when we think of organic,  ‘inspired by nature etc.’
Here are a couple of possibilities that you can use for your design work:
Fractal geometry. This gets you used to the idea that patterns in nature are what we want to mimic. You do not need to make a house in the shape of a cauliflower literally. The fractal principle implies you have reoccurring geometric themes available at different scales. For instance, a triangle that you can see at small scale, large scale and at meta, very large scale. Associate this with constant proportions and you get a winning recipe for fractal geometry.
Organic shapes, such as orchids. These delicate flowers have their geometry which can be used either for a tile-able module for the design or a starting point for the composition, that we can work on to expand. You can sketch multiple orchid shapes and start from there – these shapes work at different scales and have a naturalness to them.
Cloth folds – these could work very well as form generators as they again can use a planar surface to cover up a space. Makes sense? Sketch a couple of folds and use that to find a spatial principle.
This is the time where you should start taking notes. This article will feature many ideas that have the potential to upgrade everything you understand about organic architecture. Note your insights down as they come up and then go apply everything in small thumbnail sketches.

3. How to feel and understand scale.

Feeling/understanding scale is essential in all architecture; in this case, we are talking about architectural objects which can very easily be hard to read in terms of scale.
Ticking the box for scale will give your design more clarity – again, for organic architecture, transparency and the volume being easy to read counts as something fundamental (it makes the design more realistic as well – which means a lot for weird architecture).
There are two types of scale here: large and small.
Small scale relates to pavilions, hence small objects where the focus is the construction technique rather than detailing. You can show small scale by the structural system used, by adding benches and a general volumetric composition that is very easy to read. It helps to make it show how it has been constructed – people need to look at your organic pavilion design and understand from the first glance – this is made by a metal structure with cloth on top. Or this is made from a wood structure, etc.
Large scale is about mixing and matching different construction techniques and elements.
  1. Windows. These are the staple of communicating scale. Want to see how large a building is? Look at the windows – they should give you an evident level of information for understanding how big is what is happening on the inside,
  2. The boldness of the visual language. If the composition is bold (the volumes are really really weird), chances are it is a larger building, hence more justified to be so and looks correct.

4. The three principles of Organic Architecture.

These are more or less the same principles we use for all buildings and houses, just with small differences regarding how the building already stands out too much, hence it needs fewer elements that stand out.
1. Mark the entrance
Marking the entrance is about giving your building enough clarity so people could read the way the building works. So this the way you get in or out of the building, make it easy to understand and read from first glance!
2. One material + glass
Usually, you have two different materials and glass, but because of the weird shape for the design you can stick to only one material, extra elements would complicate the design too much and potentially make it harder to read. You see the theme, right?. You got a weird idea and now we are talking about making a building out of it.
3. Make the composition look like a volumetric intersection.
 This is true for all architecture, regardless of style. ‘Architecture is inhabited sculpture’ is another way of seeing the concept in action, and it will be true always and forever (even for the very subtle elements of certain types of architecture). Volumetric drawings are easy to make look good and are more likely to be a good idea.
Can a good idea be reversed engineered like this? Of course, it can, and of course, it will get you better results than anything else – be sure to go and apply this stuff to your drawings and sketches asap!
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5. Top architects and organic architecture references.

There are several famous architects whose work defined the style of organic architecture. These are a mix of personal favourites and literal inventors of the architecture style.
By the way, conceptually, you can take inspiration from an architect and any style as many experimented with organic architecture.
But these three are again; however you turn things or spin them around – these three names come up time and time again.

Each hast their own twist to organic architecture and their own personal touch, which I think is really cool!

Gregg Lynn – futuristic, techy, parametric architecture style. Pushing the limits of how the computer could imagine architecture and the new visual language it can invent.

Zaha Hadid – unique architecture style, curves, folds – all organic to the core. She is the most famous of all organic architecture architects, probably the most famous of all architects. Do not try to copy her style word per word as it will not work. Try to give it your own spin, or it will cause creative blockages and problems.
Jan Kaplicky – a mix of inspiration from nature and the futuristic vision of the 70s. Probably the last instalment of the high tech movement, Jan Kaplicky combines organic shapes with technology and generates stuff that I personally always loved. And it is kind of easy to read, understand and apply for yourself.

6. How not to make your buildings look weird.

The main sticking point you will have when it comes to organic architecture sketching isn’t the fact that you will get intimidated or get creative blocks and not be able to produce anything.
You will get past all of that, and you will eventually start sketching, but the result will look WEIRD! Here is where regular people stop, but we won’t make that mistake – we will explore how to fix this weird.
By the way, it’s not your fault – the reason why this happens is because you still do not have a feel for the specific architectural language that organic architecture uses.
That’s why I want to stress this phenomenon out in advance, so you know to expect it.
Let’s see what you can do to damage control all your sketches that look really weird and get them back on track and stop yourself from the pattern when it creeps up on you. Makes sense, yeah?
What you need to do is to consistently bring all your ideas to something architecturally relevant – the organic architecture seems like it is 100% creative freedom, but you know that architecture and architectural sketching always deals with some form of constraint. Which is all good – restrictions mean that the idea is anchored in real life, so it has depth to it.
It ticks a lot of boxes; it answers a lot of questions.
So, your buildings need to tick the three essentials criteria as Vitruvius defined them.
We will be looking at the firmitas, utilitas, venustas principles of Vitruvius as we are going to start fixing all the things wrong in your drawings or designs. By the way, have a look at the video essay I made on this topic – this will help you literally see the principles in action.
These are:
Firmitas – structure, how the buildings stand
Utilitas – utility, what happens on the inside of the building
Venustas – the visual form, how it looks
For firmitas do your best to understand how the structure of the building would look – it most likely is made out of slabs and columns which need to work together – maybe this enables you to have a specific visual language, a bit more restraint one.
Utilitas relates to the function that the building has, so imagine that behind the beautiful image there has to be something going on – guess what is going on inside of the building, is it a foyer, what is it and what does it do?
Venustas – here students mess up because they stop and do not go all the way with their weird concepts. Weird is weird, but really, weird can actually be a stroke of genius.
Exaggerate the building – if it looks like a cauliflower, then make sure you create some cuts to make it look like a fresh juicy cauliflower which is volumetric as well.
I created this study design for a floating pavilion and intentionally exaggerated it, just to make sure it is what it needs to be.
Reminder: Take a copious amount of notes for all the exciting ideas you find in this article. Also, ideally for architecture, you note ideas down by sketching them in small thumbnail sketches.

7. How to use inspiration for your work.

Sometimes inspiration is what you need. This is very different than the theory – it is about seeing something that resonates with you, as in – you see and you feel something and applying that to your work.
As a last resort, if everything goes wrong and all your sketches are a complete mess, well you can use inspiration to get you trying again.
Do not forget, inspiration is an emotion, you look at something, and you feel something about it – it is 100% up to you to express it the right way, it is your responsibility! The more inspiration, the harder it is to show it. So maybe sometimes you need to learn to apply simple ideas and just stop there : )
Inspiration from nature
Have a look at the theory behind natural shapes again. These are going to help you get a starting point for your first sketch and depending on the size of the building, you can use one or two principles.
Sketch 10 thumbnail sketches for each of the natural principles, use that as a starting point until you get to something that speaks to you.
Inspiration from famous architects
I remember always wanting to design something like Jan Kaplicky did; hence I studied everything I could find about his work.
Listen, nobody does this – nobody actually has the discipline to follow through with a study like this. Yes, most architects just stay by the sidelines, do not jump into the action of drawing.
Go and read up on your favourite architect and sketch ten thumbnails, starting from their work.
Inspiration from my and my students’ work
It took f-cking ages to model the floating pavilion, and it went through several iterations until it ended up looking like the exact mix of crazy and rationally justified. 100% all worth it, loved that design.
Listen, most of the work me and my students did is high quality because they stuck to a technique all the way, hence they perfected it until it glowed with that something special. Makes sense?
And here, with organic architecture, you really need that something special tuned all the way up!
Final thoughts
One thing that will help you with organic architecture is that if you play all your cards right, if you do all the sketching while applying all the theory and everything, then you are really really close to the uniqueness of expression. That is the good part – having all this theory helps you navigate organic architecture just like it would be another architecture style with its own rules.
The good part is that after you lived these rules you can start breaking them and you end up creating some awesome looking concepts and ideas.
Alongside this article, I added a couple of videos you can study to get things to the next level. Be sure to watch them and take notes, do not just take advantage of the information and consume it.
Apply the stuff – take notes, sketch so change happens and you upgrade your abilities.
I also added the full video lecture on Organic Architecture – there you can find the info from this article presented in a video essay format. The most important thing you can do there is to do the exercise on sketching organic architecture, as that applies most of the concepts we talked about here.

Video Lecture on Organic Architecture

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Talk to you in a bit,

M.