Symbiosis 3 – A Response On Contemporary Organic Architecture

Ksenija Bulatović, Ksenija Bunjak, Saša Naumović, Dara Fanka


When we mention the term house, majority would imagine, not the stereotypical, but rather an archetypical idea of the house. They could then add synonyms such as home, shelter, accommodation, dwelling, habitation etc. Others, with professions close to this term, could go a step forward and say that a house can be a building, a single house, a skyscraper, a traditional or contemporary one, rural, urban, residential, business, renascence, modern, postmodern, cyber etc. Never the less, it is the fact that from a linguistic point of view we use the term house more than we are aware: house of cards as a symbol of something unstable, temporary; astrology house as a symbol of a belief that our life is cosmically predestined; editorial house; snail house as a symbol of security etc.

The Oxford dictionary basically defines the term house:

noun 1. a building for human habitation, especially one that consists of a ground floor and one or more upper storeys; the people living in a house; a household; a noble, royal, or wealthy family or lineage, a dynasty; chiefly Scottish a dwelling that is one of several in a building; a building in which animals live or in which things are kept; 2. a building in which people meet for a particular activity; a firm or institution; a restaurant or inn; a theatre; 3. a religious community that occupies a particular building; a residential building for pupils at a boarding school; British ~ each of a number of groups into which pupils at a day school are divided for games or competition; British formal ~ a college of a university; 4. a legislative or deliberative assembly; the ~ (in the UK) the House of Commons or Lords; (in the US) the House of Representatives; used in formal debates that mimic the procedures of a legislative assembly; 5. a style of electronic dance music typically having sparse, repetitive vocals and a fast beat; 6. Astrology ~ a twelfth division of the celestial sphere, based on the positions of the ascendant and midheaven at a given time and place, and determined by any of a number of methods; 7. British ~ old-fashioned term for Bingo

adjective 1. (of an animal or plant) kept in, frequenting, or infesting buildings; 2. relating to a firm, institution, or society; (of a band or group) resident or regularly performing in a club or other venue

verb 1. provide with shelter or accommodation; 2. provide space for; contain or accommodate

We can see that the term house has the broadest meaning, encompassing various spheres of human life. Therefore, we cannot address it from a viewpoint of a single profession, a single position, or a single subjective experience.

It is common knowledge that through the history traditional architecture followed the requirements of the local environment and was created in accordance with them. This primarily relates to the local materials and different responses to the climate conditions, but we should not forget the influence of culture, religion, society… Traditional architecture should not be simplified and seen only as a style. It is more than that, it is an authentic and local philosophy of living. After his journey to Africa in 1961, Louis Kahn wrote: “I saw many huts that the natives made. They were all alike, and they all worked. There were no architects there. I came back with the impression of how clever was the man who solved the problems of sun, rain, wind” (Dahl 2008, pp. 33). House cannot be addressed only form the viewpoint of climate and optimization of individual climate needs. Context with its various factors have always played an important role in the architectural design and traditional architecture knew how to respond to its requests.

Still, the official architecture histories and theories were dedicated to the studies of house-monuments, exploring the different, rare, individual, new, something that in its own time pushed the limits of the aesthetical norm. What is often put aside is the fact that through history the work of architects represented only the small part of building activities and that the built environment was a product of vernacular architecture, we can up to some point use the term folklore architecture here. For a long time, this type of building activity could not be found on the pages of the official architecture histories. Rapoport states that the real meaning of the architecture history lies in the research of its context and mentions environment of the Acropolis in Athens, Egyptian temples, Gothic cathedrals etc. (Rapoport 1969). Growing interest for the wider built environment awakes in the middle of 20th century, while today a large number of researches are oriented towards vernacular and traditional architecture, rediscovering elements of ecology, sustainability (elements of sociological, economical, cultural, contextual sustainability). These elements were once known. In their own time, consciously or not, they were initiators of vernacular architecture. Why do we rediscover them today, define them as ‘new’, ‘reveal’ and propagate ‘contemporary ecological architecture’ as a possible solution for the global problems? Did we reach the point where we officially recognize aesthetical and essential importance of these elements? Or do we just re-cross known tracks? In the movie Cloud Atlas by Tom Tykwer from 2012 there is a sentence: “We cross and re-cross our old tracks like figure skaters” (Tykwer 2012). We need to ask ourselves: is this really true?

Jan Mukařovský, Czech structuralist, believed that any object or event (event in nature or human activity) can be a carrier of the aesthetical function. There are no objects or events that are by their essence carriers of aesthetical function regardless to the time, place or the evaluator, and the others that are, again because of their nature, necessarily excluded from the scope of the aesthetical function. The limits of aesthetical area are not given by the very reality, and therefore they are variable. The same event that was a privileged carrier of aesthetical function in one time or country can be incapable for this function in other time and vice versa (Mukařovský 1987). Therefore we can assume that the crisis of our society has led to the establishment of the new aesthetical norms, within which the ‘ecological elements’ will be assigned with the new aesthetical function. This will create new aesthetical values connected to the ‘ecological architecture’ and ‘organic architecture’ (if organic architecture is seen as a form of ecological architecture).

Place is a process that requires a cultural interpretation and that brings people into certain specific interconnections (Sutton 2011). The purpose of each cultural place is to provide a safe and continuous life of its users. Culture uses the environment and its basic functions in order to meet the physiological and spiritual needs of the people. One of the ways how this can be done is through the house as a place of residence (Mann 1985). Schultz believes that the creation of habitats and places to live is preceded by the identification of an individual with his environment and surroundings and understanding their meaning. By identifying with the environment, we identify with the place and only then we can define the house in it.


The movie “24 City” from 2008 by Zhangke Jia shows us that the house can no longer be considered as a physical and emotional shelter. If we have been doing everything right in the past, how is then possible that we have reached this stage? From one side, we rediscover terms and values that all through architecture history were standing on the margin of the aesthetical norm, we give them bigger importance in the contemporary context, define them as a possible solution for the problems of our age, as a salvation; and from the other side, in the same timeframe the alienation, the breakup of man-house relationship becomes more often.

A novelist from Mozambique, Mia Couto, wrote: “It’s not the house where we dwell that’s important. But where the house dwells in us” (novel A river called time). Looking into our house, we look into our own sole. When and why we have stopped feeling the house in us?

By simple observing the children’s house drawings we can easily categorize them as naive, unoriginal, typical and similar in many ways. We can therefore think that they represent stereotypes, iconic ideas of the house. Still, we have to notice the fact that modern urban child always draws a house with chimney and smoke, although it never attended the very act of the fire making. This suggests that similarities in children’s representations of the houses are far more than just stereotypes. We can ask ourselves are they maybe subconscious, generally accepted cultural symbols and norms?

Carl Gustav Jung, Swiss psychiatrist and founder of the analytic psychology, defined this as collective unconscious. He also defines the term archetype. According to Jung, archetypes are general images that have always existed and can explain the appearance of certain ever-existed and widespread forms in psyche. If we apply the theory of the collective unconscious and the archetypes to the children’s drawing, we can understand that children without previously gained experience and knowledge, led by the unconscious, perceive reality completely intuitive, and thereby through their drawings offer the archetypical representation of the house – archetype of the home with all of its important elements. Child’s house drawing is an anthropocentric vision of the world where man is a central fact of the universe. Most of the drawings represent the typical idea of a family (mother, father, daughter, son and a dog). There is a smoke from the chimney suggesting the presence inside of the house. Also, there is often a path that leads a draftsman – a creator into the house. Therefore, ME as a whole psychological being in a specific moment, together with all conscious and unconscious actions is evident. Child unconsciously connects man and house as his creation. This directly implies that neither the house nor any other building activity would have existed without man. Child intuitively, unconsciously feels the house inside the man, inside itself. When the breakup man-house occurs then? What stops today collective-unconscious to become personal-conscious?

This is a time of ongoing changes – economical, social, political, cultural etc. Still, it seems that today our postmodern time is in the biggest crises, constantly striking the limits of the accepted contemporary rules and waiting for the fundamental change, an event or an object that will come into the conflict with the existing aesthetical norms. Last decades rediscovered terms such as bioclimatic architecture, ecological architecture, sustainable architecture etc. and gave them a new meaning. ‘Responsible’ architecture designing, ‘environmental designing’, etc. became central motives of contemporary architectural discourse. There is a growing trend of architectural designs, texts, books and conferences that propagate ‘green’ architecture as the only right in our society. Without doubt those principles existed in the past, but they stayed under the official limits of aesthetical norms. Today, old ideas gained new aesthetical value. We own the new technology, accumulated knowledge and experience in our collective consciousness. When we add to that a new aesthetical value of old principles we have to ask ourselves what is it that we are missing in order to make a next step, to achieve the change that the postmodern time strives to, to cross the limit? We are the ones that are manipulating our own perception of the reality by introducing innovations in spatial relations, creating new forms etc. This implicates that it is necessary to ask ourselves what ME is in the contemporary society and where inside of ME the house lies. New age introduced idea of organic architecture. What is the contemporary organic architecture today and can it be a possible solution? Or do we need to go beyond and explore further?


Organic architecture represents a living tradition. This controversial architecture was always hard to define. It was never a style, but rather an approach. David Pearson points that is was sometimes called ‘the other tradition’ and that it has a long history from Ancient Greece to Art Nouveau. Roots of the organic architecture can been found in life, in nature and its forms. Pearson states that primitive vernacular architecture was innately organic since it was based on natural forms and structures and was built by the local materials (Pearson 2001). Through history there were many styles, theories and ideas based on the nature and its principles. So if we understand organic architecture as an architecture inspired by the nature, we can with caution say that it existed all through history in different emerging shapes.

Louis Sullivan believed that buildings should “naturally follow suit in that their forms follow their functions, regardless that buildings are not in themselves organic things” (Cruz 2012, p. 28). Buildings are not born, do not grow or reproduce – they are being made. He stated:

“It is the prevailing law of all things organic, and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.” (quote according to Cruz 2012, p. 28)

Frank Lloyd Wright followed this idea, but rephrased it in his later works, writing that the form and the function are one. He sad: “That abstract saying Form and function are one is the centre line of architecture, organic. It places us in line with nature and enables us sensibly to go to work” (quote according to Cruz 2012, p. 29).

One of the fist times that the word organic was mentioned in an architectural discourse was in a lecture of Claude Bragdon in 1915 in Chicago. Years later, in 1939 Frank Lloyd Wright will declare:

“I bring you a new Declaration of Independence… An Organic Architecture means more or less an organic society. (…) In this modern era Art, Science, Religion – these three will unite and be one, unity achieved with organic architecture as centre.” (quote according to Pearson 2011, p. 29)

Wright was one of the first who introduced the term organic architecture. In his earlier works, natural and organic were the synonymous. Later on, he referred to the organic architecture and nature as inseparable. This reminds us of on-going contemporary discourses regarding green or ecological architecture.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s concept of organic architecture evolved from a group of architectural principles to the way of living. In his essay In the Cause of Architecture he presents his early ideology. In 1914 he wrote: “By organic architecture I mean an architecture that develops form within outward in harmony with the conditions of its being, as distinguished from one that is applied from without” (Pfeiffer 2011, p. 19). For him organic architecture is an extension of nature and its principles. Nature itself is a unique principle needed to be understood and later, integrated into the architecture. Among nature’s principles, Wright paid special attention to the organic simplicity and the idea of an entity referring to a building as an integrated whole of many factors (Cruz 2012).

Defining organic architecture, Wright gave six main design principles. The first among them was mentioned earlier and was related to the simplicity and calmness as a measure of art. The idea that there should be as much different house styles as there are types of people was the second principle. The third principle of organic architecture brought together nature, topography and architecture in a specific relation. As the forth principle, Wright stated that the colours of the houses should be taken from the nature and harmonized with other house materials. The fifth principle – architecture should express the real nature of the materials. The last organic architecture principle proclaimed spiritual integrity in architecture (Perović 2005).

In the research of Wright’s organic architecture we found interesting thoughts and ideas:

“The idea of organic architecture is that the reality of the building lies in the space within to be lived in, the feeling that we must not enclose ourselves in an envelope which is the building.” (Pfeiffer 2011, p. 19)

“Organic architecture is… architecture in the reflex, architecture seeking to serve man rather than to become, or be becoming to, one of those forces that try so hard to rule over him.” (Pfeiffer 2011, p. 20)

It seems as if he looked even beyond his idea of organic architecture. Contemporary interpretations of organic architecture brought along a number of limitations and miscomprehensions.

We can notice that today a large number of researches and critiques concerning organic architecture discuss mainly the organic form bringing like that architecture down to the mere form. By dealing mostly with the house form, we unconsciously break up the relation between hose and man.

In his book New Organic Architecture, The Breaking Wave David Pearson provides us interesting observations. Fundamental inspiration of organic architecture is the nature offering the architects endless design ideas. Pearson than says: “a building is seen as an organism, an indivisible whole, and humans are seen as part of nature, not above her” (Pearson 2011, p. 10). This is followed by another statements saying that “a special characteristic of organic design is that it is a continuous process, never finished, always in a state of change” (Pearson 2011, p. 12) and that “the form of a building should follow the flow of energy, and be created by it” (Pearson 2011, p. 14). But, after these progressive thoughts the further text is again orientated towards the form – a single moment of organic architecture. Even though he wrote that the organic architecture should be living rather than frozen, he later on points that the properties of the materials dictate the form and by that dictate and limit architecture.

We can notice that today there is a growing trend of organic forms separated form the principles of organic architecture introduced by F. L. Wright. Sidney Robinson said that for some people organic is curved or asymmetrical, for the others organic is natural materials; some consider organic is individualistic, while other believe organic is holistic” (Robinson 1993). The essence of organic architecture is everything and non from the above. Mere use of geometry and science, alone, can not produce the real organic architecture.

Going back to the introductory, if, and only if, the present prevailing understanding of organic architecture is right and organic forms successfully integrated man and nature, how come we still witness the break up of the relationship man-house?


SYMBIOSIS is an interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both.

Kisho Kurokawa believes that opposite to the Age of the Machine, 21st century will be the Age of Life, and that the answers for present problems are in the processes that already exist in nature (Kurokawa 1994).

Contemporary society as an opened and accessible one, gives people a possibility for individuality, as well as a chance to perceive their own identities in the contact with others and with the surroundings. A large number of information, different spatial contexts, situations and environments prevent a man to completely comprehend this possibility and lead him to the conformism, to recognition of mass-identity instead of individuality. Man becomes a machine taken from case to case, from circumstance to circumstance, completely unprepared for the development of the society called the Age of Life by the Kurokawa.

Kisho Kurokawa defines symbiosis as new way of interpreting contemporary culture, a philosophy of ‘both-and’ rather than ‘either-or’ (Kurokawa 1994).

World today is a world of dualism – man-nature; inside-outside; organic-nonorganic etc. Symbiotic architecture is not a compromise, simple coexistence, mere harmony of elements. It is more than that – it is their co-life. Symbiotic architecture begins with the man as an initial symbiote highlighting his basic physiological, spiritual, cultural and social needs. House, as the second symbiote is seen as a live being dependent on a man and transformable in its essence. House is defined by an organic bond between natural materials and represents a live membrane – skin that energetically feeds, maintains constant connection between man and environment and meets all the needs of its symbiote – man. House, on the other hand, owns a man its existence. A house is born, he/she lives and changes, he/she dies. He/she breathes with the life of the household. When the man ends his existence in the house, house returns to the nature, to the origins.

Symbiotic architecture restores and strengthens the relationship man-house. House in the symbiotic architecture is oriented towards one unique body-architecture. The core of symbiotic house is the protection, a transformable response to human needs, natural and social context.

Future architects have a specific task – to create a space suitable for the development of the human spirit, within which a man can perceive his core essence and his identity; a space resistant to all internal and external negative influence and opened to the positive ones.

Symbiotic architecture is a specific bionic – architecture that draws the principles from the nature, life and environment and uses that knowledge in the definition of its own essence. Man was created form the natural principles. He recognizes them in the nature and feels them as his original habitat. It is necessary to provide essential comprehension of these principles and to allow a man to use them for the improvement of his life.

The next level of the symbiosis, a symbiosis between the man and nature through the house as an intermediate element, represents interdependence and co-existence in time and space. Man is a physical being with his own needs. Needs are variable, unlike senses which are constant. Needs are being modified along with the changes in the environment. Symbiotic architecture provides the answers to these changes – form is adaptable in regard to the function and transformable according to the users needs. Importance of the symbiotic architecture can be found in the continuous quality of human existence in the environment where he was placed.

How to create a space measured by the man, by his sole? Object breaths as the people living inside breath. Interior change is enabled by a specific joint of automatics and organic tissue. This suggests a possible change of the form if needed. Everything is focused on comfort and functionality. Warmth and ambience of the interior is provided by free organic forms. Aesthetics and way of functioning depend only on the beings that are moving, thinking and creating inside the house.

Symbiotic object exists alone in the space, but there is also a possibility for grouping more units. Symbiotic groups can exist in different spaces since they are adaptable to all environments.

Membrane of the symbiotic object is an organic membrane composed of fluid between pore-walls. House-membrane becomes human’s second skin. Elastic and organic walls enable easy transformability of the form and adjustment according to the needs. Wall is a material energetic field that protects a man from outside influence. Defined on this way, the intermediate space between man and nature – membrane provides dynamics and gives house a life. Symbiotic house is transformable, fluid and transparent.

Even though it is imagined as a futuristic vision of the symbiosis between man and house, and man and nature through the house, symbiotic architecture can be understood as a principle, as an approach to the architectural design – symbiosis between different natural and contextual conditions, symbiosis of cultures, information etc. It can also represent a switch from the anthropocentric view to the ecological one where the ecology is seen as a symbiosis of all species. Or it can explain the core of the sustainability as a symbiosis of all ecological, sociological and economical principles. The possibilities are endless.


Like the organic architecture, symbiotic architecture also draws principles from the nature, life and environment. But unlike the contemporary interpretations of organic architecture, symbiotic one uses that knowledge in determination of its own essence. Emphasizing harmony, its changeable form is sympathetic to the human body, mind and spirit. The table bellow shows comparative analysis of organic and symbiotic architecture from the aspect of environment, form, function, materials and technologies.


(natural and cultural context)

Organic architecture and nature are inseparable.

Organic architecture is the extension of the nature and its main purpose is to blend the house into the nature and surroundings.

Organic architecture is the extension of the nature.

Organic architecture brought nature, topography and architecture in a specific relation.

Environment, form, function, materials and technologies are all one, since symbiotic architecture is seen as a specific live organism – a human’s second skin.

Symbiotic architecture is a symbiosis of the man, nature and the house.

Since symbiotic architecture is specific by its transformation and adaptation, it can exist in any environment and any natural and cultural context.

It is not the extension of the environment – it is a symbiosis of environment and architecture.

FORM Form is inspired by the nature, but is still “frozen moment of nature”.

F. L. Wright believed that an organic form should proclaim simplicity and calmness and there should be as much different house styles as there are types of people.

House, as the symbiote of the man and nature is seen as a live being dependent on a man and transformable in its essence.

Form is adaptable in regard to the function and transformable according to the users needs, obtaining continuous quality of human existence in the environment where he was placed.

There is no single and constant form. Symbiotic form is in the constant motion. It changes as environmental conditions or occupants needs change.

FUNCTION Form and the function are the one. Function defines the organic form. Function varies according to the change in the occupants needs. Function influence the change in the form.
MATERIALS In theory it should use natural materials such as wood, stone etc. but contemporary interpretations use concrete, glass, steel to obtain just the organic form.

Organic architecture should express the real nature of materials, but material properties dictate the form and by that dictate and limit architecture.

Material used in symbiotic architecture is nature itself – house is seen as a living organism.

House is defined by an organic bond between natural materials and represents a live membrane – skin that energetically feeds, maintains constant connection between man and environment and meets all the needs of its symbiote – man.

TECHNOLOGIES Organic architecture represents a living tradition and is often referred as ‘the other tradition’.

But, organic architecture uses new technologies in order to create organic forms and obtain the quality of life.

Symbiotic architecture depends on the new technologies in the initial phase – creation of the specific membrane, after which it exists and lives by itself dependent only upon man as his initial symbiote.

The first discussions regarding organic architecture were visionary in many things. Frank Lloyd Wright propagated the organic architecture whose main purpose was to serve the man who made it. Maybe this can be considered as an initial step towards symbiosis of man and the house, towards restoration of their relationship. Still, it seems that these progressive ideas were replaces today by a form-based contemporary organic architecture, which main purpose is to be seen and noticed, to provoke and raise questions, without going into its essence.

The rectilinear and orthogonal form that dominated in the 20th century coexist now, in the postindustrial age, with so-called organic forms, that brought a new ‘freedom of thought’ as stated in many contemporary discussions. And yet, in most of the cases this freedom is limited to mere form. Interpreting organic architecture strictly as an organic form is as if the house is seen apart from its context and user. Imre Makovecz wrote: “Organic architecture strives to connect the parts of the building which are nearest to the earth – the foundations of the walls in particular – closely to the earth. It also strives to construct them from mterials which have been extracted from the earth itself” (quote according to the Pearson 2001, p. 10). The organic architecture is seen here as a bridge between nature and man. We go step further and propose a symbiosis of nature/environment, man and house. Organic form is creative. It originated form poetics in the nature. But yet it seems as if it is just a frozen image of possibilities, an announcement for the next level, for the symbiotic architecture. Only in understanding the very essence of the house and its symbiotic characteristics, the relationship between man and house can be restored.


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