What is organic architecture – Frank Lloyd Wright organic architecture

Inspired by his mentor Louis Sullivan, an influential figure in the world of modernist architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright coined the term ‘organic architecture’ around 1908.

Rather than imitating nature or organic elements within the natural world, organic architecture is more concerned with re-interpretation of nature; harmony between the organic and the built environment; and ensuring that the individual elements within buildings – the roof, windows, floors, and doors – are put together to reflect the order within nature.

organic architecture

David Pearson set out a set of rules surrounding organic design called the Gaia Charter. These state that an organic design and plan should not only be inspired by nature but also be sustainable; that it should exist in the ‘continuous present’; ‘grow out of the site’; that it should celebrate youth; express the rhythm of music; be flexible and adaptable; and so on.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s best-known work is perhaps, Fallingwater (pictured below). Those uninitiated in organic architecture style are routinely guided to the house’s stone masonry and cantilevers that reference the trees and rocky outcrops; as well as the home’s placement (directly over a waterfall) as examples of the defining characteristics of organic architecture.

Inspired by Wright, many other architects – including Louis Sullivan, Claude Bragdon, Eugene Tsui and Paul Laffoley in the US; and Hugo Häring, Alvar Aalto, Hans Scharoun, Antoni Gaudi, and Rudolf Steiner in Europe – continued the style.

Meanwhile, noteworthy modern day practitioners of organic design include Kendrick Bangs Kellogg, Bart Prince, Javier Senosiain, Eric Corey Freed, Shirish Beri and Associates, Peter Cook, Colin Fournier, Thomas Heatherwick, and Robert Harvey Oshatz.

In line with the times and the emergence of a sophisticated understanding of sustainability and concepts like embodied carbon, these modern day practitioners have overseen the evolution of organic architecture. They view choice of materials as a key consideration, and they tend to avoid geometric shapes or linear design in their work. Instead, they favour curves and often leave natural materials, like rocks and so forth exposed.


The top 8 examples of Organic Architecture

Giralang Primary School

1. Falling Water

  • Location: Mill Run, Pennsylvania
  • Year of completion: 1939
  • Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright

A classic of modernism and organic architecture, Fallingwater sits on top of a waterfall. Frank Lloyd Wright designed it for the Kaufmann family who – though they had originally hoped for a view of the waterfall – came to love the home.


casa mila

2. Casa Milà

  • Location: Barcelona, Spain
  • Year of completion: 1910
  • Architect: Antoni Gaudi

Considered the greatest exponent of Catalan Modernism, Antoni Gaudi was devoted to nature and the Catholic religion. While he originally intended this organic building to have a religious purpose, it is now an apartment building. True to the organic style, it features honey shapes that seemingly emerge from the earth.


Kunsthaus Graz

3. Kunsthaus Graz

  • Location: Graz, Austria
  • Year of completion: 2003
  • Architects: Peter Cook & Colin Fournier

An audacious, stunning work, Kunsthaus Graz museum is known by locals as ‘the friendly alien’. Contrasting with the surrounding baroque roofs it owes its alien-like shape and appearance to iridescent blue acrylic panels.


Taliesin West

4. Taliesin West

  • Location: Scottsdale, Arizona
  • Year of completion: 1937
  • Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright

Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as his winter home and studio, Taliesin West is now home to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. A perfect example of the architect’s passion for welcoming the exterior, the organic building has walls that are made from local desert rocks, stacked within wood forms.


east beach cafe

5. East Beach Cafe

  • Location: Littlehampton, UK
  • Year of completion: 2007
  • Architect: Thomas Heatherwick

Located in a seaside area with an industrial history, East Beach Café resembles a piece of driftwood. 40 meters long, seven meters wide and five meters high, it initially polarised locals, but has since been embraced by the community. It was the first building for Thomas Heatherwick who previously was better known as a sculpture.


Learning Hub at Nanyang Technological University

6. Learning Hub at Nanyang Technological University

  • Location: Singapore
  • Year of completion: 2015
  • Architect: Thomas Heatherwick

Earning the nicknames ‘dim sum basket building’ and ‘the Hive’, the Learning Hub consists of 12 eight-storey towers arranged around a public atrium. The organic nature of the building extends to its interior with features like gardens that are intended to encourage social interactions and study among students.


Organic architecture Australia – some noteworthy local examples

Giralang Primary School

1. Giralang Primary School

  • Location: Giralgang, ACT
  • Year of completion: 1976
  • Architect: Enrico Taglietti

Taglietti’s most famous work, Giralang Primary School features free, asymmetrical massing, along with complex geometric shapes in its roof, windows, and facias. It has won several awards including the AIA 25 Year award in 2001, and the Canberra Medallion for architectural excellence in 1977 (which it received from the ACT Chapter of the RAIA).


The Audette House

2. The Audette House

  • Location: Castlecrag, Sydney
  • Year of completion: 1953
  • Architect: Peter Muller

The Audette House is the first house that Peter Muller ever completed as a qualified architect.  Located in the Sydney suburb of Castlecrag, the house was designed along three axes: a longitudinal spine intersected by two traverse axes, and with limited interior walls. The exterior walls consist of large panes, untreated Australian hardwood, and a distinctive style of brickwork.