Architecture has always been an art form that holds a lot of significance for traditions, religions, and cultures all around the globe. There is heavy importance in the spaces we spend day-to-day life, which is why organic architecture has become so widely loved. The term was crafted in 1908 by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who emphasized the harmony between form and function. "So here I stand before you preaching organic architecture: declaring organic architecture to be the modern ideal... Exalting the simple laws of common sense — or of super-sense if you prefer —determining form by way of the nature of materials," Wright wrote in "An Organic Architecture" in 1939.
Wright was adamant that organic architecture creates a balance between ecosystems by blending our construction with nature and other natural surroundings. He believed our lives should be an extension of nature by using plant life, stone, water, wood, and other elements to drive our designs. Organic architecture is still valued today, but with a renewed sense of urgency as climate change is more understood and social and technological advancements are ever-evolving.
At its essence, organic architecture seeks to uphold a conversation between nature and construction, creating a cohesive partnership that further benefits the Earth rather than disrupts it. Buildings feature open floor plans, incorporate greenery, use natural stones and woods, and even orient window placement around the sun's movements for the utmost natural lighting. Wright advocated for buildings to look the part they play, meaning an office building shouldn't look like a temple of worship. Form and function co-exist with design in organic architecture. It should all have a nature-driven aesthetic, from the structure and materials to the furniture and colors.
Everything is constantly evolving, and organic architecture is not exempt from that. In a world that is seeing continuous social changes and technological advancements, it's natural that we are moving towards more modern designs and gaining more understanding of why organic architecture is important. Keeping nature at the forefront of our construction will help lower the usage of natural resources, decrease the number of harsh chemicals we are exposed to in paints and finishes, and reduce air pollution as we keep plant life intact and encourage its growth. Increasing awareness of climate change plays a large part in prioritizing things like renewable resources and energy efficiency in living spaces.
Some 21st-century examples of organic architecture include the Learning Hub at Nanyang Technological University, designed by Thomas Heatherwick in Singapore in 2015. The building features round concrete towers surrounding a garden-driven atrium. Qatar's National Convention Center, designed by Arata Isozaki in 2011, is famous for the two overlapping faux trees that uphold the building. These spaces are largely comprised of open layouts with natural lighting and nature-driven themes. Rounded and soft lines, water structures, and plant-focused designs like green roofs are becoming more prominent. Trendy movements like minimalism and healthy homes have also been taking over the interior design industry. Organic architecture not only has a positive impact on the environment, but it also does excellent things for our mental health.
John Russell Wheeler, president of Columbus’s Farmers & Merchants Union Bank, wasn’t so sure. It was 1919. He wanted a beautiful building for downtown Columbus, WI. The town was growing, the banking business was improving and expanding, and he wanted to build a new bank to befit the town he loyally and lovingly served.
He had Greek Classical in mind: something imposing; something clean and sturdy; something regal, with columns; a building to stand out mightily in town.
His wife, Anna Mae Wheeler, had other thoughts. She suggested to her husband that he commission famed architect Louis Sullivan to design the new bank. Sullivan was in the twilight of his career. The Chicago-based architect was known as both the “father of skyscrapers” and the “father of modernism.” The phrase, “form follows function,” is attributed to him. He inspired many. He was the mentor for a young Frank Lloyd Wright.
The bank was built. The bank became a jewel in the city. The bank opened on June 14, 1920.
The bank was the eighth bank the famed architect built. The collection of banks are now called “Jewel Box” banks for their ornate architecture and standout quality along the Main Streets of small Midwestern towns.
Sullivan’s first “Jewel Box” bank opened in 1908 in Owatonna, Minnesota. The second appeared in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1911. The third, in Algona, Iowa, opened in 1913. West Lafayette, Indiana’s Purdue State Bank opened in 1914. Grinnell, Iowa’s bank opened in 1915. His sixth and seventh banks opened in Newark, Ohio and Sydney, Ohio in 1915 and 1918.
Sullivan’s last commissioned “Jewel Box” bank was the one in Columbus, Wisconsin. It is one of two buildings in Wisconsin designed by Sullivan. The other is a house in Madison.
The bank, since, has had several renovations and additions added to it. It remains as lovely as the day it opened and continues to conduct the daily business of banking to this day.
It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976. It was restored in 1997 and 1998. It had some remodeling done in 2012. It was used in the movie “Public Enemies,” in 2009. Johnny Depp “robbed” it, as John Dillinger, in the Michael Mann film.
The Wheeler family banked on Sullivan to produce a beautiful building. It paid off. The building, with its elaborately ornamented terra cotta on its exterior; its curling leaf tendrils climbing the walls; its lions guarding the holdings inside; its sun-dappled tapestry of stained glass inside; continues to shine bright.
It remains a jewel in downtown Columbus.
Architectural Digest visits Joshua Tree in California for a video tour of the awe-inspiring Kellogg Doolittle Residence. The sensational build was designed by organic architect Kendrick Bangs Kellogg and his protegee John Vugrin in the 1980s taking over 20 years to complete. Upon first glance, you would be forgiven for thinking this property was a living creature; the magnificent structure appears skeletal with 26 cast-concrete pieces fanning out in resemblance of vertebrae. An art piece in and of itself, it is no wonder this unique space is considered one of Kellogg’s greatest masterpieces.
The Wisconsin Historical Society announces the listing of the Melster House in the National Register of Historic Places on March 10, 2023.
Between 1950 and 1960, the population of Waukesha, Wisconsin grew approximately 30%; among those moving to the city during this period was the John Melster family. Melster, along with his business partner, had recently moved their company—Dairyland Food Laboratories—to Waukesha, and he wanted to live closer to work.
The Melsters selected Racine-based John Randal McDonald as their architect and received a Contemporary style house design that was integrated into the existing hill and allowed for the retention of many of the existing trees. Constructed in 1955, the house exhibits strong horizontal lines through flat rooflines with overhanging eaves, a cantilevered balcony, and large expanses of glass.
The house continues to be a striking contrast to the more traditionally styled houses in the neighborhood. The Melster House was identified in a city-wide survey as one of two Contemporary style single-family residences constructed in the 1950s with exceptional design features that remain intact.
Two years after the Melster House was completed, the drawings were identified as plan #1914 and offered for purchase in the bi-annual publication, New Homes Guide. Although the exterior was composed of brick instead of concrete blocks and the front door was placed off-center, plan #1914, entitled “spectacular hilltop house,” was the same as the Melster plans. To date, two examples of plan #1914 have been identified; one in Minnesota and another in Michigan. Between 1955 and 1958, McDonald would have ten other plans published in that same publication, built examples of which have been found in a total of seven states, including Wisconsin.
On the market for the first time since 1975 is one of modernist master R.M. Schindler’s late-career projects, the William E. and Mildred Tucker House. Built in 1950, the hillside-hugging home is located within one of the more architecturally blessed sectors of the Hollywood Hills in California, around the corner from Richard Neutra’s Kun House I and II, and a hop, skip and jump from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Storer House.
The Tucker House presents as clear an illustration of Schindler’s “Space Architecture” concepts as one could hope for, with planes that project and recede in complex patterns. Since 1975, the home has been owned by architect David Serrurier, whose past projects include the restoration and updating of Schindler’s Skolnik House and Neutra’s Nesbitt House. Per the listing description, Serrurier has also “restored, updated, and meticulously maintained” the Tucker House over the course of his lengthy tenure.
The 2,285-square-foot home disperses three bedrooms, two bathrooms, an open-plan living room/dining area and galley-style kitchen between its two levels. Features include hardwood floors, two fireplaces, clerestory windows, copious built-ins, soffits, and the all-important walls of glass ensuring constant connection with nature.
While the home’s steep hillside lot precludes having a typical backyard, there are numerous decks and patios from which to enjoy private al fresco moments and take in panoramic city and mountain views. Also of vital importance, given the narrow and winding streets of this neighborhood, there is a two-car garage.
The pedigreed property is co-listed with Crosby Doe and Ilana Gafni of Crosby Doe Associates at an asking price of $3.2 million.
In a quiet cul-de-sac in Castlecrag on Sydney, Australia’s North Shore, the Fishwick house by Walter Burley Griffin is approaching a century of occupation.
Emerging from the sandstone ridge like a medieval rampart – stepped around boulders, blended into the landscape with natural bush gardens – it looks impenetrable, yet intriguing. As the street name, The Citadel, suggests, the escarpment on which the houses sits enjoys a commanding outlook over bush headlands, Middle Harbour and, in the distance, the Pacific Ocean. With its flat roofs and walls built largely from sandstone quarried on site, the house offers a series of spatial experiences orchestrated through controlled volume, ceiling height, natural light and outlooks.
An exemplar of Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin’s vision for an architecture in harmony with nature, it was built in 1929 for Englishman Thomas Fishwick, the local manager for Leeds-based firm Fowler & Co, which produced heavy steam-driven machinery for agriculture and road-making. Fishwick was the kind of client Griffin had in the USA, but lacked in Australia — technically minded, interested in innovation, and wealthy.
The entry has low ceilings and concrete columns that evoke eucalyptus trunks.
A tunnel cut into bedrock off the street leads into the entrance hall, the house’s second largest room, where a low ceiling rests on concrete columns stippled in green and gold to evoke the eucalyptus trunk. From here, the living area unfurls past a “see-through” fireplace to a window precisely framing views down to Sailors Bay and Middle Harbour. Professor James Weirick, a Griffin scholar, has described this progression from enclosed space to open vista as “one of the magical experiences of Griffin’s Castlecrag.” The L-shaped room includes a grand dining room and a compact kitchen of many parts that adjoins a private courtyard garden.
To the left of the entrance hall is a sunken study, painted carmine red, with bookshelves built into the semi-circular wall where light enters through deep, cruciform windows.
Directly above the study is the main bedroom, where the semi-circular row of north-facing casement windows feature Griffin’s signature angled glazing bars. Also on the first floor were secondary bedrooms, bathroom, and the maid’s quarters with private garden entry. As with many local Griffin houses, the Fishwick house utilized its large, flat roof as balcony with breathtaking 270-degree harbour views.
Considered to be the finest and most intact surviving Griffin residence in Australia, the Fishwick house has been widely documented in print and on film. It is protected by all three levels of Australian government, with listings on the Register of the National Estate, the NSW State Heritage Register and Willoughby Council’s Griffin Conservation Area of Castlecrag. Of the 13 remaining Griffin houses built in Castlecrag (from an estimated 70 that were designed), this is the largest and the only two-storey residence among them. The rest are single-level, many modestly built as speculative or demonstration homes.