Organic Urbanism

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Stefano Serafini:

'One should first agree about what "organic" architecture or urbanism means. Term is very fashion, as any "bio", "eco", "green", and "sustainable" prefix/suffix/adjective - but what does all this mystical parafernalia means?

Jean Baudrillard gave an excellent explication of "green economy", as the perfect outfit of capitalism, 30 years before its instantiation in Obama's speeches (see L'échange symbolique et la mort, Gallimard, 1976). But one needs not to deal with French philosophers to understand, by using common sense, that all the bullshits about "sustainable skyscrapers", and the "green" millions of cubic meters of concrete, are nothing but advertise for dummies. Yet, I'm sure a really sustainable (or at least, less aggressive) way of designing, planning and building is possible.

On the other side, "organic" may mean just a design fashion, inspired by natural or nature-like forms. Works like those by Herman Finsterlin, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, or Gaudì are examples. Here one should make a distinction, as Finsterlin's works are just "inspired" by external natural shapes to give actually raise to a creativity that has few to share with nature; Hundertwasser design is already more close to the internal logics of natural forms; and Gaudì reaches sometimes perfectly the formalization of what we can dare to call "natural algorithms" (see N. Salingaros, Twelve Lectures on Architecture: Algorithmic Sustainable Design, Umbau-Verlag, 2010).

IMHO, a real organic architecture or urbanism should deal with this internal logics of natural forms. First of all, to be sustainable, architecture/urbanism should stop following images. We have to stop building "artistic" consumer goods, just to make market go. On the contrary, we have to build our space with the goal of making our lives more worth, more social, more happy, healthy, confident, human. "Nature" means also "essence". A natural way of building or planning, is a way that contribute in finding and enhancing human nature. And as the disastrous outcome of 100 hundred years of a "sign" culture of images showed abundantly, we are not evanescent half-gods, able to swallow whatever fashion and market invent and claim, with no damage to our health, mind, and society.

Thus, organic should BE a natural form, rather than imitate its fashion. That is, first of all, organic architecture and urbanism have to be real architecture and urbanism, and not IMAGES of architecture and urbanism. No matter, that actual architecture and urbanism are in fact exactly images rushed to our planet heart by alien genius-artist-architects.

This makes me think, that organic architecture and urbanism should ideally have no Author, and that the best achievements may be reached by the very community who will live in that built space. Organic, therefore, should mean also participation, in a very essential way (see Antonio Caperna, Michael Mehaffy, Geeta Mehta, Federico Mena-Quintero, Agatino Rizzo, Nikos A. Salingaros, Stefano Serafini, and Emanuele Strano, P2P Urbanism,

In such a sense, I see "natural" as another term for "reality". A participated design, made by people who live that space, has necessary to deal with their real needs, and their realistic sights on life. It's a kind of active resistance against hyperreal fuckers, you know, these men selling brilliant dreams that usually end as nightmares.

But, to come to your second, very well put, question, this is not enough. A p2p project will be for sure more sustainable than an archistar, pharaonic, consumerist plan, as it will deal with common needs of normal people, getting more or less straight to the point. If trainers will be intelligent enough, their care for environment won’t have to do with the smart hyper-consumerist waste/regeneration cycle hidden into the “green economy” rhetorical box. Project will fit to the environment as human body in fact fits (I would say…. “naturally”). And this means no rooms for green paranoia. If a decoration is needed for our neurophysiological wellbeing, we are not to save material in order to save the planet. Because a healthy inhabitant of this planet will care better for it, than 100 kilos of preserved wood.

Organic architecture/urbanism has to deal with wholeness. Not only with environmental and energy saving, transport and fuel issues, economical functions. It has to deal with human happiness. With culture, society, politics, spirituality. And has to do it smoothly, allowing people to get into it, to feel their space a part of their own, to be loved and cared; to expand their bodily experience to the space, and belong.

This means that organic architecture/urbanism deals with beauty. A beauty that goes beyond fashions, and like natural beauty is very local. Flora and fauna change their features, shapes and colors according to latitude, temperature, obeying a structural set of variables called “environment”. Human beings live in a natural + cultural environment. It seems logical that their built space’s features organize according. So, organic should be another name for “structural”, in the sense of considering the whole reality texturing human life.

Finally, the relation of the part to the whole in nature, exemplified by you with the image of the cell and the organism, it’s an excellent model. Very functional, it is also a kind of epistemic key to understand what’s good and what’s wrong when doing something in context. Systems Biology instantiates this “organic” way of looking to life’s world, and it’s overcoming the old reductionist paradigm in Biology and Medicine. Organic should represent such a shift in Architecture and Urban planning.

All of this has a name as a new discipline, and as a common, open field of research and debate. We call it Biourbanism ." (via discussion in ResearchGate, Jan 2012 [:])

More Information

  1. see Antonio Caperna, Alessia Cerqua, Alessandro Giuliani, Nikos A. Salingaros, Stefano Serafini, Definition of Biourbanism,
  2. Myrian Mahiques on fake organic architecture,