by Pujita Tangirala (’22) | February 14, 2022
Welcome back to culture.png, a column where I will break down various topics in pop culture and their relevance to society today. With recent public interest in combining STEM with art, organic design is slowly reaching the mainstream. By pulling inspiration from nature, organic design breaks patterns of modernism by rejecting rigid rules and structures.
In the 1930s, Frank Lloyd Wright, a famous American architect, introduced the idea of organic design, urging harmony between humans and the natural world. Wright’s architecture becomes a part of the environment, interacting with the surrounding ecosystem. His designs also emphasize sustainability, an idea extremely relevant to architectural and urban design today.
Organic design not only exists in architecture, but also in furniture, art, and typography. It typically uses curvilinear structures, mimicking those appearing in nature. The designs are elastic and free, and often asymmetrical and dynamic. Conserving energy, using renewable resources, and recycling are extremely important to this design movement.
The main competitor to organic design is democratic design, which focuses on functionality and low price rather than creativity and expression. I personally believe that democratic design lacks the life that organic design can bring to a space. While democratic furniture is convenient for everyday functionality, organic furniture has the dual role of being an art form that also displays practicality. With the expansion of organic design, every aspect of our daily lives can be artistic. In a world of minimalism and modernism, it is refreshing to see art that reflects organic life re-entering mainstream.
One of my favorite organic designers is Neri Oxman, an Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab. I discovered her work through the Netflix documentary series Abstract: the Art of Design (which I highly recommend!). Rather than simply taking inspiration from nature, Oxman manipulates nature itself to create her designs. Oxman coined the term “material ecology,” which she defines on her website as “products and buildings… biologically informed and digitally engineered by, with and for, Nature.” To work toward a sustainable future, Oxman has created silk structures that build themselves, biodegradable plastic alternatives that are stronger than concrete, and a 3D printer for glass, all while producing zero waste. These are just a sample of the multitude of works she has brought to the world using her background in biology and architecture.
Oxman reveals in her documentary that her work has received criticism, as the connection between art and science is not something all of her peers immediately grasp. I found myself relating to her experience: as a woman in STEM-based art and design, I see Oxman as one of my biggest inspirations. I firmly believe that one day her philosophy will become mainstream, and art and science will become one. Whether it be through organically designed furniture or complex advances in material ecology, the future will be grounded in a return to our roots: Mother Nature.