Deep in the trenches of architecture, classicists and modernists are battling for the right to don the mantle of science. If you google “architecture biophilia” you will see a lot of stuff – including buildings – covered with greenery. That’s a form of biophilia – literally donning trees or shrubs to appear natural, hence scientific. But in sussing out the truly natural in design, and the difference between how modernism and traditional architecture embrace natural processes in the design of buildings, Erik Evens posted an e-mail on the TradArch list in a discussion of this topic that brings clarity to the matter. Here is most of his short passage:
I think the nomenclature is really important in this arena. I think that traditional architecture is “biophilic” (is that a word?) in a deep structural way, where the current avant-garde neo-modernism employs a shallow sort of biomimicry. In other words, I see a lot of the neo-modernist avant-garde adopting some of the aesthetics of biological form, in their curving parametric buildings (Hadid, Gehry, etc.), or giving lip service to fractal geometry with surface tiling (Liebeskind, and others). But none of the mimicry of the superficialities of biologic form is more than skin deep – it’s pure aesthetics divorced from any deeper conceptual basis.
On the other hand, it seems to me that the language of classical architecture aligns with nature on many levels of meaning … not just with aesthetics – i.e., engaging detail at a variety of scales, self-similarity, alignment with the human form, sophisticated proportional systems, allegorical and symbolic content with references to the natural world, etc.
… I would call the neo-modernist work “biomimetic” and the traditional architectures “biophilic.”
I am working my way through a book by Nikos Salingaros, the mathematician and architectural theorist at the University of Texas, San Antonio. His work, as suggested within the thread of this topic on TradArch, may offer the most sustained thinking on this subject. I will soon be reviewing his Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction (2014).