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The Organic Approach to Architecture

Edited by Deborah Gans and Zehra Kuz.Wiley-Academy, 2003. 216pp. £24.99

Not so much the novel of the film as the book of the symposium, coeditors Deborah Gans and Zehra Kuz have brought together the writings of participants in a conference on 'the problematic conditions of architecture in relation to its environments', writes Liz Bailey.

The two define 'organic' broadly, encompassing everything from a natural philosophy that 'conceives of the universe as an organism and the work of architecture as an organic operation' right through to German romanticism, Frank Lloyd Wright and 'genomic architecture'.

Gans confides in her introduction, that 'with a sense of duty that exceeded our sense of trepidation, we named our endeavour the organic. Our initial hesitation came from the abuse of the word which the conference set out to examine.' Perhaps, given the diversity of material in the book, its co-editors ought to have given in to their trepidation. As it is, they have produced a collection of seemingly unrelated essays that touch on the various uses of the term 'organic' in architecture, without sufficient context to help the reader understand how they relate to one another.

The Organic Approach to Architecture suffers badly from 'you had to be there' syndrome; it has endless pages of panel discussions, which are difficult to follow and less than riveting. Plus, some chapters seem to focus on 'organic' to the total exclusion of 'architecture', leaving the reader even more in doubt as to the book's purpose.

Unless you happen to be a huge fan of any individual conference participant, the best approach is to give the text short shrift. Instead, flick through the plentiful, beautiful illustrations, which instantly give a feel for the vast spectrum of organic architecture; from curvaceous buildings modelled on fluid dynamics, fractals or spheroids, to structures built to blend seamlessly with their surroundings.

Liz Bailey writes on transport and technology

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