Biomorphism, also known as zoomorphism or neo-organicism, is an art and design movement that uses natural forms purely for decorative purposes. This aesthetic style emerged at the turn of the twentieth century and gained popularity among art nouveau designers. It was a departure from the machine-dominated imagery of the time, as biomorphism sought inspiration from nature and the human body.
The hallmark of biomorphic design is incorporating swirling tendril-like motifs and elongated vegetal forms. Initially, this style was closely aligned with the organic lines and curves found in natural environments. However, with new machine technologies and materials such as plastics, biomorphism expanded its formal aspects. It became an integral part of the machine aesthetic, not just in production and manufacturing techniques but also in the materials used.
The Influence of Nature and the Human Body
The seamless fusion of flowing natural forms with high-tech materials resulted in remarkable creations. Steel stairways resembling strands of DNA and biomorphic buildings resembling skeletal remains were just a few examples of how biomorphism pushed the boundaries of design. By blending the beauty of nature with the possibilities offered by new materials, biomorphic designers created visually striking and innovative works.
The Cranbrook Academy of Art
Although the popularity of biomorphic design waned with the rise of art deco and modernism in the 1920s and 1930s, the style experienced a resurgence in the 1940s. The Cranbrook Academy of Art, under the direction of its first President, the Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, became a major centre of biomorphism during this period. Italian designer Carlo Mollino also played a significant role in championing the style through his biomorphic furniture designs, characterized by dramatic zoomorphic shapes.
Saarinen, Eames, and the Use of Plastics
Saarinen and Charles and Ray Eames further advanced biomorphic design by utilizing plastic materials in furniture manufacturing. This approach allowed for even greater exploration and experimentation with form and function, pushing the boundaries of what was possible in design.
Biomorphism in Architecture
Biomorphism extended beyond furniture and encompassed architecture as well. Frank Lloyd Wright, known for advocating natural materials and forms, could be considered a proponent of biomorphic design in domestic architecture. Similarly, Lewis Mumford, though more aligned with the International Style, shared sympathy for regional ecology and the promotion of greenbelt towns, suggesting a biomorphic ethic in his visual aesthetic.
Biomorphism inspires designers and artists today with its fusion of nature and design principles. By incorporating organic forms and materials, they create harmonious and visually captivating works that bridge the gap between the natural world and human-made creations. The enduring legacy of biomorphism lies in its ability to remind us of the beauty and interconnectedness of the natural world, even in the realm of design.
Bhaskaran, L. (2005). Designs of the times: Using key movements and styles for contemporary design. Roto Vision SA.