Lebbeus Woods comments on Sarah Williams Goldhagen’s article in the New York Times about the idea that there is a current trend in Architecture that is trying to embody nature. Her main example regards tree metaphors.
While Goldhagen’s article seems to be largely concerned with a neo-phenomenology of embodied nature, Lebbeus’ commentary brings up an excellent point about how this trend is hardly new, though it tends to come and go. His examples are from the turn of the 20th century movements of Expressionism and its attempt to evoke nature, though as Lebbeus points out their concerns mostly focused on geological ideas.
It seems to me that many of that much of contemporary architectural thought is largely re-hatching the architectural equivalent of abstract expressionism. Much like the the painters of the mid 20th century did in response to expressionism of the early part of the century, many contemporary architects are trying to dissolve the figure of the building in favor of an abstract ideal of affectation, which acts as a substitute for evoking nature directly.
While Goldhagen may have a point that some may easily be interpreted as direct metaphors of natural phenomena, much of the architectural discourse is around such ideas as qualitative performance, biomimetics and parametric variation, which are all ways of abstracting away the direct metaphorical content of natural phenomenon and dealing with the ideas behind them. Though with the contemporary tools at our disposal, such abstraction is perhaps more potent that true imitation, it is unlikely that one can claim that any building can live up to Goldhagen’s need for a phenomenological connection to nature and it is worth remembering Lebbeus’s admonishment that architectural form is limited in ability to address such need in its entirety.