From the Taj Mahal and Parthenon to the Space Needle and the Louvre, the world is rife with iconic buildings that serve as endless inspiration in architectural visualization. But, what takes a building from merely impressive to iconic? Innovation, of course, plays a major role. Architect Patrik Schumacher says great architecture necessitates the “compelling application of new ideas, and buildings that are considered iconic often possess a ground-breaking aspect, something that had not been seen before”. Yet, although innovation is important, it isn’t everything. A number of other design qualities go into bringing buildings to legendary status.
Nature has been a key source of inspiration in architecture and rendering for years. Biomimicry, in particular, is the term given to building designs that mimic nature in both principle and form. In addition to looking for solutions found in nature to solve human challenges, biomimicry also aims to understand the underlying principles shaping the form – rather than just superficially blanket copying the form. Stunning examples of biomimicry can be seen all over the world. For example, the Quadracci Pavilion at the Milwaukee Art Museum is a gorgeous sculptural building that embraces the principles of biomimicry. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, a Spanish architect, the pavilion features the Burke Brise Soleil: a striking, movable sunscreen with an open and closing mechanism that resembles the wings of a bird about to take flight.
There’s also the Eastgate Center in Zimbabwe: a shopping mall and office building. Designed by architect Mick Pearce, along with Arup engineers, the Eastgate Center mimics the design of a termite mound. Specifically, the building’s natural cooling system is inspired by the refined strategy termites use to regulate the temperature inside their mounds. In the Eastgate Center, air flows into the building via the lower floors, and exits through the chimneys. This is an energy-efficient system that cuts energy consumption by 10%.
Moreover, the natural world can also be incorporated into the building’s interior design. For example, indoor trees are a growing trend. Not only do indoor trees inject life, color, and texture into any room, but they also offer proven health benefits. For example, 42 studies found merely being in the presence of indoor plants improves both mental and physical health. In particular, it can improve focus, memory recall, and pain tolerance, as well as lower stress levels. Ficus Ginseng, in particular, is a popular indoor tree. Not only is it a low-maintenance plant, but the Ficus Ginseng also looks beautiful with its sculptural, fat trunk with exposed roots. In fact, this attractive plant can pass for a work of art itself. Alternatively, Weeping Fig is an elegant indoor tree with a light gray trunk, slim branches, and glossy, dark green leaves. Weeping Fig is fast growing and lasts a particularly long time – between 20 to 50 years.
A striking silhouette is the defining feature of many iconic buildings across the world – in fact, it’s typically thought the most recognizable buildings can be traced across a page with a single line. It’s worth noting some silhouettes – such as the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building in New York City – are initially unique, but are copied liberally, and therefore become evermore commonplace over time. The Sydney Opera House, in particular, is a great example of a striking silhouette. Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, the Sydney Opera House features a roof composed of several huge interlocking vaulted shells, each of which is described as “a geometric and engineering wonder”. A team of engineers worked on the roof’s design for three years with the help of a 3D computer program, followed by seven years of construction.
“Creativity takes courage” as artist Henri Matisse famously once declared – a sentiment architects and renderers recognize all too well. Only by boldly breaking away from convention can a truly iconic building be designed. For example, Fallingwater is a famous private residential home designed in 1935 by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Kaufmann family. Fallingwater is described as “a masterpiece of Wright's theories on organic architecture, which sought to integrate humans, architecture, and nature together so that each one would be improved by the relationship”. While the Kaufmann’s expected Wright to design the home next to the waterfall on their land, he actually placed it right on top of the water to “bring the fall’s into the family’s everyday life”. The result is a unique moment of architectural drama that embraces the natural landscape, simultaneously drawing attention to the free flowing water, while also respecting its space.
Iconic architecture is timeless and serves as ample inspiration for visualization projects. Biomimicry, striking silhouettes, and breaking from convention are just some key lessons to incorporate into your future work.