Why Do We Create Ornament to Mimic Nature?

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Why Do We Create Ornament to Mimic Nature?

Living in an artificial environment makes us long for nature. We make up for its lack by imbuing our surroundings with those geometric qualities found in nature (Salingaros, 2006; 2013: Chapter 19). We try to shape our immediate vicinity so that those qualities reproduce our response to natural environments. When we cannot have immediate access to plants and animals, the next best thing is to create ornament. This compulsion has nothing to do with architectural style in principle, though in practice the result can eventually define a style. (Architects who look down their noses at ornament tend also to look down their noses at style, even as their rationale for opposing ornament amounts to style.)

Ornament often mimics nature directly. Organic forms copied from plant life define a broad category of ornament seen throughout history and across cultures. From biophilia, natural forms have inherent qualities, reducible to a mathematical description, that induce a healing effect. Other types of ornament bear no direct resemblance to natural forms but rely instead on more abstract geometries. Here the healing effect comes not by direct biological imitation but by triggering human biology’s positive emotional responses through symmetry, contrast, detail, and color (Salingaros, 2013: Chapter 16).

Ornament is simply the organization of complexity generated at the smaller scales of design (Salingaros, 2014). Humans copy the designs of nature but also impose additional ordering, symmetry, and coherence on the artifacts they make or buy. Or we begin with a naturalistic resemblance but then develop those symmetries much further. Phenomena related to how global coherence resists entropy begin to operate at larger design scales (Alexander, 2001-2005; Salingaros, 2006). The difference between ornament that looks organic and ornament that looks abstract and the reason why both contribute to biophilia need investigating. Among those writing about this topic are Bruce Donnelly (2015) and Ann Sussman and Justin Hollander (2015). []

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