On Growth and Form: A Field Guide, D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1961)
Organicism, the metaphorical application to architecture of concepts originally reserved for living nature, is one of the most widespread and constant themes in the history of Western Architecture and its theory, but also one of the most variable and elusive. […] Organicism is based on the conviction, generally held in artistic theory from antiquity to the end of the nineteenth century, that art should imitate nature, not with the aim of producing faithful copies, but with the aim of creating the illusion of life, of conferring the qualities of living nature upon the products of man, in the hope of effectuating the metamorphosis of dead matter into a living being. Since such metamorphosis will never be complete, we have to content ourselves with the use of metaphor: to speak of architecture as if it were part of living nature, shared her qualities of organic growth and unity, and could copy her methods.
—Caroline van Eck, “The Character of Organicism,” Organicism in Nineteenth-Century Architecture, An Inquiry Into Its Theoretical and Philosophical Background, (Amsterdam: Architectura & Natura Press, 1994), p. 18.
How does a book engender another? What is the process by which a book’s words and images migrate across time into other publications to create a larger discursive field? Can this expansion be documented by the juxtaposition of the original pages and clippings of the republication of their words and images?
On Growth and Form: A Field Guide aims to trace this process of discursive expansion, one that begins with D’Arcy Thompson’s (1860–1948) seminal work On Growth and Form (1917) as one of the protagonists that gives form to the renewal of the nineteenth-century discourse of “Organicism” to one of “Organic Architecture” in the twentieth century. As López-Pérez’s personal copy, On Growth and Form: A Field Guide serves to map this expansive process where the original pages become the backdrop by which different episodes are “exhibited” within its pages to create a condition of discursive juxtaposition. On Growth and Form: A Field Guide becomes quite literally a temporary and tentative map of a discourse on twentieth-century organicism, that emerges right at the moment when López-Pérez starts the writing of a new book project entitled From Organicism to Organic Architectures.
Physically, adhesive color dots serve to bring together, temporarily, words and images from the original, and their later reinterpretations, offering the reader the possibility for rearrangement at any time. Their color also marks different themes within the discourse, ranging from material, natural, and historiographical citations that are then also indexed in the bibliography.
Daniel López-Pérez, PhD, is an Associate Professor and a founding faculty member of the Architecture Program in the Department of Art, Architecture and Art History at the University of San Diego. In its second edition, López-Pérez is the author of R. Buckminster Fuller, Pattern-Thinking (Zurich: Lars Muller Publishers, 2020). Fascinated by theories of organicism, or the vast historiography of artistic explorations into the natural world, López-Pérez is currently starting a new book project entitled Organic Architectures.