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Architecture

Javier Senosiain: Organic Architecture

Javier Senosiain designs buildings that look like plants and animals to show how architecture can be more closely aligned to the natural world.

Just outside the hustle and bustle of Mexico City is a secret garden where the Aztec serpent god Quetzalcoatl comes to life. A giant snake, with multicolored skin and a gaping mouth, appears to be slithering through the hills and caves of the ravine landscape. It may look like a sculpture but it’s actually a building; there are 10 curvaceous apartments contained within its bulging belly.

Javier Senosiain's Nido De Quetzalcoatl is designed to resemble an Aztec serpent god.

This is the work of Javier Senosiain, a Mexican architect who refuses to design buildings in straight lines. Senosiain, 71, has dedicated most of his career to exploring what he calls bioarquitectura, a form of building that aims to bring man as close as possible to nature. Influenced by the likes of Antoni Gaudí and Frank Lloyd Wright, he uses organic shapes to create architectural structures that look like the creatures and habitats of the natural world. “A house should adapt to the human body, just as animals make their shelters adapted to their bodies and their needs," he told The Journal. “It is a more humane architecture.”

La Casa Orgánica was Senosiain's first experiment with entirely freeform architecture.

Senosiain first started developing his curiosity for curves while he was still a student, although it wasn’t until 1985, aged 34, that he built his first entirely freeform house, La Casa Orgánica. This subterranean structure nods to some of the most primitive human dwellings, from caves to igloos. It is also reminiscent of a rabbit’s warren or fox’s burrow. Its curved walls and roofs – in many places indistinguishable from one another – become an extension of the grassy landscape, punctured occasionally by large bubble-like windows. Inside, furniture is designed to follow the curvature of the architecture.

Built for his family, the house is punctured by large bubble-like windows.

Structurally the house is actually quite simple, even though Senosiain has extended it several times to accommodate his growing family. A steel rebar skeleton provides the basic shape, coated in a mortar skin. “Curved shapes are very rigid,” explained the architect, “for example, the skull that houses the brain or the shell of an egg. Despite it being thin, it is impossible to break by pressing on the top or bottom”. This is all concealed under a layer of soil and grass, which makes it easier to maintain a stable temperature in the internal spaces. The house keeps itself clean too, claims Senosiain, because “organic architecture has no corners where dust accumulates”.

“The curved forms are sensual and soft,” he said. “There is more continuity of the floor with the wall and the ceiling. Circulation is more continuous, more spontaneous from one place to another.”

Inside Casa Orgánica, furniture and fixtures follow the curved walls.

After that came Ballena Mexicana, a house that takes the form of a whale; Casa Flor, which has a floor plan in the shape of a flower; the colorful Conjunto Satélite, a group of homes that Senosiain likens to a pair of eagles with outstretched wings; and the shell-shaped Nautilus villa. All of these dwellings combine curved surfaces with spaces that are either fully or partially submerged underground. But there are also intricate flourishes that give each design its own character, from mosaic tiles in kaleidoscopic patterns to stained glass windows that display all the colors of the rainbow.

Senosiain claims the house is easy to keep clean because it has less corners for dust to gather.

Senosiain insists that he never sets out to make any of his buildings in a particular image, rather that the associations come later and he embraces them. Sometimes he even updates the design, for instance he added a fin to one building after he heard construction workers calling it “el tiburón” (the shark). The same was the case with El Nido De Quetzalcoatl, where the serpentine form was developed to offer residents the best elevated views, and the head and tail only came in later.

Stained glass adds character to the subterranean rooms.

The forms may seem radical but, with the public appetite for environmentally conscious design growing fast, they hint at a potential future where a natural balance between humanity and the planet is restored, and the threat of climate change is no longer a concern. For Senosiain, the only way that architecture will move forward sustainably is by going backwards. "Ideas do not come from doing futuristic things,” he said. “Quite the opposite, they come from the primitive. As Gaudí said, the word original comes from origin. Originality means returning to the origin of things.”

Senosiain, 71, still lives in Casa Orgánica with his family.