Fractals in Design: Are they the Next Big Thing in Architecture?

Have you come across an architectural aspect derived from nature called Fractals?

Thu Feb 2, 2023

The world of Architecture and Design is augmenting constantly. This means we have a plethora of intriguing aspects to explore, adopt, and implement. We often tend to assume that these innovations are a gift of technology. But, have you come across an architectural aspect derived from nature? Well, such elements are called Fractals. 

Fractals are an amalgamation of nature’s design propositions with modern design solutions. A fractal can be understood as a repetitive pattern associated with proportion and rhythm. It can be characterised by the presence of geometric configurations, irregularity, and slight deformations. 

Fractal Architecture is responding directly to a different model of societal needs which is more pragmatic since it addresses the environment and architecture in a greater, more comprehensive, inclusive totality than the immediate needs of select individuals. Architecture” quotes Jack Oliva Rendler, E7 Architecture Studio, USA.

The concept of Fractals in architecture is gaining momentum. This is because the utilisation of such elements facilitates the organisation of referential information into relative structures that translate spatially. Thus, complex sets of data or information that are pertinent for driving design decisions are no longer overwhelming. If all these insights have got your interest piqued, we have more in store for you. 

Fractals in Nature

1. Trees and Plants

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Image Source: Pinterest

Have you ever observed the formation of branches in trees? These branching patterns that entail variations in scale, thickness, and more are great examples of fractals in nature.

2. Snowflakes

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Image Source: MIT News

Every snowflake is unique and is defined by complex patterns that are intricately detailed. Thus, the expansion of these snowflakes results in the formation of fractal structural systems.

3. Bodies of Animals

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Image Source: UO Blogs

Similar to the branches of trees, the respiratory system encompasses veins that put together a finely detailed network. This expanding pattern illustrates the presence of fractals.

Fractals in Architecture

Fractals have been an integral part of architecture since time immemorial. They have paved the way for various architectural styles that have come into being over a myriad of eras. Here are some architectural styles that have infused elements inspired by Fractals.

1. Early Settlement Patterns

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Image Source: Afropedea

As discovered by the Mathematician Ron Eglash, the presence of various self-similar modules of dwellings in Africa is an example of fractals in architecture. These structures also resonated with the concepts of social and religious hierarchy. Thereby, the articulation of such components was a reflection of the incorporation of fractals in early settlement patterns.

2. Hindu Temple Architecture

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Image Source: Sam Woolfe

The concept of fractals is closely based on temples and related philosophies. Moreover, the beauty of complex structures and repetitive elements in Hindu Temple Architecture can be understood as the depiction of fractals. Most Hindu Temples are adorned with a superstructure element called shikaras. These elements are inspired by mountain peaks and crests which in turn are also fractal members.

3. Gothic Architecture

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Image Source: Architecture Restoration

The facades of Gothic Architectural marvels are composed of intricate elements that are repeated throughout the structure. These represent complex geometric patterns that are representative of fractals. Thus, in ancient churches and cathedrals that are based on Gothic Architecture, a plethora of elements inspired by fractals can be seen.

4. African Architecture

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Image Source: Pinterest

Fractals are inculcated in traditional African Settlements. Since ancient times, African architectural structures pirouetted around the concept of non-linear scaling. Thus, fractals came into being in the form of geometric patterns enclosed within geometric patterns. As a whole, self-similar structures were formed, thereby bringing fractals into existence.

5. Modern Architecture

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Image Source: Jack Oliva Rendler, Instructor, Futurly

In the modern context, fractals are used in architectural designs to curate fluid forms that resonate with futuristic approaches. They pave the way for the expression of irregular, complex, and organic designs.

Jack Oliva Rendler on using fractal conceptualizations for complex structures quotes,Fractal Algorithmic mathematical forms allow for an ability to assemble complex structures with a degree of organisation that brings coherency to a composition. Without an underlying rule set or algorithm, complex structures will quickly become chaotic and disorganised.”

Rule systems can be sophisticated and elaborate providing great degrees of freedom and diversity while still offering structural and compositional integrity.

6. Urban Planning

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Image Source: The Nature of Cities

Fractals aren’t just used to curate ornamental details and adornments. They are also put to use for greater purposes in terms of design. These purposes could include town planning, urban planning, and much more.
The branching aspect of Fractals can be observed to articulate towns and cities. They enable the creation of elements like nodes, paths, and connecting elements that resonate with the multiple facets of town planning.

Jack Oliva Rendler on the presence of Fractals in Urban Architectural Concepts, “Fractal field algorithms can allocate locations and flow lines for ecological systems, such as irrigation and hydrology paths and seed casting distributive patterns. The same parametric understanding of fractal systems allows for the construction of landscape models.”

Importance of Fractals in Architecture

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Image Source: Pinterest

Fractals are four-dimensional or higher, and they propagate, diffuse, expand, mutate and adapt, transforming as their base code and variables evolve. As a diffusion and propagation system, the fractal schematic forms allow for an underlying organisation as programs and functional elements are assimilated into a schematic plan.

“The technicality of constructing fractals isn’t rooted in one particular software although there are some dominant computational forces at play in the contemporary tool kit. Fractal construction is more of a heuristic thought process than a technical procedure. There are a few prominent abilities that come from a sensibility for formal systems and algorithmic processes.” quotes Jack Oliva Rendler.

In the Fractal Recursive Structure scheme of geometry, there would be a procedural way to subdivide and multiply cells within a grid, also adding variations of angles and articulations. Thus, opening the door to environmental modelling and algorithmic modelling, Fractal Architecture is a robust ongoing discussion about contemporary methods of delivering architectural solutions openly and inclusively on an international platform.

Fractal Architecture by Jack Oliva Rendler

Fusing Nature and Modernism…

By now, you must be fairly acquainted with the essentiality of Fractals in articulating the architecture of tomorrow. However, in the initial step of putting together architectural marvels that resonate with fluid and organic forms, a thorough understanding of Fractals is more important than we know of.

To get well-versed in the multiple facets of Fractals, it is essential to understand aspects like their origin, growth, and compositions. Only through this process can one incorporate fractals in their design ideologies and curate marvels.

This entire process can be made simpler and easier through detailed research. Moreover, you can enrol yourself in courses that help you understand Fractals and their uses in architecture. Platforms such as Futurly offer courses and workshops based on Fractals that take you into the depths of Fractal Architecture.

FAQs: Fractals in Architecture

1. What are Fractals?

A fractal can be understood as a repetitive pattern associated with proportion and rhythm.

2. What are some characteristics of Fractals?

Fractals can be characterised by the presence of geometric configurations, irregularity, and slight deformations.

3. What are the uses of Fractals?

Fractals enable the understanding of complex patterns and geometries. Moreover, they help in developing fluid forms inspired by nature and associated elements.

4. How are Fractals found in nature?

In nature, Fractals are present in the form of patterns in elements like trees, plants, animal bodies, snowflakes, and a lot more.

5. How were Fractals incorporated into Temple Architecture?

Most Hindu Temples are adorned with a superstructure element called shikaras. These elements are inspired by mountain peaks and crests which in turn are also fractal members.

Ar. Saili Sawantt_Architectural Journalist

Saili Sawantt
An Architect + Writer, Saili has worked as an Architectural writer & brand storyteller where she has collaborated with firms, studios, organizations, luxury brands, events & educational institutions to communicate in the real estate & travel industry. Her recent initiatives include curating an online workshop on communication and networking within the AEC industry. She is a commentator on the design industry’s upkeep through her social handles while also being an avid reader and traveler.