Blobitecture, also called “blob architecture” or “blobism”, refers to modern buildings with an amorphous shape similar to a drop. “Blobitecture” is a term actually coined by New York Times magazine writer William Safire, who used it to sarcastically describe the sudden rise of amoeba-like buildings. Contrary to their intention, the architects happily adopted “blobitecture” to describe an exciting new architectural movement.
Blobitecture is a dynamic form of architecture that is still widely used today. Blobitecture is unlike any other architectural form because it originates entirely from computer-aided design (CAD). In software architect jobs, architects use CAD to manipulate building contours in virtually any way. As they do this, the software automatically calculates mathematical equations that infuse the design with structural soundness. Before the development of CAD, architects adhered to conventional geographic shapes as they relied on the structural stability of these shapes. Now, thanks to CAD software, the shape of a building has unlimited possibilities.
Today, most architects implement blob architecture for glass and steel structures. It is rarely used for private residential housing, because glass and steel materials make “bubble buildings” quite transparent. On the contrary, it is used much more frequently for tourist attractions, such as museums, theaters and concert halls. It is also increasingly used for scientific buildings, such as the geodesic domes used for meteorological observatories and greenhouses. Finally, a greater number of commercial buildings are blob structures, such as the City Hall in London and the architecture studio Future Systems.
Blobitecture emerged during the 1990s when CAD systems were first developed for architects and interior designers. In 1993, the first blobitecture building was erected – the Water Pavilion in the Netherlands, which was completely designed in CAD. Other large-scale projects followed in quick succession, the best known of which is probably the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. This museum, located in Bilbao, Spain, was designed by renowned Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry. Opened to the public in 1997, it consists of various concave and convex curves. Since it is located in a harbor, its curves of glass and titanium reflect light from both the sky and the water. In addition, its curved silhouette resembles that of a ship. This modern art museum contributes greatly to making Bilbao a Spanish tourist attraction.
The United States has its own ‘blobitecture’ buildings. Seattle has the Experience Music Project museum, another building designed by Gehry, opened in 2000. Like the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, this museum consists of seemingly random curves formed by sheets of metal. The undulations of the building give it a flowing silhouette, perhaps as a tribute to the museum’s musical displays. While the shape of the Guggenheim museum reflects the vicinity of the harbor, the shape of the Project can be summed up as “form follows function.” In fact, Gehry directly attributed the building’s shape to that of a broken Stratocaster electric guitar, made famous by Jimi Hendrix. Unlike the Guggenheim, the Experience Music Project also incorporates more colors in its exterior design, although its metal reflects as much light as the Guggenheim.
Other cities have recognizable examples of blobitecture. England contains bubble structures not only in London, but in other cities. For example, the northeastern city of Gateshead has the Sage Gateshead building, which was designed by the architectural firm Foster and Partners. This building is a performing arts center and musical institution. This structure is shaped like a caterpillar, made up of multiple spheres that contract and expand as the building progresses. Its materials include glass and stainless steel, allowing it to shine by capturing all angles of sunlight. Its fluid form can be said to reflect the philosophy of this institution that all musical genres are equal.
Berlin also has another “form follows function” architectural structure. This structure is the Philological Library, designed by the English architect Norman Foster. Inaugurated in 2005, the Library is part of the campus of the Free University of Berlin. In keeping with the intellectual purpose of the university, the library resembles a human brain. Like many other blobitecture buildings, its main components are steel and glass.
Today’s architects rely on numerous CAD software programs to build blob architecture. Contrary to its appearance, many mathematical calculations go into ‘blobitecture’ designs. Most CAD programs, such as AutoCAD, allow the user to create a basic three-dimensional “sketch” and manipulate those lines in numerous directions. Blob architecture arises when the user makes those lines “wavy” and irregular, and “inflates” the design of the building. In the later stages of structural design, architects can use CAD to specify building materials and interior components for the project.
As a measure of the popularity of blobitecture, architecture students can now take college courses in blobitecture. There are also online courses that include the study of blobitectural. Many architects concentrating on urban planning architecture decide to learn about blobitecture, as blobitecture is mostly prevalent in metropolitan areas. Additionally, many CAD courses, offered both online and in person at educational institutions, allow architects to gain hands-on practice with architectural design.
As more architects move away from established geometric shapes, blobism is likely to become part of more international cityscapes. CAD will generate infinite blobitecture shapes in both exterior and interior design. Many ambitious architects are exploiting blobism to push architecture to its outermost limits. Additionally, many entry-level architect jobs require CAD experience; many architecture students are choosing to use blobitecture to become fluent in CAD.