A Morphological Study of Synclastic Surfaces in Nature and Architecture

Document Type : Research Paper


1 PhD Candidate of Architecture, Department of Architecture, Borujerd Branch, Islamic Azad University, Borujerd, Iran.

2 Assistant Professor, Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Art, Tehran, Iran.

3 Assistant Professor, School of Architecture, College of Fine Arts, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran.

4 Assistant Professor, Faculty of Art and Architecture, Bu-Ali Sina University, Hamedan, Iran.


Human beings have always used natural forms as inspiration for the design of their space. Today, technology has improved the integration of natural forms in architecture and has allowed designers to achieve more complex forms found in nature. The present study focuses on one of the most important sources of inspiration from nature, i.e. synclastic surfaces and explicates how the formal and structural concepts of these surfaces are used in architecture compared to other surfaces. The research method of this paper is comparative and descriptive-analy‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌tical, and it uses primary resources and examples to show how the form and structure of natural synclastic surfaces can influence contemporary architecture.

The paper begins by categorizing surfaces (shells) based on their curvature and shape, and then uses examples found in nature, to explains the different typologies of synclastic shells according to their form and construction method. The paper categorizes natural synclastic surfaces into three types: A-random form, B- based on non-Euclidean geometry and C- combined. If the construction of the synclastic surface is accidental, then its structure is uncertain and unstable. Synclastic surfaces based on non-Euclidean geometry are divided into two categories of A-symmetric and regular elliptical/spherical geometry and B-asymmetric elliptical/spherical geometry. The morphological structure of the first typology has: 1- rotational symmetry 2-transitional symmetry 3-reflective symmetry 4-rotational-reflective symmetry 5-scale symmetry and fractals. The morphological structure of the second category, which is asymmetric, is such that it only has proportions and geometric rules. In combined morphologies, harmony in structure and totality gives the synclastic surface its formal structure. In the next step, different examples of synclastic shells in architecture are illustrated. To do this, the typology of arched and domed roofs, as examples of curved shells, and also the typology of synclastic surfaces in contemporary architecture is presented. Furthermore, the formal typology of synclastic surfaces in contemporary architecture, based on their technology and structural logic, is extracted.

The paper argues that by recognizing and utilizing the potentials of synclastic surfaces in nature, and by using new design methods, construction techniques and technologies, it is possible to achieve more optimal and formally complex synclastic shell structures in architecture. These structures would be lighter, yet more durable, gravitationally balanced and due to their variety and flexibility, can exhibit an intelligent and responsive design, which is more in tune with contextual conditions.

Synclastic shells are not only rooted in nature but have also been used extensively in traditional Iranian architecture. Devoting attention to this type of structure in architecture improves the optimization of form and structure, and it also contributes to the evolution of the Iranian architectural language. By researching this type of shell structures, a new architecture can be created that provides both innovation and evolution of past concepts in form, structure and design philosophy. The results of this research show that there are a variety of synclastic surfaces and shells in nature that have escaped our attention, which can be important models for new ideas in architectural education, design and construction.


Main Subjects

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