“in wildness is the preservation of the world.” –Henry David Thoreau
The spiral has been a popular motif in the arts for centuries but it resurges today as a result of a renewed awe of nature. The areas of fine art, industrial design, and architecture provide strong examples of this trend. A good jumping off point is Santiago Calatrava’s 54-story Turning Torso building erected in Malmø, Sweden. The message implicit in the form is of an architecture grounded in nature. The curves imply improvisation and an organic kind of growth, like that of a vine. These forms contrast sharply with the modern, rectilinear box and repeating grid that dominated architecture for decades. In addition, the spiral offers an orderly and more humanly shaped alternative to the amorphous, postmodern blob made possible by advancing technology. I think this change in form and the attraction to it arrives today due to the development of a new, deeper appreciation of the wisdom of nature and anxiety about the looming climate crisis. Of course, new curvy buildings do absolutely nothing to help us but, like a diet coke ordered with a cheeseburger, they can satisfy the subtle urge to act responsibly.
Spirals are at once mysterious and chaotic. Although they appear often in nature as sea shells, whirlpools, and pinecones, and despite the fact that math has been able to describe them accurately since the 13th century, spirals remain outside our complete understanding. Their form, although familiar neither begins nor ends, leaving us to ponder infinity. Their popularity may signal a new, fatalistic coloring of our consciousness, but I believe the underlying reason for the appeal of spirals today is our desire to be in greater harmony with spaceship earth.