Why a Nautilus?

SWBR selected the image of the nautilus for our logo for several reasons. It is a fortunate choice for the symbol of an architectural design practice. Not only does it remind us that many original forms in architecture were inspired by natural forms, the nautilus specifically has special ties to architecture, and it symbolizes our continuous commitment to the environment and sustainable design ideals.

The nautilus is a sea creature whose pattern of growth traces a logarithmic spiral. It grows incrementally into increasingly larger chambers that keep the same shape. It can grow indefinitely, but its  shape remains the same. Observing the translation of this growth pattern in mathematical and geometric terms, in the Renaissance, it was called 'the miraculous spiral.'

The spiral can be shown to pass through diagonally opposite corners of successive squares whose lengths correspond to the pattern 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, where each successive number is the sum  of the two before. This pattern is named after Leonardo Fibonacci, a mathematician who popularized its use in Europe in the late twelfth century along with the revolutionary concept of Arabic numerals, which he had learned from Arab geometers.

This pattern of growth can be found elsewhere in nature, in sunflowers, in starfish and in some aspects of our own human  proportions.

The influence of the logarithmic spiral in architecture goes back a much greater distance in time. A rectangle traced around the spiral yields the same pattern of successively proportional shapes. In  ancient times, it was known as the Golden Rectangle. It was also  known as the Divine Rectangle, with the belief that duplicating the mathematical order found in nature brought mankind closer to the  divine.

Consequently, the proportions of the Golden Rectangle can be found in some of the most important sacred structures of early civilizations, and these, in turn, form the basis of our Western architectural  heritage. The proportions are evident not only in plan and section, but in the proportions of the parts. The most representational form can be found in the volutes of the Ionic columns.

Leonardo Da Vinci wrote about the nautilus:

"The creature that resides within the shells constructs its dwelling with joints and seams, and roofing, and other various parts, just as a man does in the house which he inhabits; and this creature  expands the house and roof gradually in proportions as its body increases and as it is attached to the sides of these shells."
From T.A. Cook, The Curves of Life

Writing about spirals, the artist Friedrich Hundertwasser wrote:

"Our whole life proceeds in spirals. Our earth describes a spiral course. We move in circles, but we never come back to the same point. The circle is not closed. We only pass the same neighborhood many times. It is characteristic of a spiral that it seems to be a circle but is not closed.

The true spiral is not geometric but vegetative...the spiral grows and dies like a plant—the lines of the spiral, like a meandering river, follow the laws of growth of a plant. It takes its own course and goes along with it. In this way the spiral makes no mistakes."