Emergent Design

8 Reasons why parametric design is changing Architecture

This is my short list of 8 reasons why parametric design is changing Architecture.

Parametric Design

I first came across systemic and parametric design approaches while studying at the Architectural Association in London in the late 90s. Since then I have participated in and conducted research around digital and computational design. My Nordic roots drive me increasingly towards materiality and CNC fabrication and robotic control systems.

1. Parametric design brings advantages in both aesthetics and functionality

Parametric design is most obvious in the “purely” formal approach popular with the newly initiated. However, we quickly realize that it offers a powerful tool to solve visual, perceptive, material and structural issues. Even though a “purely” functional process will still be infused with the designer’s aesthetic vision. While architects have usually formed individual aesthetic aims, their design will have to solve real functional and contextual issues. The aesthetic of the proposal will emerge out of the design process, so as such there is no way of separating the two.

As with all contemporary professional disciplines technological changes will affect almost every aspect of the building industry. The whole design process will increasingly use digital methods in design optimization, design evolution and the way we exchange production information. The management of projects will change through the use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) with multidisciplinary design teams working on one model. Reaching all the way to construction and fabrication through CNC and mass customization.

This revolution will inevitably affect the aesthetic of buildings through the freedom of form that comes from these robotic manufacturing methods. But more importantly, it will affect the quality and functionality. With optimization and management of complexity and parametric multi-objectivity of architecture, the use and contextualization of the building should improve greatly.

2. The 3rd Industrial Revolution

Theory and practice are changing. Theory is really a description of the paradigm behind any relative process at any given time. As Architects practice within the real world they have some duty to understand the theory underlying the contemporary age. The theory of Modernism was born out of the second industrialization with mass production and standardization becoming the characteristics of Architecture and design. The current 3rd industrialization is one of robotics, computation and mass-customization.

Architecture is a profession that creates physical end product. A materialized space that will impact its context for years to come. Just like any other manufacturing discipline, Architecture will need to adapt. Adapt to new processes of scripting languages and understanding of digital processes and manufacturing. The same can be said of “cultural technologies” in the growth of social media and other systemic society tools.

3. Parametric design is a philosophy and methodology that is replacing the “classical” modernist architectural education

Modernism is an ideology of universalism, standardization, mass production and homogeneity. Computational or Parametric design is contextual, adaptable, mass customized and heterogeneous. There is therefore a fundamental difference between the theories, and as such students and architects will inevitably experience the difference through the act of creating. The primary aim is not to teach software, but to change paradigms, to train a way of looking and thinking.

Architects and students of architecture are usually introduced to this idea through simple parameters within projects. Here the design emerges from the methods, materials and important variables. It can be difficult to initiate designers into this way of working if they come from a modernist background. With better tools, such as visual coding tools like Rhino Grasshopper, designers are becoming used to complex and adaptive experiences. Working within those environment makes designers more adaptive. The biggest challenge is this paradigm shift that has to happen in the designer´s mind. The threshold where the designer needs to trust that the process will lead to a design without pre-conceived standard solution. Architects need to learn the methods of researching, analyzing and evolving parameters that control the project.

4. It´s not just a style

Patrick Schumacker coined the term “Parametricism” as a Style of architecture. To us Style is always changing and follows trends and fashion. We see the use of parametric design as tools and methods in the process of making high quality and innovative buildings for contemporary society.

We have to make a distinction between Computerization and Computation. Computerization is the process of putting something into a digital format. E.g. drawing a 3D model of a building. This has been with us for a long time, and the basic method is not much different from drawing on a drawing board. Computation however is a type of process, an algorithmic and mathematical process that is used by the computer but can also be used through analogue methods.

5. It allows you to manage complexity

Computation and parametrics design allow us to become better capable of dealing with complex issues. Architects are integrating these processes into all aspects of their work. Parametric Architects deal with parameters ranging from program, through site context, user interface and environmental factors to material technologies and manufacturing. This allows us to constantly aim to push the boundaries of what we are able to do with contemporary technology. We believe architecture improves accordingly..

6. Manufacturing and material science

The research into material science and manufacturing methodologies is a growing discipline within architectural academia. Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machines are becoming more widely used opening up possibilities for more adaptive and contextual design solutions. Architects need to understand how CNC manufacturing works, and integrate their use into their design process. The tool chest is growing, and as the old saying states “if you only have a hammer, all problem look like nails”.

7. Building Information Modelling (BIM)

Most designers that really look hard at their future see that in one form or another computational design is inevitable part of the profession. BIM (Building Information Modeling) and other automotive and generative methods are slowly taking over traditional office tools. The future professionals have to make a choice weather they will be purely consumers of such systems, with all the limitations this entails. Or be the creators and designers that can make, manipulate and use the power and opportunities such changes bring.

8. AI

AI will become a threat to “lazy” architecture. Simple cookie cutter plan extrusions and biscuit architectural solutions is easily replicated by AI learning algorithms. Architects need to become a part of the computational design process and instigate a push of the boundaries of design. The need for a braver and more open-minded planning process will increasingly become a matter of the survival of Architecture as a discipline.


By Gudjon Thor Erlendsson

© 2019 Gudjon Thor Erlendsson, all rights reserved.