Le Confident

Ideas tête-à-tête

Parametric Architecture

parametric design

Okay last thing for today. In my favourite book store near the institute of technology in Vienna (TU Wien), where I love to look at beautiful science books and never buy them, because they tend to be quite expensive, I came across this book on parametric architecture by Wassim Jabi.
Having talked so much about generative art, programming as an art form and the inclusion of mathematical computation packages in artistic work and even game design, this naturally struck some chords. Earlier today I mused, that complexity of things might hinder their realization, when projects give time and monetary constraints. Things like Mathematica facilitate things greatly, even difficult physics will become element of game engines and every-day commodity design. But what about architecture? Why are we still mostly seeing boring boxes with some prism on top?

There are many ways to develop onto this: using new, artificially created materials, they might even react to the environment. Include dynamics into your designs, waterflows, moving particles, or controlled forces acting on mobile parts. Switch to more complex, non-euclidian forms.
Again, I’m not an architect, so I’m just guessing, that it is hard work to solve the necessary equations in static and fluid dynamics, when you deviate from relatively simple and well known geometric forms. This last thing though, is what is mainly comprised by the moniker parametric architecture. Let me first show you some pictures, and then add some thoughts.

The most well known proponents of this style might be Zaha Hadid and her collegue Patrick Schumacher, the Austrian studio Coop Himmelb(lau) and Foster & Partners.


Baku Cultural Center - Zaha Hadid

Baku Cultural Center – Zaha Hadid

Roca London Gallery - Zaha Hadid

Roca London Gallery – Zaha Hadid

Dancing Towers - Dubai - Zaha Hadid

Dancing Towers – Dubai – Zaha Hadid

Coop Himmelb(l)au:

BMW Welt - Munich - Coop Himmelb(l)au

BMW Welt – Munich – Coop Himmelb(l)au

Dalian Conference Center - Coop Himmelb(l)au

Dalian Conference Center – Coop Himmelb(l)au

Foster & Partners:

Zayed National Museum Dubai -  Foster & Partners

Zayed National Museum Dubai – Foster & Partners

Then there are several other studios, following this paradigm, interestingly often from the arab peninsula:

RMJM Architects:

Capital Gate - Dubai - RMJM

Capital Gate – Dubai – RMJM

MZ Architects:

Aldar HQ Dubai - MZ Architects

Aldar HQ Dubai – MZ Architects

So what parametric architecture does in principle, is to script the targeted form. That is in the CAD program, 3dsMax, AutoCAD and so on, the actual structure is not only modelled geometrically, but so to speak, modelled logically in external langauges like grasshopper, processing or (as we’ve seen) the wolfram language, so that the designer can change specific values and watch, how these change all the connected parameters of the model. Hence the name. By this finding a form, is no longer limited by the artist’s imagination, which naturally depends on past experience and also becomes independent of the physical complexity, that might come with it. The parametric approach shows, where the structure might run into problems, given specific desired values for any chosen variable. Imagine, what possibilities lie in scripting languages which already include a vast amount of objects and algorithms suitable for geometric modelling, and then imagine them integrated into a work flow, in which between the first sketch and the final (maybe printed) model, lies but a convenient string of adjusting parameters. Once you have your physics right, you can try-out whatever you want, relatively quickly and relatively cheap.

An aspect that I have been turning around like a top these past weeks, that is also inherent in this design paradigm, is automation. And to be more specific: automation of parts of the creative process itself. This is philosophically intriguing, as it makes palpable, that creativity is no mystical property unique to humans, but rather a specific assembly of algorithms. People like Gustav Peichl, a very well known architect in Austria (you might have seen the Millenium Tower, when taking a tour in the northern parts of the city), for example recently published a book, saying that drawing is the language of architecture, and computers cannot be creative. It is clear, why people think this way, they’ve got used to it over many years, but this belief does not hold against current developments. So the grasshopper language for example, makes extensive use of generative algorithms, that we talked about earlier and they by definition find new forms given some parametric constraints. (see this article)

See here a talk by Patrick Schumacher on the topic:

If you’re interested you can watch a youtube introduction on Nick Senske’s channel. First video:

These are realized projects! But the parametric paradigm doesn’t stop here. Most notably it develops itself into organic or ecological designs, where the building actually reacts to it’s environment and grows out of it. This is real futurism and can be art. For example Steven Ma, working for Himmelb(l)au designed a 3D depiction of a lemniscate:

Steven Ma - 1

Steven Ma – 1

Or look at this research project done within the Architectural Association of London: it is a filigrane structure, that is supposed to grow like hair or grass rather, thereby not excluding nature. This reminds me of a concept I put into a short story I’m currently writing (over here), where a building is constructed out of “intelligent hair cells”.

Blue by Jose Cadhile, Almeida, Desyllas, Topal

Lots of things to try, many ways to go, and hopefully much motivation to leave the paths of stereotype and repetition!







Nicholas Earle Design Blog – Interesting Entry on the Future of Design

Rethinking Architecture – more technical details and tutorials


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This entry was posted on March 22, 2014 by in Art, Design and tagged , , , , , , .
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