The future is parametric
In Venice last week, Patrik Schumacher, partner at Zaha Hadid Architects, hailed parametricism as the great new style after modernism. This is an edited version of his manifesto
We must pursue the parametric design paradigm all the way, penetrating into all corners of the discipline. Systematic, adaptive variation and continuous differentiation (rather than mere variety) concern all architectural design tasks from urbanism to the level of tectonic detail. This implies total fluidity on all scales.
The mass society that was characterised by a single, nearly universal consumption standard has evolved into the heterogenous society of the multitude. Contemporary avant-garde architecture is addressing the demand for an increased level of articulated complexity by means of retooling its methods on the basis of parametric design systems.
The contemporary architectural style that has achieved pervasive hegemony within the contemporary architectural avant-garde can be best understood as a research programme based on the parametric paradigm. We propose to call this style parametricism.
Parametricism is the great new style after modernism. Postmodernism and deconstructivism have been transitional episodes that ushered in this new, long wave of research and innovation.
That the parametric paradigm is becoming pervasive in contemporary architecture and design is evident. There has been talk about versioning, iteration and mass customisation for quite a while within the architectural avant-garde discourse, formulated at the beginning of the 1990s with the slogan of “continuous differentiation”. Since then, there has been both a widespread, even hegemonic, dissemination of this tendency, as well as a cumulative build-up of virtuosity, resolution and refinement within it.
This development was facilitated by the attendant development of parametric design tools and script. Parametricism can only exist via sophisticated parametric techniques. Finally, advanced design techniques like scripting (in Mel Script or Rhino Script) and parametric modelling (with tools like GC or DP) are becoming a pervasive reality.
But the parametric design tools by themselves cannot account for this drastic stylistic shift from modernism to parametricism. Late modernist architects use parametric tools to maintain a modernist aesthetic. At Zaha Hadid Architects, our parametricist sensibility pushes in the opposite direction and aims for a maximal emphasis on conspicuous differentiation.
Fields not space
Modernism was founded on the concept of space. Parametricism differentiates fields. Fields are full, as if filled with a fluid medium. Swarms have also served as paradigmatic analogues for the field concept. We would like to think of swarms of buildings that drift across the landscape or of large continuous interiors like big exhibition halls.
Imagine there are no more landmarks to hold on, no axes to follow and no more boundaries to cross. Contemporary architecture aims to construct new logics — the logic of fields — that gear up to organise and articulate the new level of dynamism and complexity of contemporary society.
Confused about parametrics? Try this digested version
Architecture and urbanism should be tackled as a set of linked design criteria which form a complete “system” in a building, from urbanism down to the smallest details. Parametric design links all this information in a way to similar to a spreadsheet so that a change in one value creates a corresponding change in all other values. Since computer-controlled tools now allow components to be made in far fewer numbers in order to be economic, there is much greater freedom in the design of construction systems for buildings and equipment within buildings, and for urban landscaping linking buildings. Digested Digest Buildings are developed using problem-solving as the driving force rather than by grouping together “architectural objects”.
Patrik Schumacher is co-director of the AA’s Design Research Lab and a partner at Zaha Hadid Architects.