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Saturday02 August 2014

The future is parametric

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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”.

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Readers' comments (11)

  • I am not too sure if 'parametricism' can be referred to as a style, for a style has embodied attributes through which we may identify objects of that 'style'. What would be the 'Parametric-style'? It currently has no concrete definition, as it is merely a technique at present, a technique with poly-outcomes if you like. I for one see parametrics as being an inevitable future practice, but one which can only really be realised reasonably if/when we are able to actually build the things one can create with paramertics digitally. I love parametrics, but I still love my pencil and paper even more. PS - One other tool in development is AGX (AutoCAD GenX), parametric system within AutoCAD, watch this space.

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  • I can’t help but think that by referring to parametrics as a style rather than a tool, this shows that it is just being used to intellectually justify building the blobs that Zaha and Patrik find pretty. How do 'fluid fields' or 'swarms' come into problem solving for a building? Surely they are manipulated inputs that give the resulting shape the architects’ desire? Calling 'parametricism' the great new style after modernism is therefore just an attempt to play up their own importance in architectural theory. Ive also noticed that this argument presents nothing that justifies why parametricism will provide a better building for the people that use it- but instead just uses lots of big words in the hope of impressing intellectual peers, and deliberately confusing those that don’t understand it. This consequently gives supporters of parametrics a good put down against arguments like mine. Good work BD on the digested digest!

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  • I'd like to know what Private Eye would make of this 'manifesto' and where it might end up in that August tome if reported on.....

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  • I'm all for new ideas, and the best of their work can be terrifyingly beautiful. However this speech feels so terribly desperate and insecure. The contrived rhetoric gives more an impression of the emperor's new clothes- undermining the credibility of the work itself. more beauty, less rubbish.

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  • it would be nice to know the driving forces to there design outcomes? the numbers that effected the design, the pressure points; lead lines; relational elements all which effect the possible outcomes through these scripts. Is it movement of people; natural sun light; density of space and environment; or even the nature of the meaning through interaction of space that forms the values of these forms? Arbitrary lines through factitious space dose not mean its paremetric modelling. if the scripting used simply creates flowing curves to fit the drawn 3dimensional line that is pleasing the the eye, then i have difficulty seeing how this can be called parametric design. Claiming some term to explain the 'period' of design should come from those that do true parametric work. seems a little like a firm of architects seem to be running before they can walk in this field. http://www.oosterhuis.nl/quickstart/index.php

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  • It's interesting that the declaration of a new style and a departure from modernism is delivered in the medium of modernist discourse: the manifesto. Shouldn't parametricism be explained in a series of surface logarithms? If the architecture community vindicates the existence of a parametric style, then the community will be moving away from the actual dialogue and content of architecture, which is and has always been space in some respect. Space is not merely a tenet of modernism. "Parametricism" is an attempt to venerate Form as the means, the generator, and the product of design in our "heterogeneous" context. But if Form becomes an expression of "fields", and everything becomes everything, then is parametricism really an appropriate response to the premise of heterogeneity? Integrating all elements of design into a fluid aesthetic package is actually the pursuit of flattening and homogenizing design (that is, limiting variety). Herman Hertzberger talked a lot about this issue in a fairly articulate manner. He believes that the disproportionate obsession with continuous surfaces is a compensation for a lack of programmatic or spatial innovation. This new style appears to be nothing more than an engine to propel the fascination of form and aesthetics that predominates the broader discussion of architecture... a discussion that undermines the value of design in society and posits design as a superficial act that is of no importance to everyday life.

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  • Well, I'm more confused than a Baroque style is. Meaning that this Parac....? Is quite frankly confusing, they said it's the new great Architectural movement/style! I can't deny that using parametric element in designing is helpful but not mandatory for the advancement of any idea, you can still use drawing board to sketch you know! Let the digital take lead in design strategy is quite not that sensible, especially at large scale as urbanism, I think this style should be carefully studied and tested before any damages are done to the Human scale and to Architecture and urbanism as a whole. Remind me "Complexity and contradiction in Architecture" what a venture!

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  • Nah. It's just a theory made up to justify the kinds of things you can make with computers nowadays.

    It pretends that it can become operative in the ecological fields in which it operates, but it's mostly phenomina extruded through diagrams.

    Parametricism claims that CAD/CAM allows for infinite varitation of building components, but this is at odds with constructional realities. OK, you can get solid wood panels cut into whatever shape you like, but you'll need a couturier to get the Tyvek on.

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  • Patrick, this isn't architecture, it's product design. The name of this website is BUILDING Design, I think you were looking for Mobile Phone Design, or perhaps Toaster Design, no?

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  • It's academic, my dear Watson! A new semantic game for academicians to write MA's and PhD theses about, dontcha know. A bit like when we were told we needed a new way to learn how to read and (not) spell back in the 1960's. Bit of a con really. Just flash chat for saying wavy lines are "in" (and cool) and the right angle is "out" (and stifling).

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