I remember what inspired my genuine interest in parametric architecture. In my first year at university, I witnessed a scene, in which older students were building some kind of alien structures from ordinary cardboard in the hallway. Then I first heard about what can be designed using algorithms, who is Zaha Hadid and how the Grasshopper visual programming language is used in the Rhinoceros program environment. And I decided to learn more about the masterpieces of computational design.
We are lucky enough to live at the beginning of the 21st century, thanks to which we can observe how a new unique style in architecture — parametrism — is being born. It is a completely different paradigm, with its own fundamental concepts, methods, and aesthetic criteria.
Parametricism (digital, algorithmic, generative architecture) is a design process using digital modeling methods that allow changing parameters of an object in real time. Parametricism uses design and programming tools in combination with advances in biotechnology.
How it all began
Since the mid-90s, the latest developments in the design of vehicles and aircraft have found their application in architecture. Serious transformations are taking place in various fields of science. The organization of the design process is becoming more and more complex and refers to the principles of nonlinear dynamics and fractal geometry.
Due to the determinancy of each of the parameters, the new architecture is distinguished by an unconditional flexibility in generation of geometry. The architect avoids correct geometric shapes. A straight line is replaced by a spline, and, instead of cubes, cylinders and pyramids, there are dynamic systems of particles. In order to establish associations between properties of structure elements, mathematical functions are used. Buildings acquire a resemblance to living organisms that are constantly changing under the influence of external factors, turning into a single self-regulating system. This allows a pile of glass and metal to blend into the surrounding landscape as organically as possible. Bizarre, sometimes unexpected forms that are balancing between the illusion and naturalness appear. Here it is — the recipe, the ingredients of which — a cold mixture of numbers and formulas — turn into moving, pulsing, revolving buildings of a new world.
What are the goals of parametrism?
Have you ever wondered what any object — a building or an interior item — would look like, if it is represented in the form of numbers and mathematical equations? Due to tools of parametric modeling we are provided with the ability to do this, at least partially. The architect expands the boundaries of design, gaining the opportunity to harmonize the form and function, while simultaneously changing various parameters of the future structure.
Architecture always reflects social processes in society, being part of its cultural and symbolic code. Parametricism emerged not only as a result of scientific innovation, but also as a response to the request of a new society that has been formed in the digital environment. The very concept of private and public undergoes some changes that subsequently enriches the space with new hybrid functions.
A state-of-the-art building must use energy efficient technologies, be as adaptable and environmentally friendly as possible. A static architecture is a thing of the past, while the future belongs to a programmable and self-regulating system that provides humans with the most favorable physiological conditions. And all this is within the dynamic, sometimes irrational forms of a fluid, seamless, swarm architecture of splines, transformations and tessellations.
Tools for creating objects of computational design
In the course of my professional activity, I mainly had to work in such popular programs as 3ds Max (creation of polygonal modeling objects) and Archicad (Building Information Modeling — BIM). But a really flexible and convenient tool for creating high-precision detailed parametric objects is the Rhinoceros 3d + Grasshopper — this design method is called freeform surface modeling.
Rhinoceros is a modeling system for working with NURBS technologies (Non Uniform Rational B-Splines), in which surfaces are specified by splines. The program allows creating, editing and analyzing complex curves, surfaces and solids that form smooth organic shapes and models.
Grasshopper is a visual editor of algorithms that are intended for automating steps of modeling in Rhinoceros. Unlike some programming languages that force us to write text code that is associated with certain inconveniences for the designer, the Grasshopper program refers to visual programming, where, instead of editing text, one can manipulate graphic elements. This editor allows creating and studying design iterations — a cyclical process of prototyping, testing and analyzing an object for further improvement of its design. Visual graphical elements used in the Grasshopper's work are called definitions, and they consists of nodes and wires that connect them. With their help, one can create various generated objects and exercise precise parametric control over them.
Styles and representatives of the direction in parametric design
The newest architecture combines many styles, among which parametrism is a dominating one. World-renowned architects have become the luminaries of this direction: Zaha Hadid (Zaha Hadid Architects), the first ever female who won Pritzker Prize and her permanent partner Patrick Schumacher, author of the Parametricist Manifesto. According to Schumacher, parametrism is a new global style in architecture and urban planning that has replaced modernism. He says that postmodernism, deconstructivism and minimalism are transit, intermediate styles that undoubtedly provokes a lively discussion among critics. But it is impossible to deny the high importance of parametrism. P. Schumacher says, "This new style claims to be appropriate at all scales, from interior design to urban planning”.
Today parametrism unites many different directions - organic-tech, parametric urbanism, landform style, morpho-ecological design, digital baroque, digital gothic, parametric ornament, digital morphogenesis, etc.
The most prominent representatives of this trend are Zaha Hadid Architects, UNStudio, MAD Architects, Asymptote Architects, BIG, MIT Media Lab, Kokkugia, Synthesis Design + Architecture, Coop Himmelb(l)au, Aedas Architects, and ETH Zurich.
The main argument of critics against the proclamation of parametrism as the dominant doctrine in modern architecture is that, in their opinion, this style is a combination of qualities of its forerunners: bionic, organic, blob architecture and other styles that show the tendency for the adaptability, maximum interaction with the environment and search for inspiration in natural forms. Parametrism itself is “just” a method of conceptual computational modeling. But this is the uniqueness of parametrism as an original style — a completely controlled process of computational design that is capable of preserving aesthetic values of the previous architectural directions and raising visual qualities to a new level.
Thanks to the multitude of educational platforms, you and I can experience a beautiful new reality dominated by parametrism.
The variety of parametrism forms is an inexhaustible source of inspiration for architects, designers and for everyone who experiences sublime experiences looking at these impeccable creations of either man or nature itself. This direction has been developing over the past 15 years, and it is still very young in the context of the design development. But already now we can observe how parametrics are being implemented in a variety of areas, be it architecture, automotive industry, jewelry or fashion design. And this is not surprising, since parametrism gives us an unprecedented freedom for creativity.