Week 1: Parametric architecture and participatory urbanism

A highlight of this week’s Passagen design festival in Cologne was a lecture by Patrik Schumacher of Zaha Hadid architects on Parametric Architecture. Patrik argues that Parametric architecture is the ‘great new style after modernism’ – a fireworks display of splines, nurbs and subdivs leading to organic soft forms composed of variegated elements in a cohesive whole. While I love the forms and dynamic of the architecture the  idea of a superficial style makes me uncomfortable. The adoption of the ‘style of modernism’ led to countless inappropriate buildings which looked modern but failed the functional and societal needs of their occupants.

On closer examination there is evidence that Parametric architecure uses environmental stimuli to shape buildings -  sun paths, wind tunnel simulation and crowd modelling datasets can shape buildings’ forms to maximise natural light, control microclimates and improve circulation.   Parametric architecture becomes an organic construct shaped by a few DNA-like context specific variables.

What if the datasets generated from users could also be incorporated into the design of buildings and our urban environment as bottom-up open source urbanism? The paths created by desire-lines, the emotional cityness experienced by citizens, the fast changing needs of the populace? What forms would be created – buildings or less visible systems of experience?

Already I can see how these questions relate to the work of the studio in projects like Vector and Dollar. I suspect this mode of enquiry will continue to be a theme for the start of 2012.

  • barry co

    hi! i’m doing some research. can you please help me enlighten what is the concrete definition of “parametric architecture” and how about “generative architecture” are those similar or different? thanks!

    • Neil Clavin

      Hi. My understanding from the lecture was that Parametric Architecture was architectural forms generated from a few environmental variables eg. path of sun, site footprint. I’m not sure about generative architecture but if its similar to generative music (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generative_music) I imagine its the same as parametric..

  • Neil Clavin

    There’s a brief piece on a new book on generative design on Fast Company here, maybe that will be helpful?