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Design Research within the Parametric Paradigm
Patrik Schumacher, London 2008
Published as “Smart Work – Patrik Schumacher on the growing importance of parametrics”,
In: RIBA Journal, September 2008

It has become evident that the next wave of innovations and refinements can only be achieved via scripted parametric systems. That is, by specifically programming design tools to deal with a number of design parameters to create a design that is sensitive to formal, functional and environmental parameters.
To pursue this we formed a dedicated research group  -  the ZHA Computational Design Research Group1 (ZHACDRG) . This group is a genuine research group rather than a specialist service group. Our initial design research started with general scripts for surface tessellations, and for populating modulated surfaces with differentiated component arrays.
The ambition is to enhance the overall sense of organic integration through intricate correlations that favour
deviation amplification rather than compensatory or ameliorating adaptations. For instance, when generative components  populate a surface with a subtle curvature modulation the lawful component correlation should accentuate and amplify the initial differentiation. This might include the deliberate setting of accentuating thresholds or singularities. Thus a far richer articulation can be achieved and thus more orienting visual information can be made available.
Complex configurations that are latent with multiple readings can be constructed as a parametric model. The parametric model might be set up so that the variables are extremely Gestalt-sensitive. Parametric variations trigger gestalt-catastrophes, i.e. the quantitative modification of these parameters trigger qualitative shifts in the perceived order of the configuration.
This notion of parametric figuration implies an expansion in the types of parameters considered within parametric design. Beyond the usual geometric object parameters, ambient parameters (variable lights) and observer parameters (variable cameras) have to considered and integrated into the parametric system.
A final strand of research is parametric urbanism. The assumption is that the urban massing describes a swarm-formation of many buildings. These buildings form a continuously changing field, whereby lawful continuities cohere this manifold of buildings. Parametric urbanism implies that the systematic modulation of the buildings’ morphologies produces powerful urban effects and facilitates field orientation. Parametric Urbanism might involves both parametric accentuation and parametric figuration.
These ideas feed into practice through individuals who are working on both buildings and research, through practice discussions and presentations and ultimately via the dissemination of the developed tools within the practice.

The research focus of the group is now further underlined by a specific research project: the parametric tower research.  Here the main target is to script, in various software programmes, meaningful correlations between the 4 fundamental subsystems of tall buildings: skeleton, floors, core/void, skin2. We based our research on four premises. The first premise is that towers might be differentiated both along their vertical axis as well as along their circumference. The second premise is that this demand for differentiation applies to all subsystems. The third premise is that the trajectories of differentiation that apply to the different subsystems should be correlated leading to mutual adaptation. The fourth premise is that such a system of correlations is conceived as a parametric diagram that allows for the meaningful modulation of the respective subsystem relationships according to scale, orientation and proportion.3 To set up these correlations, software from the animation industry (mainly Maya and 3dMax) and from the automobile industry (Rhinoceros and Studio Tools), are appropriated and customized. This customization is facilitated by ‘scripting’ languages.
The parametric paradigm is becoming pervasive, not only withinZHA, but in avant-garde architecture in general. There has been talk about versioning, iteration and mass customization for quite a while within the avant-garde discourse. The fundamental desire that has come to the fore in this tendency had already been formulated at the beginning of the 1990s with the key slogan of “continuous differentiation”. Since then there has been both a widespread dissemination of this tendency as well as a cumulative build up of virtuosity within it. The shared concepts, computational techniques, formal repertoires, and tectonic logics that characterize this work are crystallizing into a new, hegemonic paradigm. Despite this pervasive convergence nobody has as yet pronounced the formation of a new style. However, I would like to argue that we are in the midst of the longest and most sustained wave of collective work since the demise of modernism, and that we are now fully justified to talk about a new style4:  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.
Parametricism can only exist via sophisticated parametric techniques. Finally, computationally advanced design techniques like scripting (in Mel-script or Rhino-script) and parametric modeling (with tools like GC5 or DP6) are becoming a pervasive reality. Today it is impossible to compete within the contemporary avant-garde scene without mastering these techniques.
Parametricism emerges from the creative exploitation of parametric design systems in view of articulating increasingly complex social processes and institutions. The parametric design tools by themselves cannot account for this drastic stylistic shift from modernism to parametricism. This is evidenced by the fact that late modernist architects like Norman Foster are employing parametric tools in ways which result in the maintenance of a modernist aesthetics. Foster is using parametric modelling to inconspicuously absorb complexity. At ZHA, as well as in the various teaching arenas we are associated with7, our parametricist sensibility pushes in the opposite direction and aims for a maximal emphasis on conspicuous differentiation.


1 Key Contributors to the ZHACDRG are a.o.: Nils Fischer, Shajay Bhooshan, Danilo Arsic

2 The research follows on from our 2006 manifesto on tall buildings. See: Patrik Schumacher, The Sky-scraper revitalized: Differentiation, Interface, Navigation,
In: Zaha Hadid, Exhibition Catalog, Guggenheim Museum Publications, 2006

3 To set up these correlations software from the animation industry (predominantly Maya and 3dMax) and from the automobile industry (Rhinoceros and Studio Tools), are appropriated and customized. This customization is facilitated by using ‘scripting’ languages.

4Elsewhere I have argued and explicated that architectural styles should be understood as design research programmes: Patrik Schumacher, Style as Research Programme, in: DRL TEN, AADRL Documents 2, AA Publications, Architectural Association, London 2008

5 GC stands for Generative Components, a registered trademark of  Bentley Systems.

6 DP stands for Digital Projects, a registered trademark of Gehry Technologies, developed on the basis of  CATIA,  a registered trademark of Dassault Systems.

7 AADRL, Vienna University of Applied Arts, Innsbruck University, Yale University

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