back to WRITINGS

The Impact of Parametricism on Architecture and Society
Angel Tenorio interviews Patrik Schumacher, London, March 2014

1. In ‘The Autopoeisis of Architecture’, you make a very strong and crucial statement: Parametricism is the next big epochal style, following the tradition of innovative movements such as renaissance, baroque, historicism and modernism. Parametricism is comprises the very many computational tribes that flourished since mid 90's. For you, what is necessary to a make a convergence of efforts in order to make a real impact on the built environment?

First I want to reintroduce the concept of style and reinvigorate it, because it was a fundamental category of architecture’s self-consciousness. However, during the reign of 20th century modernism, the concept of style was rejected in opposition to the proliferation of many retro styles in the 19th century. Modernism understood itself as anti-style, although, modernism can be and should itself be considered as one of the great epoch styles. Phillip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock were actually trying to reintroduce the concept with their book The International Style’ which was conceived with their eponymous show at MOMA in 1932. In my book I refer to their ultimately unsuccessful attempt to reinvigorate the concept of style for architecture. I insist that we really need to talk about are epochal styles as the great paradigms of the discipline through which disciplines progresses. Each epoch, I mean each socioeconomic epoch, or stage of civilization, requires that architects rethink the contribution the designed build environment can make to civilization.

The different socio-economic epochs or stages of development of civilization were so radically different that they required different conceptions of space, different methodologies of design and even different conceptions of the social function of the build environment. So the first point was for me to reinvigorate this concept of style to make clear that it is not something that only concerns matters of superficial appearances, because that had been the questionable connotation of this concept more recently. Thus, in order to bring the concept back I had to upgrade the concept and fill it with a new substantial meaning. So I say that styles are design research programs, that they are not only about appearance but about methodologies and agendas, and that they also involve a certain understanding and way of handling programme. It was important to stake a claim for the contemporary movement of computationally based design, to raise a banner around which a whole generation of young, enthusiastic, skillful, and bright talents could potentially rally. The label of parametricsim as great new epochal style was meant to facilitate a retrospective stocktaking and a prospective push forward on behalf of the work of a whole generation of avant-garde architects who had already cohered around various computational methods and aesthetic principles. But now the ambition was to move beyond the avant-garde stage and take on the mainstream to become the new epochal style in the sense of finally impacting and determining the physiognomy of the build environment. Once the totality of the discipline would subscribe to the new heuristics, to the new set of values, it could once more assert its impact, like modernism had done in the 2oth century.
We should look at the great lineage of styles: I'm starting with the gothic as the transition from tradition-bound building to a self-consciously innovative architecture starting with the renaissance. Then we have the baroque, neoclassicism, historicism, modernism and then for the 21st Century it should be Parametricism. Postmodernism and deconstructivism were merely transitional styles like Art Nouveaux was the transition from historicism to modernism. These are styles but certainly not epochal styles. Art Nouveaux lasted only decade while Modernism ruled half a Century, transforming the physiognomy of this planet, not only in terms of architecture and urbanism, but also in product design and the world of artifacts. Now, I predict the same for Parametricism, and that's why it has to transform from an avant-garde movement into a mainstream global best practice.
You might ask: What is so different about Parametricism in comparison to modernism and in comparison to all prior approaches to architecture? It is the truly radical transformation of the spatial and formal repertoire brought about through computational processes. On the other hand, there are the new challenges that arise due to the very different society which has evolved in recent years, a society I call post-fordist network society. When I talk about Parametricism I am emphasizing the fact that all elements of architecture which had been the stable Euclidian geometric solids for 5000 years, now become parametrically variable, become fluid, and therefore become adaptive to each other when arranged in compositions and complexes, and they imply a malleable architecture that is adaptable to its contexts. So this parametric malleability of the elements is the first important new fact. The second point concerns the way these elements form modulated rather than repetitive systems. The systems are continuously differentiated, involving gradients. Finally, we have a multitude of these systems and these systems are being correlated with each other via associative logics rather than remaining autonomous and indifferent to each other. These are then the three principles I emphasize: variable primitives, the way these primitives proliferate to differentiate systems, and the way these differentiated systems are made to correlate with each other.

These rather abstract principles are open ended and offer many degrees of freedom for various authors to make their original mark and for many subsidiary styles to be developed under this new global epochal, trajectory of design research and mainstream implementation. And you can see through the example of our firm Zaha Hadid Architects that this move is possible: in the last 20 years we have grown from a very small team of 5 to 10 people to a global force of nearly 500 people now, with a global reach, and with projects in all program categories and on all continents. That's just the tip of the iceberg of what's coming. We shouldn't get distracted by last few years of global economic slowdown. It has slowed down this movement, and led to some of its protagonist to loose nerve, perhaps, and led some to question the meaning and plausibility of this whole enterprise. I'm not one of those. Lars Spuybroek perhaps has lost nerve. I know other characters at the AA who have withdrawn from our shared ambitions and who became more traditionally oriented. There is this kind of retro backlash, where modernism re-appears once more under the guise of minimalism. I think these are phenomena related to the temporary slowdown in the socio-economic progress, due to the 2008 financial crisis and due to the still stagnant economic conditions in the most advanced countries. This slowdown and current stagnation should not really lead us to question the overall trajectory of world civilization. This trajectory remains clear in terms of moving from a mechanical paradigm of mass reproduction, that is fordism, tied up with modernism in architecture, to a much more fluid, dynamic, computationally-based and robotic based civilization, which is post-fordist network society, where everything becomes fluid, interactive, where communication spreads and differentiates a much more complex built environment. That is the societal condition to address and there is no way of going back to a mechanical modernist paradigm.

2. I see a lot enthusiasm in many schools around the world for the type of research that avant-garde schools like the AA, Vienna, Stuttgart, make. You have been proposing parametricism for a while in agendas like Parametric Urbanism, and more recently Parametric Semiology. What I find very interesting is this research as an architectural answer to new forms of social organization, like the design studies for new technological campuses in the Silicon Valley. Can you describe the major achievements of these agendas and how they influence your practice?

There are research efforts at schools of architecture, and at young avant-garde practices who are not yet doing big projects but who might do competitions or who have small experimental projects, installations, or exhibitions. So there is an avant-garde arena which comprises the best schools and young firms. However, larger, more established firms like Zaha Hadid Architects also operate in this research-based avant-garde arena via their innovative manifesto projects as well as via their own in house research efforts.
So some of our projects like art museums and opera houses etc. are manifesto projects and thus belong to the avant-garde to the extent that they offer radical innovations that can not yet be easy generalized. I strongly feel we need to push beyond that now and conquer the mainstream. We have been developing this style and methodology for 15 to 20 years already, and the push to make a real impact has to come now. If you think back to when modernism was developed in the early 1920 through institutions like the Bauhaus and through avant-garde architects like Corb and Mies, you notice that it took about 10 years - the whole 1920s – to mature and manifest the style via small manifesto projects the Villa Savoy or the Barcelona Pavilion. In the early 1930s modernism was introduced in Britain and the USA and then conquered the world. Parametricism has reached this point by now where we can imagine a similar take off as modernism experienced when in transformed the physiognomy of the global built environment in the 40 years that followed.

There is another interesting parallel: Just like the Bauhaus and modernism addressed all scales from urbanism, via architecture, interior design, to furniture and product design, the same universality across scales and program types applies to parametricism. So what we can envisage is a total make-over of the global built environment and of the world of designed artifacts in the image of parametricism.
We are finally on the way to mainstream impact. We are winning more and more competitions, we have now many important projects completed, including large scale, commercial projects. We have completed all the general building blocks of the contemporary city: cultural projects, residential projects, retail projects, office projects as well as major mixed use complexes in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai. These works are innovative mainstream projects, they are no longer avant-garde, they are high performance demonstrations of parametricism as the next global best practice. These projects are no longer manifestos. i.e. mere demonstrations of potentials that point beyond themselves. Instead they deliver compelling advantages in the here and now on a grand scale.
So we clearly have the capacity now of going mainstream. The younger protagonists of parametricism start to win competitions and commissions. We see that happening in China, where we can observe talented, highly skilled architects in their 30's already building successful projects. In mature countries like America and Europe it takes a little longer for a young architect to build that reputation and compete, but I think it will start here as well. That's my vision, a total take over of Parametricism with respect to becoming the global best practice. The principles of parametricism are compelling, in terms of being context sensitive, the best way of picking up on the ecological challenges through adaptive morphologies, not only through machines, but through architectural morphologies delivering passive systems. And most importantly, the only style able to pick up the challenges coming from the new social dynamics: multiple audiences coming into to close proximity, desiring many simultaneous experiences in a short period of time, searching for stimulating communication situations in an environment full of offerings and clues. What our contemporary network society needs are dense, information-rich environments. Very dense, highly articulated complexes, three-dimensional environments, like our Galaxy project, for instance, where you step into the project and you have vistas and views above, below, and all around in layers and you see literally 100-150 destinations to choose from and you are navigating a three-dimensional field where you can witness many things and make quick choices. It is like a gigantic 360 degree interface of communication that gathers people in circumstances of intense interaction and exchange.
In order to bring this research agenda into the mainstream as a new global best practice, we need to deepen this research, prepare the transition and we need to theoretically reflect the steps that we already went through to ascertain the next decisive steps. 15 years ago we started with formal play, playing around with algorithms, with complex geometries, then we started to propose a series of projects and matching programmatic agendas, then we brought in structure and fabrication logics.

Now is time to more critically think what these new geometries, complex compositions mean sociologically. Why society requires this level of complexity. We always argued that the increasing dynamism and complexity of social processes requires these new complex social spaces, but we didn't have a convincing way of working on that aspect with new computational methods. That's where I am trying to go now. I am arguing for the need to upgrade the representation of the social process of occupation and bring the expected patterns of occupation into the design model. In this way I hope to deliver on the promise that Parametricism is not only a new methology for generating form but also a new paradigm of understanding social function. I have formulated the functional heuristics of parametricism in parallel to its formal heuristics. Instead of understanding the brief or program to be a simple schedule of accommodation that designates stereotypical types of spaces like lobby, living room, bedroom, kitchen etc. we need to conceive program as parametrically variable event scenarios. The simple functional labeling rooms doesn't get to the heart of the new dynamism of occupation with multiple audiences where events grow and shrink or persist in a homeostatic equilibrium with people coming and going, with domains bleeding into each other, blurring their boundaries. The modernist distinctions between work, entertainment, leisure, learning, etc. are breaking down, the boundaries of business enterprises open up and their domains of competency bleed into each other, where external consultants temporarily fuse into the corporate territory etc. All these phenomena imply a much more dynamic and fluid interaction between participants of communication processes and now they can be model via agent based crowd modeling. This is my recent epiphany: the use of agent based crowd modeling as a means to operationalize the parametric program scenarios, to speculate about the rules of occupying space, about the specific rules of communication that should prevail within specific spaces, and how these rules can be encoded within the architectural features of the respective spaces. We can now study how these rules of interaction depend on where the interaction takes place. Importantly, the spatial ordering of patterns of interaction, the social cooperation that spatial order makes possible is now something that we can work inside our design models. We can make the agents’ behaviors dependent on location and spatial morphologies. We can design the built environment as a system of signification where the signals and signs are encoded via a new architectural language, where significant thresholds, once crossed, would trigger in the actor the recalibration of his/her behavioral pattern, and then we can observe how many rule-governed individual actors are collectively generating the designated event type. What we can operationalize and work on in this way is the real social meaning of the build environment. That's my current research program which is very pertinent and comes right in time to bring parametricism into the mainstream. With this new depth of social modeling the paradigm finally becomes truly compelling and convincing for clients. Facebook, apple and google could be potential clients who would recognize that their internal communication processes have this fluid character, rather than being described properly by the hand full of stereotypical categories typically listed on a schedule of accommodation. The way I am developing this is not only via physical crowd modeling, which is already well established in traffic engineering concerned with the mere circulation of crowds. I call these crowds engineering crowds. What I am interested in are crowds constituted via communicative actors gathering and interacting in space, communicating actors. I am not understanding the space as a mere container or channel that the crowds push through in an evacuation scenario. I am interested to model how crowds live and communicate within special settings rather than how they enter or exit. My crowds are composed of actors who recognize in a spatial setting an invitation to participate in a particular communicative scenario, and this space is itself a communication, namely the invitation to participate, to join a certain atmosphere and expected scenario. A specifically designed space – if it partakes in a designed semiological code - communicates to everybody an expectation, a rule of engagement between actors in a meaningful interaction. In real life this happens spontaneously always already anyway, but in a haphazard and less systematic way. The semiological project is proposing that we can give the built environment a more systematic and a richer, more nuanced meaning.

We as experts of orchestrating the built environment, should not focus our energy on accidental features, or be fetishistically invested in a certain aesthetic appearance. We need to analyze what is the sociological drive of our clients’ life processes and we need to bring our ordering capacity strategically into play. To some extend every architect is doing this intuitively, but the discipline and the field of architecture has not yet properly geared up to this task, is not yet able to explicate this, to make this key task of designing the built environment as an elaborate communication the explicit topic of its theoretical reflection and expert knowledge. So, before my own efforts in this direction there has not yet been a pertinent theory of architecture, which delivers new relevant repertoires and methodologies with respect to a mature understanding of the societal function of architecture, as a discipline that needs to upgrade its intelligence and capacity for the next stage of our contemporary civilization.

So that is what I have being providing and working through in my book ‘the Autopoeisis of Architecture’, in the two volumes. The first volume is delivering a discourse analysis of the discipline of the last 500 years, but focusing on the contemporary practice, and how it orders its processes through a series of categories and distinctions and how they had evolved historically. In volume two I am showing how we can go beyond that and upgrade or enhance our discipline’s capacities, our concepts, our methods. I am showing how architecture might better adapt to the challenges and opportunities of postfordist network society. So, this partformulates the cutting edge of my current research. It is more speculative than reflective.
Parametricism has achieved a lot, but in volume two I am showing how parametricism might deepen and upgrade its expertise to the point of truly becoming a compelling global best practice which really engages with contemporary societal processes. The headline here is the re-foundation of architectural semiology as agent base parametric semiology. That has been my most recent the research, intially conducted here at the AA, but now also at Harvard, and to some extend also in Vienna, where I have been pushing this agenda as well. Also, in parallel I started to work on this agenda via some of Zaha Hadid Architects’ competitions. But it has not yet been brought to live yet in any real or mature project.
When I lecture about the work of Zaha Hadid Architects I can only show glimpses or anticipations of the semiological approach but not yet any compelling completed project.

3. One of the characteristics of contemporary society is the flourish and power of swarm behavior, the collective intelligence, generating processes like crowd founding, open source networks etc. There are studies on the positive influence these have on research in many fields: for instance open source Biological Laboratories, just to cite one. However, Mario Carpo, in a recent article in the AD, criticizes that most of the avant-garde architectural and design practices do not embrace fully this methods and still insist on their personal signature, which is holding back a greater and broader development in architecture. What will be your ideal scenario for cross fertilization between practices, students and enthusiasts. Can you imagine a Zaha Hadid Architects Open Source? like the platform UN studio just launched?

I believe that with respect to my theoretical research agendas, and with respect to what we've been doing at the AADRL, as well as the best work of Zaha Hadid Architects, does indeed engage pertinently with contemporary network dynamisms. We are addressing a multivalent, multi-audience condition, the simultaneity of meanings that emerge from collective, bottom up processes etc. When we are talking about network society, we imply that everybody needs to be in touch and connected with many other collaborators, competitors, and influences, and that demands a totally new built environment. Now you refer to Mario Carpo being critical of the discipline for not embracing the new collective, open source processes of creation, of not letting work evolve in open source networks without authorship claims. I would say, some of this is in fact happening within architectural discourse. The autopoeisis of architecture as the communication process of the discipline is a global network, where anything anybody designs – be they well known architects or obscure students – is put online ready to compete for attention an equal footing. Images circulate and go viral without much attention being paid to origin and authorship. Any lecture or seminar, or crit is captured and send to the net, triggering commentary. So there is a kind of global network of communication to enhance the discipline, and I think there will be more and more of this. The upcoming generation is very much open source, skills are shared, scripts are also shared and contributed to without proprietary claims. So I think that Mario Carpo got it wrong, if he accuses the discipline as a whole to be out of touch with open source mentality and the network way of production. Authorship is being diffused to some extent. Certainly, the architect as author is still there as a reference, but what happens underneath that reference is very much a network process, and I don't think we should think of open sources evolving collective enterprises as replacing authors. In open source projects there are individual authors as contributions who are recognized as such by other contributors. The same applies on Wikipedia where it sometimes seems as if there is no individual authorship, but in fact authorship is traceable.

Also, I disagree with Carpo’s underlying premise. I believe that the condition of individual authorship remains a necessary ingredient of contemporary global discourses. It is individually attributable contributions that gather into collective projects and movements. I don't believe in the death of the author, or authorless discourses. Perhaps what we witness is the evolution of a new understanding of authorship, perhaps authorship might become partially collective, but not anonymous. I do not think the abolishment of individual voices, contributions, points of views is desirable or viable. In all arenas of contemporary society, like the sciences, the art system, the political system, political movements, you find personalities, individual characters, voices, positions. Politics is articulated by individual politicians who stand behind their positions with their name and reputation. I think that remains the contemporary condition. The post-structuralist ‘death of the author’ was about undermining naive or mythical notions of authorship and genius. But there remains the social processes of authoring, of signing, of taking responsibility, and of attribution. Reference to an author is also a very convenient and economical form of referencing ideas. So we are talking about authors when we want to refer to specific ideas. There is hardly another way. This does not deny the forces of intertextuality and the circulation of influences, or notions like inherent hybridity. So behind the architect as figure head that is being referenced for the convenience of the discourse stands a reality of multiple authors or the diffuse authorship of the design team with its many contributors who are not known to a larger, general audience, but who are known to each other. So the attribution of authorship is relative to context and audience. The more detailed account of authorship that operates in the internal insider communication process would not make sense in the wider discourse of the discipline. So the deeper and more detailed your engagement, the more authors you uncover behind the reference point which is the official author in mass media accounts.

4. Rem Koolhaas’ Biennale topic for 2014 is to review the fundamentals of Architecture, and he creates a really interesting platform for many countries around the world to exhibit what they consider represents a nation, in times when everything seems to be ultra global. What will be ZHA’s approach? To discuss the fundamentals of Parametricism in architecture?

You reference Koolhaas’ recent agenda for the Architecture Biennale in Venice, looking at the fundamental elements of architecture. I think he wants to explore how the elements of architecture like roofs, walls, stairs etc. evolved historically and I am very curious how this topic will be displayed, dissected and elaborated. We have been invited by Rem to contribute to the exhibition on the elements, in the category of ‘the roof’. We indeed have extraordinary roofs to offer, and he picked two unusual roofs conditions from us.
The other prominent theme in the Biennale will be the question or the possibility of national architecture, or rather the disappearance of national architectures, which Rem's observes when he looks at modernisation from 1914 to 2014. We indeed have witnessed the global transformation of the built environment through modernism, starting in the early 1920's and really expanding massively in the post-war era, delivering a total make-over of the world's built environment, on all continents, and across all program domains.
Modernism has been an amazing success, and the phrase ‘international style’ testifies to the ambition and global reach of modernism. Since then, and now more than ever, architecture is a truly global discourse. There is now only globalized architecture. All architecture partakes in world architecture. There is no longer national architectures, if we distinguish architecture from vernacular building. There were still residues of national architectures in the 50's, 60's, and even 70' or 80’s. When I was student in the 80's you still had local heroes, and to some extent local styles as regional variants of modernism. They were modernist, yes, but there existed recognizable local variants. However, these regionalism were far less distinct than in the 19th century, when truly different national building forms were still alive as distinct traditions, particular in different continents, in different civilizations, like in China or in the Islamic world. By the way, I distinguish tradition bound building from architecture proper. Architecture is consciously innovative, theory-led design. These distinct traditions that were still living traditions during the 19th century have obviously been eroded during the 20th century. Now there only exist built residues of these traditions which we preserve and cherish as cultural heritage, as a document of history. Even if we still live in these structures, they are remnants of a different, bygone era.

It is indeed still possible to use old cities, especially urban structures like Baroque Rome with its built up multi-level block structure which isn't so very different from more contemporary urban structures. In contrast, in Asia, in China, where you had a single story carpet of wooden hutongs, it is less viable to utilize the old structures as viable structures for today’s society. So in Asia modernism’s international models had a much bigger impact in the remaking of cities and what is left of traditional architecture has only museum character, separate from the real life process. Venice is an interesting example, where the real life processes moved out to a new city extension and Venice itself has become a tourism destination, a place for international events, for global cultural events. These events are still part of contemporary life, but a very rarified life, distinct from everyday life. So my position in this respect is that there is no point in being nostalgic about the preservation of old cultures. We can indeed preserve the memory via preserved residues, but we can't preserve those life older processes, because of their low level of proactivity. The level of poverty which these traditional life processes imply for the majority of people are no longer acceptable today. Instead we have to insist on the application of global best practices everywhere, just as there are global best practices in science, in technology, in business organization, in professional procedures. Contemporary prosperity requires a certain sociology, certain modes of communication, which are now global because they are effective. I wouldn't call these global best practices ‘Western’, because that phrase only serves to dissuade the ‘Eastern’ people from fully embracing and contributing to that modernization process which now is truly global. Clearly, there are non-Western societies like Japan that are among the most advanced societies, contributing to that global development process. The same is happening now to China, to India, and these are ‘eastern’ people if you like, but this distinction between east and west is meaningless now, because all of these societies are now fusing into world society, into a single global civilization with a global architecture. There is a world architecture, like there is a world cinema, a world science, a world economy, world media, a world political process, a globalized legal system, international institutions, and so on.

So of course, there is very little space left for a national or traditional culture to flourish and remain distinct. However, new cultural differences emerge via the world division of labor, where different regions and different centers and cities pick up different economic roles and specializations. Within the great world cities you have different cultures, you have the banking and business district like London’s ‘City’ which is one culture with its specific modes of interaction, then you have the media industry in a district like Soho which displays a rather different culture with lots of artists and creatives who cultivate a rather different mode of interaction, which again is very different from London’s east-end working class culture centered around manufacturing industries etc. So these are the different cultures that are relevant today and which demand the architect’s attention and sensitivity. These cultures are global cultures. The culture of the City of London continues in New York’s Wall Street. So there exist a multitude of global world cultures. That what we should be interested in as culturally sensitive designers. That's the cultural sensitivity I expect from the global best practice of parametricism.
What still remains in terms of regional specificy are climatic conditions which demand different morphologies. Environments where there are a lot outdoor activities and outdoor spaces are very different from those where everything has to be indoors. Very harsh climates, cold climates, are very different from very hot climates or humid and wet climates, or from regions where conditions are very changeful. Architecture should be adaptive to and responsive to these different climatic conditions and that's what we can expect from parametricism. In order to be ecologically light footed in these different environments we need to differentiate our morphologies and thus we create different urban identities. So the differentiation of identities that was lacking in modernism where everything became homogeneous is now becoming possible via parametricism’s capacity to adapt to local site conditions, climates, contexts etc. This capacity to create new urban identities was still lacking in the postmodernist era of collage urbanism, which I have often called ‘garbage spill urbanism’ where the necessary urban complexity degenerates into visual chaos. In contrast, what we are now able to create are new strong identities. Our adaptive methodology gives character and identity and recognizability to different places, cities, and quarters within cities. We can do this with the parametric set up where we pick up environmental climatic parameters, and where we pick up some of these actual cultural parameters, where we see what the financial center will require, what a university science complex will require, or what a manufacturing centre will require. So these new forms of culture, and these climatic morphologies, if we allow them to impact of the parametric, computational design process, will create systematic, recognizable differences. Our rule-based design processes deliver emergent typologies and urban formations which will have very distinct character, because they are driven from distinct cultures intersecting with distinct local conditions like the local topography, climate and given urban context. The result will be very different from the visual chaos that collapses into white noise sameness which we observe as the global outcome of the garbage spill urbanism going on everywhere today.

So to summarize, is very important to recognize that national traditions and cultures are thing of the past, that all cultures are now global. These global cultures are various and multiple and that they will crystallize distinct but related identities. We have multiple world cultures, like business culture vs the art world vs the world of the sciences with its various distinct disciplinary subcultures etc. These different cultures are establishing spaces in the different local arenas of the world. These urban identities will become more and more unique relative to location, place, topography, and existing historical urban context. I think with a generalized parametricism that is sensitive to cultural, climatic, topographic and urban context parameters we can expect the emergence of new urban identities that evolve in a path-dependent development process that amplifies and reinforces the unique features that set this city or respective urban quarter apart. This should be possible without assuming a single hand to wield planning power. Instead of top down ordering I assume the possibility of bottom up convergence in a multi-author scenario – given that all authors share the values, principles and methodologies of parametricism. These new identies would not only be more recognizable. They internal order and logic would also imply that these environments become much more navigable and legible internally.
That’s a potential future if parametricism wins the style wars and assumes hegemony. For now, look at the garbage spill that is being created by the uncoordinated free for all process of development. There are many different things in a garbage spill, so there is a huge diversity and richness, and each garbage can contains a different mix, but once it is spilled you get the sense of sameness, even if the ingredients in each spill are different. The visual result is this entropic white noise sameness, the blandness and lack of identity everybody rightly laments.
What I am setting against this haphazard collage is a process of rule-based elaboration of a complex, variegated order where the differences that emerge are not allowed to cancel each other out, but where differentiations are correlated and thus accentuate and potentiate each other and serve to build up new, robust identities.

So the question of urban identities is a very important point and I don't know where Rem stands on this. Is he lamenting the disappearance of national architecture or is he just stating the fact. The latter would be more likely his stance, I guess. With his usual coolness I suspect he just records it as something which happened and that we have to accept as a condition of the contemporary. I don't know. My position is, yes, we lost this national identity, I am cool about it, and can embrace the disappearance of national identities in architecture. That’s progress. But I am trying to overcome globalized sameness, the lack of identity, the garbage spill urbanization. These phenomena, this urban disorder, is now more vital and productive than the minimalist idea of order, namely to continue the monotony of mid-century modernism. Order via simplification is not the way forward. However, we now have methodologies to overcome the urban disorder while maintaining urban richness and complexity: the creation of a complex, variegated urban order, in analogy to the complex, variegated morphologies we find in natural formations and organic systems. With our new digital design tools that have been derived from computer graphic simulations of natural processes and formations, we are now able create legible places and urban identities which make sense and which communicate their complex offerings to audiences. But not many people see this potential I tried to map out here. Instead we get a lot of misunderstandings, criticisms and rejections when we present our urban models or architectures. Our work is often misunderstood as senseless spectacle, as whimsical formalism. Of course, the deeper motivation and rationality of what we are trying to achieve is not easy to be clarified. That’s why I am writing so much, and that’s why some of my writings are rather long: it’s a complex, torturous argument that has to be made and followed. I guess it will take time for this message to get heard.

go back to WRITINGS