Parametric Design

I’ve used two images of work by Frank Gehry on this page because Gehry’s flowing buildings have very much the characteristic look of the new approach to architectural design, pioneered by Gehry and the, sadly late, Zaha Hadid that has come to be known as Parametric Design.

I came to be involved in Parametric Design in developing my course projects in my most recent degree, an MA in Architectural and Urban Studies at Brighton. At that time (2007-2009), almost all architectural practices used computers simply as drawing tools, using traditional architectural methodology but instead of working with a pencil on a drawing board, using a computer to create the conventional two-dimensional drawings. This is the technique known by the acronym CAD, which may stand for Computer-Aided Design or Computer-Aided Drawing.

It’s understandable that the big CG software companies chose to sell this concept to architects as most traditionally-trained architects simply couldn’t imagine any other way of working. So using the computer as a tool in a conventional approach was an easy way to get familiar with them.

But it’s really a silly way to use a computer. Human beings are limited to perception in flat drawings and simply extending the spaces of the drawing in straight parallel projections into three dimensions in a simple a way as possible. But computers don’t have this limitation.

Because of that, computers, used as computers, not just as drawing instruments, have the power to revolutionize architectural practice in a way that hasn’t happened since the Renaissance, when the present drawing paradigm was introduced.

In particular, computers can work with complex curved structures whose shape and intersections with other such structures cannot possibly be visualized by people, but are easiily worked out by computers.

This is what Parametric Design – named after the fact that these structures may be created in software leaving certain parameters free to change as the design is consolidated – is all about.

At present Parametric Design is expensive to construct, and it remains likely that it will always be so. But for prestigious work, it offers opportunities that were almost never seen in the drab wotk of much of the Twentieth Century. This is the glamour girl of Modern Architecture, and a field I know a lot about. Her cost-conscious product-oriented more practical sister, BIM, I treat on a separate page.