The term parametric is originally derived from mathematics. It expresses the set of parameters, variables, or instructions that are editable and can affect or manipulate the results of expression or operation. Nowadays, parametric design is the term given to the process that is based on algorithmic thinking. It clarifies the relation between the design purpose and the design response. Thus, the parametric process is not only possible by 3D computer programs as commonly known, but it is also possible to be tackled manually as in one of the earliest examples of parametric architecture by Antoni Gaudi, the “Hanging Model”. Church of Colònia Güell is one of the unfinished works by Antoni Gaudi, where he used the “Hanging Model” to design the vaulted ceiling and arches. It is composed of strings weighted down with birdshot. Hence, modifying the position of the weights or the length of the strings results in changing the shape of each arch.

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Architects’ fascination with nature has always strongly impacted their designs. Therefore, the parametric design had first been used to help architects to analyze and simulate the complexity of nature. However, there are some challenges that architects face when developing Parametric Architecture. In this article, we will go through some of the difficulties that may face architects during the parametric design process.

Complex Process

Whether the architect decides to go through the parametric process manually or digitally, it is a complex process compared to any other designing method. It is a combination of mathematical operations, data analysis, computer science, and design strategies, to be thought about all at once. Therefore, architects take a longer time to learn parametric software than they take to learn any other 3D modeling program. However, companies are now developing a more manageable interface that facilitates the modeling process to be easy for architects to use. For example, Grasshopper 3D is a plug-in for Rhinoceros 3D that offers the users a visual programming language interface to create and edit geometry using simplified nodes or components. These nodes have a ready coded algorithm stored inside and named with terms that are familiar to architects and designers. Moreover, they have input or output or both of them together to combine different commands, resulting in unlimited possibilities of geometric generation.

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They design the process more than the final form

Unlike other designing processes, architects need to have a clear idea about how the final form will look like to choose the right commands and parameters that suit the design. Otherwise, the modeling process will take a long time to experiment with the final form with different parameters and settle on one. It can be an advantage or a disadvantage at the same time because it does not limit the designer to a specific form or result. However, it takes a lot of effort and time to reach the optimum result between what the tool produces and what the architect has in mind. Therefore, parametric architecture is widely perceived as computational design with great attention to details, in which the architect is allowed to see -step by step- his design coming to life.

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High-cost designs 

Parametric architecture results in ample variety in the design elements, for example, the paneling of a façade or the fluidity of the form. Therefore, it costs a lot of money to manufacture these different profiles, while the assembly process is also complicated. Parametric architecture is initially expensive. On the other hand, sometimes the cost can be recovered in the future. Furthermore, if we take Bahar Tower as an example, the team was able to simulate the façade shading system in response to sun exposure and changing incidence angles during the different days of the year. Consequently, it reduces solar gain by more than fifty percent and reduces the need for energy-draining air conditioning. It is an expensive design, but in the long term, it can be better than the cheaper ones.

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Al Bahr Towers Exterior Sunscreens. ©modlar.com

Construction and fabrication challenges

The construction phase is also more complicated in the case of parametric architecture. Most traditional construction methods fail to adapt to the new digital construction technologies. Consequently, CNC machines, casting molds, 3D printing, and robotic arms are used for the fabrication of most of the parametric designs. They can adapt to the varieties with a high level of precision and accuracy. However, they are sometimes expensive and not available worldwide. These technologies have not reached some countries yet. In advance, the construction in the site is way different than that of the traditional methods. It requires a skilled labor force and high level of technology, which makes the process more difficult.

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To sum up, parametric architecture allows architects to think of not just the design, but also it allows architects to explore new architectural possibilities as they are now responsible for the digital methods and techniques of fabrication. It will take time to overcome these challenges as it is a new approach in architecture. However, it is a breakthrough towards a more creative and sustainable architecture. (2)

References 

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parametric_design#Architecture
  2. http://papers.cumincad.org/data/works/att/ascaad2016_037.pdf
Author

A young student of architecture in the 4th year who believes that architecture is the art of changing people’s life not only by the physical existence of buildings but also by being provocative to the emotional and psychology of people.

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