The built form was birthed as a necessity of shelter- a symbol of man’s burgeoning creativity and intelligence. An elemental arrangement, that one could call their own. A faction from both the creative halves of the human mind, pulsating with the urge to progress.
Man has leaped a long way since Vitruvius and his doctrines, marking prolific entanglements with technology and development in infrastructure, bound with an understanding of science. Propagating ideas in an almost synchronic fashion, architecture developed to become something so appropriable, yet chiseled to the context it was endemic to. No longer built from a series of confounding monoliths, they were shaped by society.
And yet, here we are millennia later, in what seems to be a full circle in man’s architectural prowess. A stage where after all the art movements and journeys, its mistakes and eureka! moments that architecture has had- a chance to let architecture manifest itself, while the man watches the brain, he fathered to create the shelters he will use.
To think that parametric architecture began in the 1940s, in the writings and designs of Luigi Moretti (1), is almost disorienting. Using equations to create models of a stadium by the year 1960, Moretti was able to create a geometry-oriented semi-form, far ahead of its time. Even the works of Antonio Gaudi can be reasoned to be parametric- in the designs of his infamous masterpiece, Sagrada Familia (2).
Gaudi has been widely accepted as a structural virtuoso, toying with seemingly impossible designs through his long period on the design canvas. His models would experiment with parameters to employ a self-weighted structure to be suspended for a long span, use tensile structures for minimum surface area and internal tension. The Sagrada Familia is a culmination of Gaudi’s crucibles, some elements being complex enough that it still lies incomplete.
Though progressing with contrasting modus operandi, another architect who was researching parameters was Frei Otto. Using bubbles to emulate tensile structures, Otto can concrete the claim that parametric architecture is just a digital manifestation of contemporary nature, something that has been practiced but not with the aid of artificial intelligence (3)
Hence, when Patrick Schumacher proposed a new architecture known as ‘parametric” architecture in 2008, many architects could deduce similarities in the non-Euclidean geometries and algorithms that had been used before, but not in a digitized format. With organic architecture and forthcoming design combinations seemed to veil a pattern, a new wave of digital parametric architecture was unearthed.
Schumacher, working with Zaha Hadid Architects has often advocated for the advantages and complexities of parametric architecture, the design renditions far too varied for the human to create in a short period. Since 2008, parametric architecture, the closest form of A. I in architecture has taken the contemporary design world by storm, many morphing their principles to make this design ideology more inclusive.
Though many have created the wave, a few starchitects that have had a strong foot forward include Zaha Hadid Architects, Santiago Calatrava, BIG, Thomas Heatherwick, etc., architects that have had a larger sphere and varied experience in design.
There came a period, a trend that is continuing where parametricism shone in the spotlight. This meant a spillover from the architectural community to design fields where it hadn’t been heard, or studied in detail. When Bjarke Ingels crafted the Serpentine Gallery in 2016, a cavernous mass of translucent blocks that modulated light, it enjoyed time on the mainstream. Though it had been utilized umpteen times before, the astute rendition for a shelter made all the difference.
The use of software as a tool and facilitator for this process has brought about a lot of change. A slight change in the string of commands delineates to create a completely different form, employing commands and operations that once would have never been associative with design. It is needless to say, this tool has ushered in a new art movement, that is shrouded by the diffident field that architecture is.
Years of development have made parametricism the staple for optimal optional design, generating a handful of designs within seconds. Yes, indeed, artificial intelligence hasn’t made its ingress into the field of spatial design. Though it can make an architect’s job choosing this style of design easy and manageable, it also creates a special conundrum for architects. How much longer does this artificial brain take to become an architect in essence?
Often spliced between the designs and options, are the experiences, emotional palette, and creative cortex creating its tributaries. It is possible in a few more years that an architect becomes redundant, and the machine can take his/her place. The question is not of when or how it is to find what a human does that gives us the edge over machines. In a tomorrow that may never come.
- Parametric Architecture in its Second Phase of Evolution. Heidari, A. 1, 2018, Journal of Building Performance, Vol. 9, p. 20.
- Algorithmic Architecture’s Paradigm. Khabazi, Z. Tehran: s.n., 2012.
- Lawrence, Drew. Frei Otto: Form & Structure. Boulder, Colorado : Westview, 1976.