A digital revolution that has been brewing for the past few decades is gradually unveiling itself in architecture and the aspects of life, science, and art. The emerging movement with its new-found ideologies deserved a name to make an impact in the global built environment; a name for a budding architectural style. So came the term ‘Parametricism’, coined by theorist and principal architect of Zaha Hadid Architects, Patrik Schumacher who gave structure to an expression of architecture proliferating at the time. Patrik strongly believes that Parametricism is the next big epochal style to continue the succession of innovative movements such as renaissance, baroque, historicism, and modernism.
Parametricism is an avant-garde style that addresses the contemporary desire for increased levels of complexity and differentiation in architecture for the heterogeneous society of our time. It is a tool used to rethink architecture’s agenda for the 21st century, considering the development of this civilization through its conception of space, its methodologies of design, and the current social function of its built environment. The style addresses the urban design, architectural design, interior design, product design as well as fashion design.
Parametricism implies that all elements of the design become variable and mutually adaptive according to certain external parameters. The elements can be made to depend upon parameters like sun exposure through controlled rule-based algorithms. This enables the multiple systems in a building to be correlated through networks that form continuous variations.
Digital technologies have already made a significant difference in the way architecture is designed and built with tools such as BIM and CAD. These powerful computational tools are used to evolve and generate parametric architecture- but they are only tools that support the theory and style behind parametricism. Despite its technological predominance, the style can be practiced in traditional manners as well and in fact, still bears a similarity with hand-making and the cultures of variation that existed before.
The style goes much beyond aesthetics and theories to create practical, sociable, and environmentally informed architecture. Its principles find inspiration in nature and its complex yet lawful order. This reflects in the designed rule-based orders used to create organic forms and seamlessly emerging cities that can grow exponentially. The inherent variability and adaptive configurations, while being based on rigid rules, give the architectural style more freedom than its predecessors, and can create responsive architecture that changes with time. Parametricism has developed the capacity to intricately structure complex urban scenes that nevertheless remain legible and navigable.
Every influential architectural style has a spine of principles and features that they manifest as. Parametricism is guided by a set of ‘taboos’ and ‘dogmas’ that function as a tool for criticism and development.
Taboos (negative principles of the past to reject):
- No rigid forms or platonic solids- rejected as it lacks complexity and interaction capacity
- No simple repetition- rejected as it lacks variety and no longer represents contemporary society
- No collage of isolated, unrelated elements- rejected as it lacks coherence, order, and identity, and results in a phenomenon termed as “garbage spill”
Dogmas (positive principles to include):
- All soft, intelligent forms- soft forms have a degree of freedom through parametric variability and the creation of varieties and variation
- All systems differentiated- rather than being blindly repeated, parametric elements in a group are not randomly differentiated but are differentiated according to a coherent law
- All systems correlated- architectural subsystems like circulation and building skeleton are correlated so that one system reacts to another
Parametric architecture is also identified by its figure-ground relationship and its correlation with the urban environment. Forms appear to emerge and bleed into the ground, erasing any possibility for a sharp distinction between the form and its surroundings. Green spaces and local environments seem to merge into built entities, creating a seamless urban landscape. The architecture is sensitive to its surroundings with parametrically controlled elements as well as by extending and borrowing its identity from its surroundings.
The style is majorly characterized by its experimental and futuristic forms that are a result of rejecting rigid and unrelated solid forms. Fundamental elements like the cube, the sphere, and the pyramid are traded for splines, blobs, NURBS, and particles. These new objects interact in dynamic fields and are sensitive to each other to generate strong integral orders and responsive urban identities.
Although the term was coined fairly recently, the ideas of parametric design are not new. Architects like Frei Otto with his research form-finding and Antoni Gaudi with his parametric catenary curves laid the foundational stones on which the style is being built upon today. Parametricism is based on mathematical relationships that precede the development of computers. Today we only use digital tools to make the design process easier, as well as to allow for quick and intelligent generative designs.
The digital turn in architecture has resulted in successful high-performance projects all over the world that suit different site conditions and various scales. Parametricism creates an intimate relationship between architecture and the city; between the form and the program. Ready to witness a paradigm shift in the way buildings are designed, architects and the wider public are about to be exposed to a built environment with a new visual identity and an architectural period of advanced exploration that will redefine the world as we’ve known it.