Parametric Architecture: Expanding Possibilities

When we hear the word parametric architecture, it’s always warped forms that come into our minds and not the words. Parametric design is visually pleasing and is such a vast genre that it cannot be explained with mere words. 

The parametric design, also known as computational design or algorithmic design is a set of parameters or rules that defines the design.

Image source: Christopher Hermann

Parametric Architecture is to create a set of parameters or constraints to produce an outcome. By changing the parameters, these outcomes can actually be easily modified.

What is Parametric Architecture?

Didn’t understand what Parametric Architecture is? Let’s clarify it with an example. 

Taking the example of a very easy shape; “a cube” to clearly understand the concept.

There are three parameters or variables in a cube; length, width, and height. These variables will help us modify the size of the cube. 

Now imagine in place of a cube there is some other form with thousands or countless variables that will make the best of the building. Maybe there is no defined shape to it. Will it be possible for humans to design that without any error? NO!

However, that is exactly what Parametric does!

Parametric Architecture - 02
Parametric Architecture pavilion Christoph Hermann
Image source: Christopher Hermann

In Parametric Architecture, it is the computer making the design with the constraints we set. It generates many possibilities through those constraints.

So what are the constraints that we set and how can we design from that?

  • Suppose we put a constraint that no element can be longer than say 4 meters. 
  • Another can be that these elements should form circles or rectangles or triangles, etc. 

Thereafter, the computer forms the panels with the help of these constraints. We can further use these panels to design unique and flawless shapes for our buildings. 

I guess that clearly helps us understand the role of parametric design in Architecture. 

Evolution of Parametric Architecture:

The origin of Parametric Architecture dates long back to when the computational design wasn’t in practice. Computers surely did not invent the parametric design. However, it surely provided a valuable tool for innovative designs.

The origin of Parametric Architecture was only in theories. It was first seen in the writings of Luigi Moretti in 1940. After so much research he was able to make his first parametric model in 1960.

Luigi Moretti’s models and exposition on parametric architecture
Image Source: Research Gate

The importance of an electronic era on building design was made clear in the conference held in Boston Architectural Center in 1964.

Many famous artists and architects like Antoni Gaudi, Erich Mendelsohn, Frei Otto, and Kiesler used various technical proficiencies to design complex structures. The new computer technology for design and construction got recognized in 1960. However, it wasn’t in the 1980s that parametric design became useful to Architects. 

Patrick Schumacher announced Parametric Architecture as the new Architectural style in 2008.

Pioneers of Parametric Architecture:

Two pioneer Architects with their experience in this field have benefited the Architectural fraternity: Antoni Gaudi and Frei Otto.

With their experiments and innovations, they expanded the horizon of design. There is surely a huge time gap between the work of these Architects and the origin of Parametric Architecture as a style. However, their work expresses their parametric design process. 

They used hanging models and water bubbles to work with free forms and work on complex buildings. 

Munich Olympic Stadium by Atelier Frei Otto Warmbronn Parametric Architecture
Munich Olympic Stadium by Atelier Frei Otto Warmbronn
Image Source: Arch Daily

Antoni Gaudi used gravity for evolving his building forms. He used to hang many birdshots with strings. Here, birdshots were treated as structural elements and strings gave the best form, based on the load. 

Changing the positions of birdshot would change the shape of the strings and every time a different form was created.

Frei Otto used water bubbles to design tensile structures for creating forms with minimum surface area and internal tensions.

With time Parametric Architecture became more of a computational and algorithmic design. However, what Gaudi and Otto designed using gravity and water bubbles, is exactly what we achieve today, but with the help of computers. 

Gregg Lynn is the first Architect known to use computers for generating architectural forms. His folding architectural style is the initial example of computer-generated Parametric Architecture. 

Why and how is Parametric Architecture helpful?

Parametrics help us to design the buildings with precise calculations in a very short time. 

Based on the constraints or algorithms we set, Parametrics calculates and gives us the best possible architectural form. 

For instance, we don’t know the best possible shape for a tall structure to resist wind load or earthquakes. However, Parametrics can help us in the vast range of possible forms for the same.

Advantages of Parametric design:

  • Parametric design is the tool for structurally strong building as well as pleasing aesthetics and functionality.
  • It allows us to bring the complex structures into form.
  • It also helps us to create unique innovations.
  • Parametric design gives accurate results for all design parameters.
  • It saves a lot of material and reduces the construction cost.
  • Parametrics increase the capability of flexible designs.
  • It also gives you a variety of options to compare and come to an end result.
  • Parametric Design style also saves a lot of time.

Parametric Architectural Marvels:

When it came to designing buildings with adapting Parametric Design as a style, many leading Architects started experimenting with it and some astonishing architectural structures came into form.

Some of the major Architects to adopt Parametric Architecture are: Zaha Hadid, Frank O Gehry, Herzog de Meuron  

Let’s have a look at some of the Parametric Architectural examples:

Hamburg Elbphilharmonie’s auditorium, Germany:

A perfect example of Parametric Design is Central Auditorium, designed by Herzog de Meuron.  A total number of 10,000 acoustic panels make up this hall. Each panel is further divided into one million cells of varying dimensions. The set of variables to create panels were set into the modeling software by acoustic experts. Therefore, this was possible only with Parametric Architecture and was created to define the sound within the auditorium space. 

Beijing National Stadium, China:

Twisted steel sections make up the building’s amazing roof. This is exactly why it was titled the ‘Bird’s Nest’. The idea while designing this structure was to provide a good view to every spectator.

The lightness of the building, the bowl geometry, the façade, and seismic flexibility were only possible with Parametric Designing. The calculation of such complex geometry was not possible by the human brain. Therefore, another marvelous building by Architect Herzog de Meuron shows the benefits of Parametric Architecture.

Beijing National Stadium, China

Walt Disney Concert hall, United States:

The stainless steel skin of varying shapes and sizes form the whole building. The complex and different curves of the facade were challenging and done by Parametric Architecture. To make this building, a total of 12,500 pieces of steel are used. Moreover, no two pieces used in this building have the same form or size. Computational Design calculated the structure and shape of each steel piece covering the entire building designed by Frank Gehry.

Guangzhou Opera House, China:

Zaha Hadid is known for building the unbuildable. She made her sculptural buildings possible only with the help of Parametric Architecture. The Opera House design by Zaha Hadid is seen in charcoal-colored granite. Also, the facade comprises a total of 75,422 pieces of granite to give the pebble-like appearance. 

Just think of the pressure a designer will have to bear in assembling these amounts of pieces manually to create an astonishing building. Also, imagine what if the end result is not appropriate and one has to go through the entire process to try another option. Surely, such buildings would have never come into existence.

Guangzhou Opera House-01
Image Source: Zaha Hadid Architects

Parametric Design allows us to experiment with different possibilities in a building with just a click. Also, it brings structurally impossible buildings by humans into reality. 

No matter how big or small a project is, Parametric Architecture has become the new style of architecture and is surely here to stay!

2 thoughts on “Parametric Architecture: Expanding Possibilities

  1. Very informative article… written in a simple way,.. explaining the basics of Parametric Architecture.

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