A Parametric Analysis
Architects have always pushed the limit, often experimenting with forms and technologies unavailable in their time. In the last 20 years, we experienced a small revolution in thinking about spaces and embracing complexity, as computers started to show their real power. Since Gehry’s Guggenheim came to life in the mid nineties, nothing has been the same: free forms emerge everywhere from the dreamland to reality (often becoming someone else’s nightmare).
Before this computer technology, except for the realm of the mind and clay modeling, real control over complexity through technical drawings was too hard a game for us ordinary mortals but eventually, in the last 10 years or so more powerful and cheaper computers and even cheaper software, capable of astonishing parametric-generated design elements, came out. Since then, new generations of designers have started to set free mind-blowing ideas, showing the world amazing computer generated pictures. Some architects even started to build them.
But how widespread is parametric design technology? How does it influence architecture worldwide? Federico Reyneri, partner at LPzR associates architects, and his research team started to analyse the Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition, the largest architectural design competition in world history. They established four grades: “very poor”, “poor”, “good” and “very good”, considering that “good” and “very good” had to at least meet the minimum standards for an international architectural competition, while “poor” and “very poor” do not.
Very poor: The image is not clear and it does not show the design process. The arrangement of spaces is not comprehensible and it is hard to read the design materials. The choice of the points of view is meaningless and the scene lighting is unreal.
Poor: The image can be interpreted easily. It shows a possible picture of the building interiors or exteriors. Lighting is simple and it is related to shadows. The materials representation lacks control over basic parameters (reflection, refraction, transparency).
Good: The image is clear and points out several building features. From the picture we can infer the surrounding space beyond the shown image. Lighting is totally related to the environment and there is a good affinity between outdoor and indoor spaces.
Very Good: The representation clearly raises the design quality. The material is properly shown and is in perfect relation with the structure. The image composition involves a large quantity of elements that enrich the space. It is possible to completely understand the volumes’ placement even out of the picture. Some visual effects are added to make the project more appealing.
Their research has confirmed the comments by several critics: a dramatic 73% not even barely passed the quality test, pretty equally divided into “very poor” and “poor”. How many architects used parametric design to reach their claimed “visionary design”? Not that many. They found evidence of parametric design in 10% of the overall entries. Parametric design (also called generated design) is basically shown in two ways, which can sometimes be combined together: object based geometry population (also called propagation) and parameter-generated geometry.
The former is easier and it starts from a given form, using the software to populate desired geometries over the surface of that form. They called it “parametric pattern”. The latter creates forms following constrains and parameters. It’s harder to learn and manage but it’s a more powerful tool. Forms generated with this process are often integral part of the design concept. They called it “parametric shape”.
As shown in this graph, parametrically designed proposals are included in every category. However, if we take a look at the percentage ratio we can see that almost 30% of the very good projects were designed with parametric software, while the very poor ones had a usage rate of only 4%. In between we have the good and the poor, the former getting almost 20% and the latter only a little over 10%. In conclusion, we notice an increasing use of parametric design as the quality of the examined images is getting higher.