Dynamic Architecture

Parametric Design and Digital Fabrication towards Conversational Customization

Mateus de Sousa van Stralen
Thesis submitted as partial requirement for the
degree of Doctor of Architecture and Urbanism
Federal University of Minas Gerais, School of Architecture

The objective of this thesis by Mateus de Sousa van Stralen was to explore possible ways of designing dynamic architectural systems involving both users and their environment in a mutual, continuous, and circular design process. The association of parametric design and digital fabrication is investigated as a design strategy to enable the user to participate in the design process.

The ability of parametric models to generate variations and bespoke outcomes, associated with the capability of digital fabrication to render this variety physical, is studied as a design approach that fosters different levels of conversation. The thesis departs from the notion that opening the design parameters to the user, both in the design process and use, is a possible way of including the user in the design process.

Architecture is understood as a system that involves people and structures in a dynamic nature, where one determines the other. Therefore, it is argued that the acceptance of the inclusion of the users in a more systemic view of architecture does not only requires changes in the design process and design process research, but it also demands different approaches towards the design of the object itself, rendering it more dynamic and open to uncertainty.

This systemic view of architecture expands the notion of design beyond the production of objects towards the creation of systems. The investigation combined design experiments – called research-sketches – developed to trigger preliminary discussions that drove the focus of a literature review concerning dynamic systems in architecture, parametric design, and digital fabrication.

The review, in turn, led to a reinterpretation of the sketches and creation of knowledge. This circularity between acting and understanding is structured from a cybernetic perspective, which forms the basis for the general conceptual framework to explore and understand the systemic nature of architecture. The notions of exceedingly complex systems, trivial and non-trivial machines, control systems, feedback, variety, and conversation, form the backbone of both analysis and proposition.

The thesis discusses that the development of design system using parametric design interfaces with open parameters may not be sufficient to open the design process to the user if they are not part of a larger system that includes the user. Furthermore, when used as tools, computational design process may end up controlling the designer and, as a consequence, the user.

The thesis concludes by discussing an alternative design process called conversational customization. The concept suggests a constraint-oriented design process that interrelates digital design systems with physical design systems. It is argued that those design systems should emerge from inside- out through conversations.

Conversational customization is seen as an alternative way to approach the design of architectural systems where the user occupies a central position in the spatial stage.

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