WIKIPEDIA INAUGURAL ARTICLE
Published 13 April 2015 by Daniela Ghertovici (Wikipedia User name: ‘Daniela Gh’)
Parametricism is the global style of contemporary avant-garde architecture that unifies the values, principles and heuristics of design across all scales and disciplines of the built environment, including architectural design, urban design, interior design, product design and fashion design. “Its most conspicuous outward characteristic is a complex and dynamic curvilinearity accentuated by a swarm-like proliferation of continuously differentiated components. Beyond such obvious surface features one can identify a series of new concepts and methods that are so different from the repertoire of both traditional and modern architecture that one is justified in speaking of the emergence of a new paradigm within architecture. The shared concepts, formal repertoires, tectonic logics and computational techniques that characterize this work are indeed engendering the formation of a new style.”
Description of Parametricism
Parametricism is the global avant-garde style of contemporary architecture and design in which all elements of the design become parametrically variable and mutually adaptive. The style manifests design at all scales of the built environment, including architecture, urban design, interior design, industrial design and fashion design.
Functional unity in Parametricism rejects both homogenization (serial repetition) and pure difference (abrupt fragmentation) in favor of upgrading the discipline’s capacity to frame continuous, complex communicative territories through adherence to general abstract rules that intensify the correlation and co-adaptation of all design elements, unifying them in complex yet legible variegated gradient fields and differentiated territories, that together frame the material substrate of a built environment, capable of sustaining the rich complexity of contemporary life processes in the global post-fordist network society.
Parametricism achieves complex order through its fundamental tasks of organization and articulation: organization (distancing and separation), phenomenological articulation (sentient experience), and most crucially, semiological articulation (cognition and meaning), are simultaneously deployed to accelerate and densify the potential for complex yet legibly coherent architectural communication. “All effective social communication requires and reproduces social institutions; and all institutions require and reproduce architectural frames.” Parametricism offers a superior capacity over other styles to frame societal institutions, complex systems of communication and streams of innovation in overlapping realms of functionally differentiated societies.
The Emergence of Parametricism
Parametricism emerged as a theory-driven avant-garde design movement in the early 1990s, with its earliest practitioners - Greg Lynn, Peter Eisenman, Frank Gehry, Chuck Hoberman and Shoei Yo – harnessing and adapting the then new digital animation software and other advanced computational processes. According to Patrik Schumacher, however, “the work of Frei Otto is the only true precursor of Parametricism. He used physical processes as simulations and design engines to ‘find’ form rather than to draw conventional or invented forms. The inherent lawfulness of the engaged physical processes produced a combination of complexity, rigour and elegance that was otherwise unattainable. The power and beauty of this approach was striking.”
Early instances of proto-Parametricism, as manifest through the prolific generation of innovative designs and radical experiments within transitional styles of Deconstructivism and Folding - including the work of the discipline’s discourse leaders such as Peter Eisenman, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, Wolf Prix, Bernard Tschumi - were later radicalized by younger practitioners who matured in the context of these early practices, and stabilized the discipline around prolonged research programmes thriving on emerging digital technologies, and culminating in the emergence of Parametricism.
The Societal Shift Towards Paradigms of Complexity
The contemporary tendency towards paradigms of complexity within functionally differentiated sub systems of society (ie Science, Economy, Education, Politics, etc.) emerged in architecture as Parametricism, encompassing the convergence of a prolonged period of radical innovation and cumulative research spanning over twenty five years, starting in the early 1990s. Niklas “Luhmann’s theoretical system postulates societal complexity as overarching problem that impacts on all the various societal problematics. The differentiation of function systems allows a growing society to better cope with the self-generated complexities accumulated during its growth.” The intensification of differentiation and resolution that are inherent to complexity paradigms continue to evolve within all societal function systems, as those systems grow in complexity. Parametricism is the complexity paradigm currently co-evolving in the societal sub-system of architecture, in parallel with complexity paradigms in other societal sub-systems.
Despite the radical paradigmatic shift that Parametricism achieved in architecture (a shift that occurred as a consequence of societal progression towards a global network society), older and less functional styles of architecture continue to persist in the mainstream, largely as a product of practices that have rigidified norms around specific dogmas derived from older theories of society and production. Despite the persistence of anachronistic styles such as modernism, minimalism, postmodernism, historicism and deconstructivism, a hard core of continuous innovation in research and building has stabilized around the new heuristics of Parametricism, and continues to proliferate the new style in academic and practice domains worldwide. Architects that persist in working with agendas belonging to older principles, values and heuristics of anachronistic styles, mostly inherited from societal norms that were relevant decades (even centuries) ago, defend the historical value of stylistic eclecticism as an analogy to the principle of societal diversity.
5 Agendas of Parametricism
“1. Parametric Inter-articulation of Sub-systems: The ambition is to move from single system differentiation – e.g. a swarm of façade components - to the scripted association of multiple subsystems – envelope, structure, internal subdivision, navigation void. The differentiation in any one systems is correlated with differentiations in the other systems.
2. Parametric Accentuation: The ambition is to enhance the overall sense of organic integration through correlations that favour deviation amplification rather than compensatory adaptations. The associated system should accentuate the initial differentiation. Thus a far richer articulation can be achieved and more orienting visual information can be made available.
3. Parametric Figuration: We propose that complex configurations that are latent with multiple readings can be constructed as a parametric model with extremely figuration-sensitive variables. Parametric variations trigger “gestalt-catastrophes”, i.e. the quantitative modification of these parameters trigger qualitative shifts in the perceived configuration. Beyond object parameters, ambient parameters and observer parameters have to be integrated into the parametric system.
4. Parametric Responsiveness: Urban and architectural environments receive an inbuilt kinetic capacity that allows those environments to reconfigure and adapt themselves in response to prevalent occupation patterns. The real time registration of use-patterns drives the real time kinetic adaptation. The built environment thus acquires responsive agency at different time scales.
5. Parametric Urbanism - Deep Relationality: The assumption is that the urban massing describes a swarm-formation of many buildings whereby lawful continuities cohere this manifold of buildings. The systematic modulation of morphologies produces powerful urban effects and facilitates field orientation. Our ambition is deep relationality, i.e. to integrate the building morphology - all the way to the detailed tectonic articulation and the interior organisation. Parametric Urbanism might involve parametric accentuation, parametric figuration, and parametric responsiveness as registers to fulfill its ambition of deep relationality.”
Heuristics of Parametricism
Parametricism offers functional and formal heuristics based on a set of general abstract rules distilled from a very complex ecosystem of sustained avant-garde design research that spans over twenty five years of continuous innovative communication. Parametricism achieves elegance in both senses of the word – it is unified (compact) and beautiful (vital).
Functional Heuristics of Parametricism
Negative principles (taboos) -avoid functional stereotypes -avoid segregative functional zoning
Positive Principles (dogmas) -all functions are parametric activity/event scenarios -all spaces/activities/events communicate with each other
Formal Heuristics of Parametricism
Negative principles (taboos) -avoid rigid forms (lack of malleability -avoid simple repetition (lack of variety) -avoid collage of isolated, unrelated elements (lack of order)
Positive Principles (dogmas) -all forms must be soft (intelligent deformation=information) -all systems must be differentiated (gradients, thresholds, singularities) -all systems must be interdependent (correlations)
Systems Theory in Complexity Paradigms
In the functionally differentiated societal sub-systems, complexity paradigms emerge relative to the basic operations and societal functions of the respective sub-system. In architecture, the paradigm of style (both a manner of doing something and a distinctive appearance), is typically determined by the principles according to which something is designed, operating through design decision, with the task of framing societal life process. Parametricism is the global architectural style that has converged, rather than being invented. It operates within a universal semiology of abstraction that instumentalizes universal language, not impeded by exclusive local iconic references; the “meaning” of parametricist architecture comes from its use (functionality, instrumentality) rather than conjectured symbolism, and yet it is capable of adapting to an infinite range of local conditions.
An example of the paradigm of complexity in education that is analogous to Parametricism as the paradigm of complexity in architecture is surfacing as a shift in the basic operations of instruction, reflecting the requisite agility, flexibility and complex role of the “knowledge worker”, who is also a life-long learner/researcher. Similarly, the education of the contemporary architect cannot stagnate in the face of continual innovation.
The overarching theoretical context in which Parametricism is situated as the synthesis of its antecedents, the autopoiesis of architecture, posits a framework and agenda for permanent innovation. “One of the central tenants of the theory is the semiological dimension that actively orients subjects on the basis of “reading” the social territory, requiring articulation over and above organization. This semiological dimension is extended by parametricism beyond its metaphorical value into analytical and functional heuristics”
As the style representing a hegemonic paradigm shift in architecture after the collapse of the hegemonic style of Modernism, Parametricism co-evolved with other complexity paradigms that emerged in the major function systems of art, science, education, politics, legal system, economy, mass media, medical system, etc., in response to the global shift from the Modernist era of Fordism (mass production) to the Post-Fordist era (mass customization) of contemporary global society. The style continues to evolve in increasingly complex and fluid networks of global communications. Parametricism is the most advanced cycle of innovation in contemporary architecture, continually adapting the most advanced material and computational processes to accelerate unified evolution towards the most progressive and fertile design culture, most recently through multi-agent computational systems and robotic fabrication. However, it is imperative to state that the emergence of a new style does not occur solely as the outcome of innovation in the technological arena. “The intelligence that is able to invent and think through such correlations is prior to its computational implementation. And, to a limited extend, there can be “computation without computers”.”
Complexity Paradigms Co-Evolving in Other Societal Function Systems
The pervasive paradigms of complexity that emerged in every great function system since the beginning of the 20th century accelerated exponentially with the ubiquitous proliferation of micro- computation. Complexity systems theories are evident in every contemporary function system. One of the hallmarks of complexity paradigms is their reliance on unification. Complexity paradigms describe natural and artificial systems as symbiotic, interconnected (parametric), eco-systemic, co- evolving, inter-dependent and self-generating.
Parametricism’s capacity to cohere complexity on an unprecedented scale positions it as the first viable hegemonic style after Modernism. In the wake of Modernism’s collapse in the late 1970s, Parametricism co-evolved with other complexity paradigms that emerged in the major function systems of art, science, education, politics, legal system, economy, mass media, medical system, etc. Parametricism emerged in direct co-evolution with the global shift from the Modernist era of Fordism (mass production) to the Post-Fordist era (mass customization). Parametricism co-evolved functionally and formally in parallel with paradigms of complexity that emerged in the other great societal function systems.
Convergence and Intensification of Social Communication
The global convergence towards complexity paradigms in every societal function system has intensified exponentially since the 1990s. The crucial proliferation of microcomputers, together with the radical paradigm shift in the network of global communication. This shift is most acutely conspicuous in the evolution of communication systems from mediums that transfer information from one-to-many in the Modernist era (TV, Radio, Films – Sarnoff’s Law), progressing to one-to-one-in- a-network-of-many during the transitional era of Post-Modernism and Deconstructivism (email, video – Metcalfe’s Law), to fully networked, complex, participatory systems in the era of Parametricism (socialized media networks – Reed’s Law), an era of exponential viral reach, where actors and observers are participants in an unprecedented explosion of global real-time exchange. This radicalization of communication heightens the necessity of architecture to function as a societal system of communication, fully functionally differentiated through its own complex semiological frameworks.
“All social interaction presupposes that a situation is being defined for everybody to relate to each other as participants within the situation. The crucial point to grasp here is that all social interaction presupposes a shared reference framework (language) that puts all participants on the same page”. Today’s intensively and extensively networked and liquid state of real-time communication, which has exponentially accelerated societal differentiation, exists in a context where meaning must instantly emerge and be made legible through the layered and mobile frameworks of communication. Parametricism is immersed in and emerges from an unprecedented scale of complexity in global network communication. “The conceptual framework adopted by the theory of architectural autopoiesis is the multiplicity of simultaneously operating sign-systems is thought to be orchestrated by the unity of a social system – conceptualized as autopoietic system of communications – that underlies all human communication processes.”
Network Theory and the Complexity Paradigm of the Mass Media System
Network Theory in communication progressed through three distinct stages in the past few decades, since the inauguration of mass communication. The laws used to calculate reach utilize a basic population of 100 nodes to demonstrate the potential reach of each type of medium. The results of the calculations are as follows: Under Sarnoff’s law, the reach is 100. Under Metcalfe’s law, the reach is 4950. But under Reed’s Law, which reflects the current state network communications, the staggering reach in a network of 100 nodes is 1,267,650,600,228229,401,496,703,205,376. This comparison serves to illustrate the radical nature of the new complexity paradigm in communication, in parallel with which Parametricism is developing its own complexity paradigm of communication.
The Autopoiesis of Architecture: A Comprehensive and Systematic Unified Theory of Architecture
Parametricism is theorized in the framework and agenda of the autopoiesis of architecture, the “ongoing communication process that takes place in myriad architectural practices, schools of architecture, magazines, books and web-sites: a gigantic parallel process producing a swarm- formation of cross-referencing elements. The total mass of communications that constitute this autopoiesis comprise diverse items such as sketches, drawings, cad files, renderings, buildings and photographs of buildings that all circulate as communications.” What is surfacing currently in architecture is the product of a prolonged evolution. Parametricism is not the outcome of a philosophical treatise, it is the agenda for functional and instrumental discursive application intended to activate and sustain innovation in contemporary practice.
The Autopoiesis of Architecture, written in two volumes by Patrik Schumacher, is a self-description of architecture, reflecting the explicit history that made ripe the conditions for the emergence of the contemporary global avant-garde style, Parametricism. Unlike the hegemonic and transitional styles that proceeded it (Post-Modernism, Deconstructivism, Minimalism), Parametricism is an open style in the sense that it offers an abstract set of rules (dogmas and taboos), cohered from a complex burst of innovation that seeded a dynamic field of exponentially proliferating avant-garde architecture (research programmes and manifesto projects) spanning twenty five years.
The Historical Emergence of Parametricism
Parametricism emerged as a theory-driven avant-garde design movement in the early 1990s, with its earliest practitioners adopting the then new digital animation software and other advanced computational processes and tools of the day.
In the evolution of radical 20th century avant-garde styles that surfaced in the 1910s, 1960s and 1990s, Parametricism is the only hegemonic, non-transitional style congenial to cohering contemporary architecture for a global society that thrives on intense interconnectivity and simultaneity. Stylistic instrumentality is contingent on extensive evolution; whereas the first wave of 20th century avant-garde in the1910s emerged as an exuberant declaration of revolutionary manifestos, and the 1960s avant-garde as a playful expression and counter conventional affirmation of social change and unrest, Parametricism emerged as a style that is uniquely prepared to take on the task of constructing a rich interface of communication for evolving society to achieve its promising potential for unleashed global free market urban order.
Parametricism offers heuristics, principles and values to achieve maximum complexity of the built environment without sacrificing difference or order, which signals a radical paradigmatic shift in design on all scales, manifesting highly correlated, gradient-based amplifications of differentiation, continuity, connectivity, responsiveness, adaptation, communication, legibility, intensification and densification of multi-layered, networked, systemic, unified, rule-based, complex fields constituting artificial second-nature ‘ecologies’ that are palpable on all levels of societal organization and articulation, both phenomenological and semiological.
Parametricism is a reflective, rather than invented style, in so far as it systematizes the convergence of the most radically innovative, avant-garde design research progammes (styles) and practices (manifesto projects) that have surfaced since the 1990s, with the exclusive capacity to order, stimulate and sustain contemporary society’s fertile and complex built environment in the global network of free market urbanism, without resorting to the disorienting chaos and historical eclecticism of Post-Modernism, the sterile reduction of Minimalism, or the cognitive rupture of Deconstructivism. While at one time each of these transitional styles played a role in its respective time-frame, none is capable of producing the degree of ordered freedom that Parametricism offers by legibly instrumentalizing, organizing and articulating the complex material substrate that provides a framework for productive global 21st century network society.
Parametricism Compared with Older Styles
Parametricism offers advantages over styles that cannot (because they were never intended to) resonate and respond to the complexity and rapid fluidity of today’s society. Architects are asked to cohere impossibly complex and often conflicting criteria in organizational, phenomenological, and semiological realms. The nearly unconscious willingness to grope in the dark for solutions, as opposed to systematically generating parametrically constrained options, is embedded deeply into the contractual stages of architectural practice. Taking on the responsibility for systematically directing the evolution of architecture with state-of-the-art best practices, in both practice and academia, will radically transform the built environment; and yet, the structures that hold the mainstream disciplinary practices shackled to outmoded and inefficient processes persist widely.
A perpetuation of older modes of schooling and practice, designed in the context of the Modernist paradigm, with outmoded values and principles, may produce effects that approximate the societal tasks of architecture. Yet ultimately, if the most persistent collective product in the urban landscape is comprised solely of arbitrary juxtapositions that do not form unity through correlation, then instead of designing living, thriving cities that function as evolutionary attractors, urban spaces become environments that inhibit the complex flow of today’s societal order, stifling the instrumentality of appearances that cohere meaningful legibility, sever layers of connectivity and wellbeing, ultimately destroying the possibility of achieving the highest societal potential.
Parametricism is a comprehensive, systematic, responsive and agile contemporary style of architecture, urban design and interior design, product design and fashion design capable of ordering and amplifying the intricately multi layered societal network of spatial communications into a correlated field of intensities-- a new framework for radical global free market urbanism.
Style in Architecture
Parametricism is not prescriptive, as past styles were. It offers heuristics that define abstract rules of design for mutual adaptation and correlation of radically divergent parameters that exist in every architectural project. These heuristics operate at any scale, with an infinite variability of constraints (social, formal, institutional, technical, economic, etc). Parametricist heuristics have superior, explicit potential for instumentalizing the built environment for a global society that is evolving towards exponential intensification of complexity, connectivity, density and choice. Free market economy is the most conspicuous societal communication of preferences, understood here as progress in architecture towards styles as research programmes and interface of social communication, in explicit correlation and mutual adaptation with societal order at specific stages of its progression, such that they are capable of fulfilling the contemporary societal tasks of architecture, with its dual code of utility and beauty.
Although the term Parametricism was coined by Patrik Schumacher in 2007, the style itself was not established by invention or definition, but rather evolved and emerged within the architecture function system, and co-evolved with other societal complexity paradigms in other function systems. The current mainstream manifestation of Parametricism indicates a robust burst of evolutionary innovation over a long period of time. What has surfaced currently in the public sphere in the form of built and mediated communications (projects and publications) was not a sudden cultural fabrication.
Style in contemporary parlance is frequently associated transient fashion trends, but in the context of architectural discourse, style refers to collective and prolonged research programmes (paradigms). In this sense, the concept of style must be regarded in parallel to paradigms that have evolved to stabilize frameworks of communication for accelerated innovation in the context of complexity across all societal function systems. The persistence and function of style as a prolonged discourse that operationalizes the complexity of delivering spatial frameworks to society is equivalent to the stabilizing frameworks of meaning that facilitate the exponential innovation of complexity paradigms within other societal function systems.
Styles are vital, alternating between epochal and transitional periods in architecture. Epochal styles emerge when new stages of history reach prolonged periods of stable cumulative evolution, and transitional styles emerge when society enters periods of crisis. Styles are always the result of paradigmatic shifts.
1.Schumacher, Patrik. "11. Parametricism - The Parametric Paradigm and the Formation of a New Style." p.617
2.Schumacher, Patrik. "0. Introduction: Architecture as Autopoietic System." p.10
3.Lynn, Greg. "CCA - Archeology of the Digital."
4.Schumacher, Patrik. "11. Parametricism - The Parametric Paradigm and the Formation of a New Style." p.619
5.Johnson, Phillip. "Deconstructivist Architecture - Museum of Modern Art - Fact Sheet."
6.Parametricism - A New Global Style for Architecture and Urban Design. Patrik Schumacher
7.Schumacher, Patrik. "11. Parametricism - The Parametric Paradigm and the Formation of a New Style." p.657
8.Schumacher, Patrik. "0. Introduction: Architecture as Autopoietic System." p.8
9.Schumacher, Patrik. "11. Parametricism - The Parametric Paradigm and the Formation of a New Style."
10.Schumacher, Patrik. "0. Introduction: Architecture as Autopoietic System." p.9 11.Ibid p.11
14."Watch Network Literacy Part Two: Sarnoff, Metcalfe, Reed's Laws|HowardRheingold Episodes|Learning Videos|Blip."
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