Parametricism - formal and functional definition

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Parallel to the main differentiating features of architecture, form versus function, there are two heuristic principles that define an architectural style. On the one hand, there are the functional heuristics that determine the interpretation of the stylistic specification and its functional execution. On the other hand, there are the formal heuristics that define the formal repertoire and the formal execution.

Fig. 17 „Garbage spill model of development.“35
„A Collage of styles, pluralism of effects“.
„This laissez fair model of urban expansion produced everywhere a disorienting visual chaos, an isotropic ‘white noise’ without the chance to create urban identities.“36

Negative formal principles

On the side of negative formal principles, there exists the taboo of using rigid Platonic solids because they are not malleable. Furthermore, Parametricism forbids repetition due to its lack of diversity and dictates the avoidance of mere dissimilarity since its leads to collages of disjointed elements. Parametricism rejects these principles, which have guided architecture since 5000 years. Instead, Parametricism declares the intricacy of self-organizing models of Nature as an ideal of appropriate architecture.

Positive formal principles

Fig. 21 Material computation, Frei Otto, 1970s

Parametricism identifies Frei Otto as a pioneer. At the “Institut für Leichtbau” in Stuttgart in the mid-sixties, he analyzed self-organizing processes using experimental “material computation”. Particularly noteworthy is his work with wet woolen threads and styrofoam particles to simulate self-organizing traffic routes and settlement growth.

Today, Otto’s analog „programmed“ imitations of natural processes and systems of rules can be reproduced through the use of digital simulation and animation techniques. Parametricism, therefore, designates the use of malleable, reactive, and resonant elements as a positive formal principle and dogma. The used elements are intelligent and interact internally between correlated hierarchies and externally within differentiated urban fields.

Negative functional principles

Listed as taboos is the application of architectural stereotypes and conventional standards. Furthermore, the aim for social homogenization was also taboo, as the post-Fordist society no longer consumed standardized mass consumer products. Finally, the separation and segregation into isolated functional sections was also considered taboo.

Positive functional principles

As positive functional principles following dogmas are formulated. All functions should meet flexible event scenarios. Their modeling may be achieved for example, by „crowd simulation“ or „agent based modeling“ of small, medium and large crowds of people with varying behavioral parameters. The respective purpose dictates the utilization of appropriate software and tools, and, last but not least, once again, the consistent communication of all elements involved.

Fig. 23 Chrysalis (III), Andrew Kudless, 2004 Fig. 24 Manifold Installation, Andrew Kudless, 2004 Fig. 22 nonLin/Lin Pavilion, Marc Fornes & Theveryman, 2011

Fig. 16 Kartal-Pendik Masterplan, Istanbul, Zaha Hadid Architects: A self-differentiating genotype generating extreme varied situations in an urban field whose set of rules can still be derived at any location.

Fig. 15 Reactive surface, alivingarchitecture

35 Schumacher, P.: Parametricism: My Kind of Town. The Parametric Jungle. In: Architecture Today. Nr. 227. London 2012. 36 Cf.: ib.