Post-Parametric Impressions

March 31st, 2011, essays

The following article was written for arhiforum.ro in response to the CLJ02: Parametric Design Workshop. Click here for an unsanctioned translation in Romanian.

A few weeks ago CLJ02,  the second workshop centered around parametric design, happened in Cluj. Setting it alongside previous similar events in Bucharest and Iasi, we can clearly see an increasing attention being dedicated to this ever expanding side of architectural practice and theory in Romania. Though still yet to be adopted in the official curricula of the local architectural schools, the response we got was quite staggering – while last year for DTAL’s CLJ01 workshop we barely filled up the 20-odd places, this year we had to stop counting around 60 and were forced to disappoint one third of the applicants.

The event itself was organized by ASTA Cluj (by Bogdan Hambasan and Anamaria Androne) as an integral part of the Zilele Arhitecturii 11 event which will take place at the beginning of May. It was tutored by Patrick Bedarf and myself, both of us being heavily involved in the computational architecture scene since its early days. The main goal of the workshop was to produce a working design for the ZA lounge pavilion. This assignment with its inherent very strict feasibility requirements was mainly the key to the success of the workshop. It is said that creative ideas sprout from constrained freedom and we didn’t prove the saying wrong. To elaborate on the feasibility requirements mentioned before, I would like to start by first saying that parametric design or, more generally speaking, computational architecture can prove to be an architecturally treacherous space. The creative freedom allowed by computers and subsequent software packages is immense and, left to itself, can generate results which, though aesthetically pleasing to the eye, are unbuildable architectural objects. On the other hand, we were faced with the harsh requirements of creating an actually working design with the material and tools available while at the same time fitting inside a budget dwarfed by its expectations. Therefore we constrained the creative exploration agenda to a relatively limited approach which, most importantly, is scalable in terms of materials and fabrication techniques. I won’t go into technical details, since “adaptive surface subdivision”, “diagrid-based deep facet” or “multiple facet intersection connectors” would probably start to bore a few people, and usually I try not to beat people into submission by using complicated jargon. Suffice to say, we enforced and detailed some effective parametric techniques which would have the highest chances of producing manageable projects. Participants gained the knowledge to create their own tools to manage complex geometry from a design phase all the way to fabrication phase – or what is called a file-to-factory process. This implies that you create the design which is then directly fabricated using different CNC machines and digital crafting techniques. Assembly becomes thus a giant 3D puzzle. These techniques scale up from models to the most innovative airport designs and have basically reshaped the construction industry throughout the world and, on a theoretical level, have prompted some to state that reality becomes a diagram and the diagram becomes reality (Deleuze) due to the seemingly free of interference translation from a digital, virtual, product to a real, material object.

Computational techniques have been and still are undergoing a serious settling-in process inside architectural practice and education. Though still in a “volcanic” stage, both theoretically and practically, parametric design has been widely adopted throughout the world and almost all universities consider it an essential part of architectural education. Romania can now benefit from all the advantages of a late adoption of these practices – essentially skipping out several steps in the formation process and embracing the already proven and tested ways. Furthermore, the statement mentioned above regarding reality as a diagram and vice-versa, has to be treated with caution – more often than not we see projects which amount to little more than disembodied data. Given the local “no-bullshit” economic and social scene, where better to start finding meaningful computational approaches than here? As a final word of wisdom, with which I would like to conclude this text, I will mention a phrase coined by Douglas Rushkoff regarding the current information age in which we seem to be: “program or be programmed” – extrapolating from this we can say that, as an architect, you can either let yourself be controlled by the software you use or you can control it to your own ends.

Dimitrie Stefanescu, Delft, 2011

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Bilge GöktoğanMay 25th, 2011 at 12:02 am

(I believe whatever we do to improve the answer to the greatest question of all times 42 will remain one of the first, best and most amusing of all)

I just wanted to jump in to your comment on the phrase from Douglas Rushkoff; “program or be programmed”.
No doubt that we are in an age of software and I agree with you in your point of being in control of software rather than playing in their defined boundaries, where the slight difference of computation(keyboard) and computerization(mouse-click) lies. On the other hand I also believe that computational design is not only a knowledge of scripting or advance parametric software, it is a methodology of design. A way of thinking, approaching, deciding and reasoning. It is a new state of awareness. An awareness which let us free. Freedom comes from control. If we are able to control the sophisticated data and information flow in an architectural design process we become much more free. When we gain this power we see the big picture behind and manipulate it when ever and where ever we want. I agree that this freedom also needs a great control of software and computers which is “programming” in our case but I believe it is not the key aspect. Programming is another tool to gain control. The important point is understanding why do we intend to use this tools.

As architects we are under a great social responsibility because we are gifted to create. If we consider ourselves as semi-gods of this world I suggest you to take a look outside your window and face that we suck at it. Why?? because we are not free at all. We live in the boundaries of our society. But we are lucky in away that we are a part of an ongoing paradigm shift where technology is the key to power. I believe being able to control is one of the biggest power which leads us to freedom. As Alber Camus said “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” If we are not strong or capable enough to break the boundaries in the physical world we have the opportunity to break it in the digital world to support us in reality when the time comes to stand behind our free ideas and designs in front of unfree minds. But first we should be aware of what is and why we are using computational design. Other vise we will keep on producing “cool images”.

C'mon, write your thoughts in the box below.