E2 – Digital Design & Fabrication

E2_Parametric pattern_E Dunbar_ARCH7036

Parametric Ornamentation

This project employs techniques that help to guide the parametric creation of a pattern.  This pattern, based on variables whose values can be modified, allow for one to realize that the scope of this type of design isn’t solely limited to pattern creation.  With enough knowledge, one can create structure, space, form, and texture with digital parametric design.  Design grounded in objective data, at almost any scale is possible using these techniques.

This parametric pattern (see Fig. 1) is based on the parametric development of existing geometries.  These geometries include three pentagon polyline curves and three partial pentagon polyline curves.  These curves exist within a boundary of 10 inches (x) by 10 inches (y).  The goal was to develop a pattern, using Rhino in conjunction with Grasshopper, based on parametric inputs which create geometries derived from the original pentagonal geometries.  The base pentagonal curves were populated by points.  These points were created by subdividing the curves and placing points at these subdivisions using the “divide” component.  These points were then used by the “Delaunay Mesh” component to create a mesh

which can be used by other components.  The next step was to take this mesh and create a useable, faceted mesh by using the “Weaverbird’s Face Polylines.”  This component creates a series of triangles from the subdivded curves which have been populated with points.  These triangles were then filleted and given rounded corners.  The largest of the closed curves were then filtered and selected for further pattern complexity.   An “area” component was used to give these selected curves a center point.  A “line” component was used to create lines which connect to points generated along the closed curves from the center-points.


Fig. 1

The 2D pattern was used to create a 3D surface.  An “area” component was used to create center points for each of the closed curves.  These center-points where then given z-values based on their corresponding areas:  the larger the area of the closed polylines associated with the center-point, the larger the z-value for that center point.  The new set of center-points was then converted into a Delaunay mesh, and then converted into a smoothed topography of sorts by using Weaverbird’s Catmull-Clark Subdivision component.  Contour lines (see Fig. 2) were derived from the topography so that these lines could be lofted using Rhino’s loft command to create a surface.  The next step involved applying the original 2D pattern to the newly created 3D surface.  This was made possible by using Rhino’s “flow along surface” command.  See Fig. 3 for the resultant 3D pattern. Changes to the 3D surface will still be made to allow for an increased texture.  Fig. 4 is an image representing the final milled design.




Fig. 2

Fig. 3

Fig. 4

There have been many papers written which have analyzed the integration of digital parametric processes into design.  I can add to the discourse in a personal way, as I have recently learned how to use a parametric design application, and am also an Architecture student.  Throughout my educational career as an architecture student, I have been exposed to the various stages of design.  I began the undergrad program at the University of Illinois in 2008.  As a sophomore, the design studio incorporated the fundamentals of drafting by hand.  Junior year design studios incorporated digital modeling.  There were no classes offered to teach students how to use digital modeling applications such as Rhino or Sketchup; the students had to learn these applications during their free time.  Professors who have never used Rhino were teaching students.  Therefore, it was up to the student to learn how to use Rhino.  It was not until my first year of graduate school that I learned to use Rhino.  It was not until the beginning of my third year of Graduate school that I was exposed to the Grasshopper application.

The class I have taken which has allowed for students to learn the basics of parametric design is attended by grad-students as well as undergraduate students.  This is significant because it allows for a comparison of educational programs which have been separated by approximately 4 years.  I am a grad-student who is currently attending a class with at least one undergraduate student.  I was an undergraduate student 4 years ago.  In the past 4 years, parametric design has become an important part of the architecture education curriculum.  This must be based on design trends seen in the practicing world.  Ultimately, this parametric design educational component integrates digital fabrication as part of the curriculum to allow for students to design / fabricate constructs – physical representations of designs which are so very important when relating to the realized 3D space, form, material, etc.

Architecture Education which integrates digital fabrication into a curriculum allows for students to build what they have designed.  Digitally modeling a form in 3D space takes on new meanings when these forms will be fabricated.  Levels of precision involving structure, connections, materials, and ornamentation must all be incorporated into the design such that, once fabricated, will be assembled to create the intended working construct.   As more and more students learn about digital fabrication (incorporating parametric design), trends in architecture will be guided by these students as they become architectural designers.  As was stated in Kyle Miller’s Organized Crime: The Role of Ornament in Contemporary Architecture, when ornamentation is reinterpreted, it can become performative and functional.[1]

That the design process incorporates a fabrication element is in keeping with traditional ways architecture students learn about design.  Students have been building models as long as they have been attending architecture schools.  Now that digital fabrication has become commonplace, the skills required of this process, i.e., milling, machining, programming, parametricism, etc, architectural design will be forever changed because of it.

Complex systems, whether structural, ornamental performative, or otherwise, can be designed and fabricated by students now, with the help of these digital parametric applications.  As was stated in Meibodi and Aghaiemeybodi’s The Synergy between Structure and Ornament, digital design is unable to subtract the fabrication component if a true understanding of structure and ornamentation is to be had.  Fabrication is fundamental to the understanding of this new tectonic.[2]

[1] Miller, Kyle.  Organized Crime:  The Role of Ornament in Contemporary Architecture.  ACADIA Regional 2011: Parametricism: (SPC):  68

[2] Meibodi, Mania Aghaei and Hamia Aghaiemeybodi.  The Synergy between Structure and Ornament.  Digital Aids to Design Creativity – Vol 2.  eCAADe 30 30:  243


  1. Eli, seems you are a bit disappointed about your undergrad, but you finally have learned grasshopper in this class which is really good. Actually, I have played with this program over 6 years, come to find me if you have any problem on grasshopper. :mrgreen:

    moreover, digital tool is like an double blade sword. If you are very familiar with the tool, you can do whatever you want, and that would be great. However, if you are not, the tools(functions) you have already known in grasshopper will limit your imagination in schematic design process.

    So, for the real project in the future, I would like to suggest you can “think whatever you want” first, and then try to figure out how to script your grasshopper.

    Just share my experience with you. :grin: