Monthly Archives: June 2011

p1_Natalie Levinson_#001

“A ‘elastic city’ is a flexible urban environment to replace the current static one. By fully utilising information technology, driverless vehicles will become a reality. ‘Smart tile’ surfaces, a thin layer of reprogrammable sensors within the surface of roads, will coordinate the flow of traffic so that the city can be free of the clutter that supports driving. Finally, with a push of a button the ‘urban pavement’ can transform to adapt to our needs.” —Interview with B.I.G.

While this vision of the elastic city may be extreme, a more subtle shift in urban infrastructure is taking place: the retrofitted or sustainable city. The belief that buildings are disposable, the “paper architecture” ideal that progress and innovation can only come from a tabula rasa, is slowly but surely being replaced with a concern for minimizing wastefulness, promoting sustainable practices, and designing urban infrastructure to last. Tianjin eco-city is a prototype for this model. Surbana Urban Planning Group, a Singapore-based firm, produced the city plan using parametric modeling based on the assumption that compact, high-density building is the most effective strategy for shaping an environmentally sustainable city. Tianjin’s new plan came out of a partnership venture between China and Singapore. It supports 350,000 residents on 30 square km. “The project is based on three points: people-people, people-environment and people-economy…Tianjin Eco-city is expected to be scalable and replicable and will be completed in 2020.”

Other perspectives on Tianjin:

Tianjin’s official information site:

While it metaphorically has been designed to be an “elastic” city that can survive and adapt over time to a changing world, the parametrically designed formal elements seem to echo the sentiment. While I haven’t yet found any commentary on the reasoning behind the physical design of the city, I’m curious what Surbana Urban Planning Group would have to say about its undulating array of pod-like green spaces.

p1_Andy McCarthy_#001

Pike Loop

The Pike Loop, a temporary sculptural installation with architectural implications, is a looping wall along a pedestrian island in the middle of Pike Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown.  The project was designed by Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler, two Swiss architects and professors at Der Eidgenoessische Technische Hochschule in Zurich.  Gramazio and Kohler put 3 years of research into the realization of the full-scale digital fabrication robot known as ROB.  This high-precision industrial robot, inspired by automobile assembly line technology, is fixed to a low-bed trailer that moves incrementally as it stacks and epoxy-glues bricks in parametric spacing and orientation.  Other parametric fabrication projects using ROB are Gramazio and Kohler’s award-winning 2008 entry in the Venice Biennial, and the Gantenbein Winery in Switzerland.  This technology is not limited to masonry.  Wood, steel and glass are also potential materials for the mass production of structures.  ROB is a step beyond CNC milling and 3D printing because it brings precision to on site labor.  The Pike Loop project broke ground in September 2009, and erected over 7,000 bricks in 4 weeks, all the while in full view to the public.  Hypothetically an entire building, or even a whole landscape, could be made by robots!

Click here to see ROB in action.

p1_Mary Jo Minerich_#001

Coming into this class, I realized how very little I knew about the possible uses of parametric design. After a bit of research, it seemed to me that the primary uses related to design occur at either very large scales (urban planning, landform) or very small scales (furniture and product designs), and in the case of architecture, frequently operate independently from other building systems (for example a parametrically designed rainscreen with organic forms that doesn’t need to address the gridded window system behind it or outdoor pavilions that don’t need to maintain a thermal barrier, or various lighting and display systems that inhabit and change the interior profile of an otherwise typical space without requiring a change in the thinking of the electrical or plumbing etc). Foreign Office Architect’s Yokohama Port Terminal comes to mind as a great architectural counter example where the form of the building actually follows desired circulation paths through space, and a combination of software modeling and craftsmanship allowed the wood cladding to be used in a more plastic way. (Interior corridor shown below) As a result, I am very interested in exploring the potential of these programs to have a significant impact on the performance, function and constructability of an object. Maybe its because the weather has been lovely, or because I’ve been learning about wood, but I have been thinking a lot about boats lately. Although I was able to find little or no information about the use of parametric design in small boat building, it seems that this might be a really interesting area for ideas and practices related to craft, structure, and function to be guided by a relational and iterative way of thinking about the design. For the purposes of this case study I am limiting my comments to “skin light frame” style boats, as these are within the realm of what a person can actually craft and because they seem particularly appropriate for this type of design because they consist of two precisely related elements, the structure and the skin, which are responsible for the performance of the boat. In the image below, you can see the most basic configuration of this kind of boat’s “skeletal” structure and its fitted skin. This design concept is based on a boat called the umiak, created by the Inuit people who live along the Alaskan and Canadian coast. I think that parametric design could help to design the structure of a boat like this for more specific weight, durability, or speed requirements, and could allow for more atypical forms, even a structure that could have ornamental qualities. Furthermore, because the structure is skeletal, it can be created as a series of interconnected component parts specifically designed to manage a pattern of structural loading. As a related example, in the video below a group of students is able to create a vaulted ceiling structure from a number of smaller pieces of laser cut plywood. Arch Structure created from small parts from YouTube This is also frequently employed in furniture design, so that a light frame structure of wood can take on a more organic shapes and still carry significant loads. Chair by Matthias Pliessni. Not only does the boat itself have a skin, but a sail for the boat is also a kind of “skin” that relates to the environment around it. I was able to find a video that uses some cheesy editing to “explain” how they use parametric design software to optimize the design of the sails. Despite this, it is very interesting to see what factors affect the design of a good sail, and how the sails are sewn from two dimensional fabric, anticipating their ideal three dimensional shape when activated by the wind. On the design side, I am thinking that parametric design would allow more interesting shapes and sizes of sail that could still fulfill their necessary function.

North Sails design video

p1_Molly Wimmel_#001

The “Gherkin” Building

Formally known as 30 St Mary Axe, the Gherkin is an office building in the main financial district of London. Designed by Foster + Partners, the building was constructed from 2001-2003. Based upon a design of Buckminster Fuller’s from the 1970’s, the Gherkin Building employed parametric modeling to make the building more energy efficient.

The architects were heavily concerned with how the Gherkin would fit into the surrounding landscape, and especially how a building of this size would affect passengers on the sidewalk. Skyscrapers with rectangular shapes (or all flat sides) create turbulence at ground level. Using parametric design, the architects developed a number of curved building shapes, which were then put through digital wind simulations. A similar process occurred with the internal ventilation, allowing heating and cooling costs to be reduced by 40 percent.

Parametric modeling also allowed the architects to experiment with the curvature of the building in relation to sun exposure. The building is wide through the center, narrowing at both the top and the bottom. This allows light to flow through the glass walls into the offices in the middle, while taking up less space at ground level and limiting sun blockage to surrounding buildings.

What is most striking upon first glance is the building’s curved shape. Only one piece of glass in the entire structure (the cap at the top) is curved, all other glass pieces are flat. This made the structure both cheaper and easier to produce. Parametric modeling software was used to transform the building from an overall curved shape to individual flat pieces of glass.

Below is a video of the Gherkin Building design. All of the text is in Italian, but it does a nice job of demonstrating the design process.

p1_Jessica Helmer_#001

… Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth …
– Benoît Mandelbrot

I am inspired by natural geometries found in nature. As the above quote shows, many of nature’s geometries are not best described as perfect shapes such as cones, pyramids, cubes and spheres. Rather, natural shapes and rhythms display fractal behavior.

A fractal can be described as “a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole,” (Mandelbrot, B.B. (1982). The Fractal Geometry of Nature). Thus, a fractal exhibits self-similarity across different scales. A beautiful example of this kind of geometry in nature is the Romanesco broccoli. Looking at the picture you can see how the spiral pattern is repeated at smaller and smaller scales. A multitude of other natural examples exist: leaves, tree branching, lightning, snowflakes, bacterial colony aggregates, our own lungs and circulatory system…

Below are just a couple of links to some amazing natural fractals:

For an animated gif on fractal geometries exhibited in a “perfect” snowflake:

Fractal concepts could easily be incorporated into architecture. Many designers concern themselves with control over rhythm, and expressing an architectural concept from the whole building scale down to intimate details. One could also use fractals to express levels of density (a windscreen, for example, could become more dense in areas where the fractal repeats itself). These areas of density could be used to control light, visual access or simply to create certain “zones” within a space.

A more architectural example can be seen with this project from

Here, fractal geometries are used to create a sense of shelter.

Below is a link to a very entertaining video with an interesting description of fractals in African villages (it is too large to embed in the post… 17 minutes long). The first five minutes is a great introduction to fractals. Also noteworthy is at 9:45 when he talks about how an African population uses fractal geometries to create efficient windscreens based on windspeed and height. As height increases, so does wind speed. In order to create a windscreen that keeps out sand, the screen is made more dense, i.e. uses a greater number of increasingly smaller sticks at higher levels on the screen.

p1_David Friedlander_#001

An Automated Vehicle Conceptual Design Utility (AVCDU) was developed at Lockheed Martin MS2 to aid in the parametric design of unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV’s).  The AVCDU is a tool that takes mission descriptions and configuration options and outputs UUV specs (size, wet and dry weights) as well as subsystem specs.  Figure 1, from Ref.1, shows a schematic of this automated parametric design process.

The main benefit of using the AVCDU is that it allows the user to define parametric specs of the UUV with great ease and in rapid time.  Although this benefit is inherent in parametric design, it is amplified by the automation process.  This is crucial for UUV’s as there lacks a significant database for UUV design configurations.  A tool such as AVCDU would also allow for such a database to be created due to the benefits of automated parametric design.

The AVCDU was used to analyze a case study of a Long Range UUV (LTUUV) that had been done at Lockheed Martin in 2009.  The purpose of the case study was to analyse sizing trends for various input parameters.  Figure 9, from Ref. 1, shows some of the resulting configurations from design optimizations based on the sizing trends.

Ref. 1: Brown, C., Clark, R.P., “Using a Novel Vehicle Conceptual Design Utility to Evaluate a Long-Range, Large Payload UUV”, Lockheed Martin MS2, IEEE 978-1-4244-4333-8/10, 2010.


p1_Sarah Mapel_#001

Broad Museum

Competing with five of the world’s top architects, Diller Scofidio and Renfro won the competition held by Eli Broad for the Broad Musuem. The firm used parametric modeling to design the skin for the nearly 120,000 sqf and $130 million dollar art museum to be built in downtown Los Angeles to house an art collection, as well as archives, offices, and storage.

The design is based on two large rectangular boxes, the bottom of which serves as the parking garage. The upper box, or “vault” contains the spaces for storage, archival, and office purposes for the Broad Art Foundation.

The facade itself (also called “the veil”) uses parametric modeling to optimize the load of the varying precast concrete hexagonal shapes, as well as allowing for the quality of light typical to that of an art museum to filter in without damaging the art inside. The veil is a structural piece in and of itself, allowing for a column-less gallery space, while the four facades of the building will vary in transparency, thickness, and design, all aspects aided by parametric modeling technologies.

The video below gives a brief walkthrough of the approach to the museum, a look at the art gallery, storage and archival areas, and the means of getting between floors, both by use of the stairs, and the escalator.

Content from:

p1_George Faber_ #001

Fractal Table By Platform Wertel Oberfell

Fractal Table is a table piece which derives from studies into fractal growth patterns. Treelike stems grow into smaller branches until they get very dense towards the top. Multiplying like cells the exponential nature of the pattern is endless. Thinking into the different parameters that control this pattern, one could imagine a change as simple as how many times the branch “breaks” into multiple smaller branches could effect its outcome.

The end result is all determined by a few parameters concerning growth, spilt rate, and time. As designers we now have an infinite number of variations/schemes/options to consider for a final design. This could come off as having too many options can actually limit the designers effectiveness in picking the right solution. Or equally as plausible; could provide the designer with the best possible solution and is the end all to all options.

Course open to UC honors program

This course is offered conjunction with an undergraduate UC honors course.  UC Honor Program. 38HNRS371H.

The student with general design background can enroll this course.  The majoring in Architecture and Interior Design, Engineering, Industrial Design, Fashion, Graphic Design and many other fields are welcome to enroll.  Please let me know if you have any questions. ( tangmg(at)