The Parametric Approach

David Burwinkel

The Parametric process presents the designer with an innovative technique to forward the development of physical interventions.  The advent of the parametric process is the latest spearhead in an persistent attempt to break down the human factor into a manageable scientific equation.  This yearning for a “perfect” formula or numerical value has been a theme since the scientific and industrial revolution.

Louis Durand was the first to famously declare in the late 18th century, “if it is functional it is therefore beautiful.”  He wrote a book that paramatized basic assemblies for quick and efficient spatial agglomerations that he believed constituted beautiful architecture.  The theories of Durand were the first sparks that would eventually ignite modernism.  Modernism stood in defiance of the ignorance, superstition and excess of the past.  This quest continues today as we attempt to articulate and simplify the mental stages that produce a finished architectural product into a piece of code that turn out forms fulfilling the stipulations of parameters to maximize the output and provide us with something that is functional and therefore beautiful.  This theory is at the core of parametric thinking, which represents the modern version of Durand’s quest.  Today aided by computers and scripting software the ability to reduce the creative process to adjusting a couple of sliders is almost within our grasp.  The dream is alive.

The pitfalls of the parametric process are not the concept or the equipment but the human factor.  This factor has long stood as the limiting element of our species.  Despite or best efforts we can not seem to overcome the fact we are fallible, inefficient and emotional we are the faulty component in the script which renders otherwise perfect results, inefficient.  The machine is beautiful because it purely functional, so to is a perfectly parametric building because it represents the dream of what we wish to be.

The dream disappoints in its final realization because it relates to our desires but fails to provide for our deficiencies.  The forms created through true parametric methods are in large amorphous evocations of alien constructs that do not evoke or convey the stimuli that we typically rely on to orient and place ourselves comfortably within the environment.  Just as the inside of a cpu lacks the components of “good” architecture so to do humans lack the components of a good computer.

These conclusions led me to turn away from an intense parametric response and rely rather on typical linear design progression to develop a form that worked to progress the quality of the street, pronounce the entrance, coexist with existing topography, mitigate negative stimuli, draw in passive solar, and to do so with the human experience and existence within the space as a major driver.  This is not to say that these things could not have been done more efficiently with a computer script but this is the prompt which draws the divide.  William Morris in the mid 19th century wrote a book titled “Textile and Wallpapers” in which he denounced modern industrial techniques as they undermined the craftsman.  He argued that prior to the industrial revolution the craftsman such as a cabinet maker was not only the creator but also the designer and the final output of his efforts was something he could take pride in because it was the expression of the labor of his hands and each piece was unique unto itself.  After the advent of the machine, however, he stated that the laborer had lost his dignity and the relationship between designer and the materials had been sheered by the machine.  The worker was a brainless chain in the assembly line who could no more differentiate one finished piece from another than he could place his name or pride by the final output.  If we are to look at the modern factory work and compare them with the famous designer / craftsman of pre-industrial revolution one can see that his point has a high level of validity.  This is the point at which architecture also finds itself in many regards.  The parametric approach promises perfection and efficiency much like the assembly line but it also takes the act of creation out of the hands of the architect and gives him the position of quality manager instead ascribing numerical values to desired outcomes and then picking most desirable outputs.

Some things are worth the extra effort.  Architecture is one of those things because it represents the, hopefully, lasting monuments of our human accomplishments and values.  The parametric process can inform and assist but it is not something that should rule the “design” process.  I have therefore in my design opted to use the parametric tools to guide the stippling of the exterior skin to afford maximum interior lighting while minimizing direct solar gain during the summer months.

Mid Term Site Plan

Mid Term Site Plan Early Screen CaptureEarly Screen Capture

Early Render of Material Concept

Zero Tower_294_Dober|Liu|Schoeppner_Revit DWF

Zero Tower

Levy Nguyen Studio Final Section 03

Alain Perez-Majul, Section 3, Cincinnati Environmental Learning School


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Final Studio Project

Ming Final Model

Final_Drew Suszko

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Luke Sinopoli_Revit Model_CSEL

SAID 294_CSEL_Luke Sinopoli_Final Project

Adam Stehura CSEL

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dwf file for Wagner, Capuano, Boggs

Final Project File

Bayless Cole Johnson Revit Model