Parametric design is an approach whereby the results of process-oriented development are displayed for the designer in real time. Marco Hemmerling, Professor of Computer Aided Design at the Detmold School of Architecture and Interior Architecture, encapsulates the essence of this process-oriented approach thus – designer and design are in direct dialogue, and the architect develops his own tool. In this way, the computer has developed from being a simple drawing tool to being a design medium with its own qualities and requirements.
New technologies operate independently of their content – a change of perception and thought. They produce new realities. Or, in the words of Canadian philosopher of communication theory Marshall McLuhan: “We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” Thus, to McLuhan, the development of communication technologies acts as the driving force of social change. Digital content influences the spaces in which we live, the objects around us, the images we see and the sounds we hear. In this way, it creates enhanced awareness and perception of our reality. This development not only engenders radical change to our surroundings; above all, it produces a space for design and interaction. The use of digital tools has not only substantially changed the way in which architects work, it has also altered formal design and the resulting appearance and perception of spaces and objects. Using the latest design software, drafts can be generated in a way that, technically and formally speaking, had hardly been possible before. And so, to a great extent, computer technology releases them from the conventional production conditions. In both the design and fabrication process, dependency is shifting from analogue to digital operations.
The influence of digital media on architecture is derived from two strands of evolution. On the one hand, digital tools support the formation of spatial concepts. Through the comprehensive, three-dimensional illustration of design concepts by means of digital simulations and direct interaction with the virtual model in the design process, perception of spatial and functional relationships is significantly enhanced. Thus computer-generated models allow for an holistic approach to, and evaluation and communication of, architectural concepts at an early stage. From the first digital drawing and visualisation, right through to the methods of Building Information Modeling (BIM), computers can now display the entire design and planning process. On the other hand, particularly in recent years, there has been a visible increase in computer aided construction and production processes using CNC interfaces and rapid manufacturing technologies. Digitally produced and mechanically manufactured building components broaden the design spectrum and integrate into the design process the parameters resulting from the choice of materials and fabrication logic. Since the fabrication process is fully automated, the manufacturing costs theoretically stay the same. In this way, new design freedom is created within architectural production, since cost-related dependency on standard products is removed as much as possible. The manufacture of individual products using new production methods allows for design and customer-specific fabrication, as has already emerged in many areas of production.
The potential of digital design is not based on the simulation of previously analogue operations, but rather on the utilisation of computerrelated processes for recognising, linking, processing and evaluating complex inter-relationships. This is a significant difference to the classic CAD application that, while supporting the drawing process, does not represent any new qualities in the design methods themselves. Digital tools, by contrast, definitely support new directions and the development of spatial concepts in a process-oriented way under the influence of various parameters. Since the results are displayed in real time, a direct dialogue between the designer and the design is created. This involves the output geometry being equipped with algorithms, or mathematical instructions, which allow shape development to be influenced in a versatile way. Many software applications now offer the possibility of programming in-house applications, which allow the parameters to be individually defined for the creation of the design. Or, to express it another way, architects develop their own tools. These process-oriented procedures allow manipulation of the whole structure across different criteria, without the links between the individual subcomponents becoming lost amongst each other. During this process, the design work is supported to a high degree by information technology. Such parametric models foster a new design method that requires both architecture - specific knowledge and information technology skills.
With the help of these methods, adaptable structures can be produced, which respond to external influences such as sunlight and wind load or internal influences, such as user behaviour or processes. The architectural form emerges through the particular type of connection and the prioritisation of individual parameters. Design shifts from being a formal-graphic process to being a strategic-generative one. It is much more a system than a concrete result that the designer creates. In addition to the visualisation of dependencies in the design, an advantage of this approach lies in the flexibility of being able to influence the programming at any time and, in doing so, to promptly develop and evaluate different concepts or versions of a design solution. In this way, spatial complexity becomes accessible and controllable for the designer.
A significant advantage in the use of computer-aided methods lies in the diverse possibilities to strategically link the individual processes together, to use synergies and to detect problems early and develop strategies for their solution. The basis of such process-oriented approaches is the development of a consistent and adaptable design model that, in the continual design process, can be creatively developed further and gradually complemented and enhanced through additional information. As a result, integrative architecture arises from the reciprocity of different variables, such as spatial influence, material efficiency, construction and production conditions as well as user behaviour, sustainability criteria and budgets.
Architectura – ex machina
Digital design creates a direct connection between the conceivable and the constructible. In this sense, the computer has developed from being a simple drawing tool that merely simulates traditional instruments to being an integrative medium for design with its own qualities and requirements. The computer is certainly the most comprehensive and dynamic medium that the designer has ever had at their disposal for their work. However, in order to exploit this potential, it is necessary to be able to use the computer as an interactive instrument and to understand its artificial intelligence as a creative enhancement. We are called upon to undertake this role in our information society and, through proficiency in using digital media, to create spaces for the future in the spirit of sustainable architecture.