Parametric Design: Architecture Beyond Imagination

Parametric Design

Zaha Hadid once said, “There are 360 degrees, so why stick to one?” whatever the specific context was, from which this statement began, it is by all accounts valid for a bunch of reasons.

Modern ground-breaking designs, however, defy convention. The most controversial design method used by architects in the twenty-first century is parametric design, an algorithm-based approach that combines the design objective with the design outcome. A staircase or a bench can be seamlessly integrated into a parametric design, which quickly adjusts to the conditions of the space in which it is located and gives them a magnificent beauty that is even reminiscent of natural materials and forms. By creating intricate geometries and structures through the interaction of elements, it attracts the attention of practically everyone.

What, though, is parametric design? We will address the most frequently asked question—what is parametric design—in this article. The article examines the history of parametric design, including its applications and components, as well as some of its earliest historical examples, and significant contributory architects. Parametric design is a design method that attracts a lot of attention and leaves no one indifferent.

Parametric Design: Definition

Photographer Unknown

In contrast to being explicitly developed, features (such as architectural and engineering components) are sculpted via algorithmic procedures in parametric design. This approach establishes the connection between design response and design intent using parameters and rules. The algorithms’ input parameters are referred to as parametric.

As the successor to current and postmodern architecture, parametric design is a form of modern avant-garde design. Patrik Schumacher, the late Dame Mohammad Zaha Hadid’s architectural collaborator, first used the word “Parametricism” in 2008. Although the phrase is currently used to describe the use of computer algorithms in design, architects have used it before. Using a mechanical model, Antoni Gaud created his buildings.

Origin of Parametric Design

Of course, parametric design was around before the advent of the digital revolution. Consider the work of Antoni Gaud, a great Spanish architect whose creations can be found all throughout Barcelona; he began utilising parametric methods at the close of the 19th century.

Photographer KK Clark

One of the oldest examples of parametric design can be seen in Antonio Gaudi’s upside-down models of churches, where he used weighted threads to build beautiful catenary arches. Gaudi constructed an upside-down copy of the Church of Colnia Güell and used birdshot to weigh down the strings to create the intricate vaulted ceilings and arches. Below the model, a mirror displayed the chapel’s reversed appearance. He could vary the shape of each arch and observe how this change affected the connected arches by adjusting the position of the weights or the length of the threads. The components of a parametric model are still present in this model.

These are namely:

  1. A set of parameter including the string’s length, location of the anchor point and obviously the weight of birdshot.
  2. A collection of conclusions: the various vertex positions of the strings’ points.
  3. The results originate from math operations, like gravity! Or perhaps Newton’s Law of Motion.

Gaudi was able to create various iterations of his model by changing specific values in these models while remaining certain that the resulting structure would hold in pure compression. He could automatically determine the shape of the catenary curves by using the force of gravity acting on the strings rather than having to manually calculate the answers to parametric equations.

In fact, many architects contributed to the development of parametric architecture. Luigi Moretti, for instance, was the first architect to adopt the term “parametric architecture,” while the German Frei Otto’s “form-finding” activities in order to determine the best designs for tensegrity structures, such as the Munich Olympic Stadium with non-digital parametric techniques using soap films and routes perfectly encapsulated the exploratory aspect of parametric modelling.

Types of Parametric Modelling

Two categories of parametric modelling can be distinguished:

Propagation-Based Systems

Through a dataflow paradigm, propagation-based systems produce final shapes that are unknown from the original parametric inputs.

Constraint Systems

Constraint systems, in which essentials (such as structures, material utilisation, etc.) satisfy these requirements are defined using algorithms. Systems based on propagation are used to implement so-called “form-finding” processes. The ultimate shape of the intended thing is “discovered” based on these limitations when particular design goals are optimised against a set of design constraints.

Elements of Parametric Design

The adage “what’s old is new again” is applicable to both design and architecture. In particular, parametric design has defied long-standing rules. The foundational elements of earlier styles were straight lines, acute angles, and sharp corners. On the other hand, parametricism emphasises free-form architectural ideas. Each structure has a unique personality because of its sweeping lines, curves, and distinctive designs. Such patterns may appear futuristic or even extra-terrestrial. Parametric design governs by combining variation and complexity, rejecting homogeneous utilitarianism, the notion that each design element is flexible and interrelated, a tendency toward algorithmic, computer-aided design methods.

The elements listed below make up parametric design:

Inspiration from Nature

For architects and designers, nature has frequently acted as an inspiration. Suburbia’s “sprawl” probably conjures up specific ideas, such endless rows of identical “little boxes.” It’s simple for critics to point out that modern architecture and design slavishly adhere to trends and could even encourage environments devoid of individualism. Designers and architects now have the tools to analyse and mimic the complexity seen in nature and apply it to structural building shapes and urban organising patterns thanks to computer technology. As a result, parametric design presents a viable answer.

These parametric structures aren’t lawless amalgams despite the lack of symmetrical homogeneity. Designers of parametric systems look to nature for inspiration. The ecological systems of the planet are intricate, and regular patterns appear in some biomes. Those distinct ecosystems sustain a wide variety of creatures, much as forests have a diversified flora and coral reefs have distinctive structures (to provide two examples). There are connections between particular sea organisms and plants. These elements of nature do not exist in a vacuum.

The same is true in our urban areas. According to this strategy, the huge urban jungles of the metropolis require a systemic strategy that adapts to the surroundings and emphasises form and function, which, according to its proponents, is essential to future urban planning.

Play with Organic Forms and Geometries

There should be a place for delight and astonishment, as well as the unusual, irrational, and unpredictable. For example, rectangular rooms are fantastic for arranging furniture, and flat walls are ideal for hanging paintings. Although they were aware that eventually defining those shapes to contractors and using those spaces for users would be required, designers still wanted to be creative when constructing organic forms. Designers are now demonstrating that when form and usefulness come together, the outcome need not be a sterile, uninspiring box.

Use Algorithm to Define Form

These forms can be mathematically or manually defined by architects and designers. Repeatedly defining them by hand might be time-consuming and inefficient. They wanted to harness the strength of a computer programme to work through limits and details for the shape because they knew they would be iterating through forms during design. The algorithm enables designers to play with the broader form gesturally. When designers use an algorithm to build a shape, the algorithm they write handles the repetitious computations so they don’t have to do it manually every time.

Notable Architects and Their Contribution

One of the famous architect’s many parametric structures is the “Fish” or Peix Olmpic in Barcelona, Spain. Frank’ O Gehry is renowned for pushing the boundaries of organic shapes; he even created a structure that resembles a crumpled paper bag.

zaha hadid buildings
Photographer Helena Binet

One of the most well-known examples of an architecture firm that actualizes massive buildings that were parametrically conceived is Zaha Hadid Architects. There are essentially no visible corners or sharp edges in the Zaha Hadid buildings. The Heydar Aliyev Center’s architecture creates a continuous, flowing connection between the exterior plaza and the interior of the structure. Another office, retail, and entertainment complex known as the Galaxy SOHO Mall in Beijing, China, is another mind-bowing marvel in parametric designs. Its structure gives the impression of being one continuous space.

One of the most noteworthy structures created by French architect Jean Nouvel, employing parametric design, is the Louvre Abu Dabi. Even though the structure is far more understated than its tower neighbours, its complex dome is nevertheless impressive.

Santiago Calatrava’s extraterrestrial design for the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, popularly known as the Oculus, in New York City, is another illustration of parametric architecture. Its façade and interior both push the limits of what is possible in terms of architecture.


It’s challenging to sum up in a few words, and searching for “parametric design” or similar terms yields some dry explanations that may come out as overly theoretical. Such digital solutions expand the designers’ toolkit into a completely new field. Although truthful, this is not particularly clear-cut, and the majority of us find it confusing. In recent years, the scripting interfaces of software packages have allowed parametric modelling to enter projects. The majority of designers profit from diagram-based visual scripting interfaces. The principal graph-based visual scripting interfaces map the flow of relations from parameters to user-defined functions, typically producing geometry as a result.

Modern architects have access to the greatest amount of flexibility and expression options because of digital tools utilised in building and design. We may explore a huge range of creative options with parametric design without depleting our resources.

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