Q+A: Is parametric design a craft?

Apr 9 • Q+A • 3126 Views • 6 Comments on Q+A: Is parametric design a craft?


Two individuals, from separate professional backgrounds, and from different parts of the globe, give answers to our question of the week. Is parametric design a craft? 


Liz Steel is a Sydney-based Architect who teaches on-location architecture sketching throughout Australia. She is the founder and coordinator of Urban Sketchers Australia and blogs about sketching architecture  at sketchingarchitecture.blogspot.com.au:


By definition craft involves the skillful use of the hand, and a certain pride in achieving the highest possible quality. There is also a strong element of personal expression.


There is no doubt a great amount of skill is associated with the use of software to produce parametric design – but I would not call it craft as it lacks the human touch at the critical part of the design process.


In my opinion, true craft in design comes from a finely balanced dialogue between eye, hand and mind. When the hand can record quickly and intuitively the thoughts of the mind, then ideas can be generated and refined to a higher degree and become an expression of a true architectural craftsman.


For me, giving away this dynamic relationship to a computer processor would be depriving myself of the joy of discovery.


Maria Mingallon is a senior structural engineer at ARUP with a master’s degree in Emergent Technologies and Design from the Architectural Association. Her field of specialization is in parametric design and digital fabrication. www.mariamingallon.com:


Parametric design is indeed a craft in the sense that its implementation requires highly technical skills. Good parametric design is essential in highly complex projects. It has been vastly used over the years by engineers but it is only when architects and other designers have started using it that the term ‘parametric design’ has emerged as a discipline on its own. Parametric Design shall however not be confused with ‘digital design’ as this is something substantially different.


In order to explain the use of parametric design beyond the mere formulation of geometrical forms, a parallelism with Nature is suggested herein. This idea stems from the notion of natural systems exhibiting the same principles often used to describe parametric design methodologies. Natural constructions are built upon a series of repetitive rules, which are in turn fed by a set of varying parameters, and informed by a particular environment. These repetitive rules are in essence the description of the relationships among all the different elements involved in the creation of natural organisms, including their environment. In a fairly simplistic way, one can say that they are formulated in what is known by geometry mathematicians as ‘parametric coordinates’, where the unknowns/variables are transformed from the traditional (x,y,z) coordinates to a set of ‘controlled’ variables (t), for which a set of values is known. Natural evolution is a great example of the use of parametrics in Nature. A population is generated based on a series of rules and a set of varying parameters, making each individual different in its own way while sharing similarities among other individuals in the same population. Nature allows mixing and matching across individuals and repeats the loop continuously while applying environmental pressures to these populations to ultimately achieve convergence towards a certain fitness function. In that sense, Natural Evolution is in its own a ‘parametric model’ where a complex set of rules and variables defines both how individuals are created and how well they are performing within the particular environment they belong to.


Therefore, parametric design is certainly not about the geometrical form a building might take; parametric design is an instrument and should be built into the methodology used to generate and analyse solutions by designers. However, the recent abuse of the term parametric design among the architectural and engineering communities often tends to mislead professionals to think about parametric design as a ‘style’ to practice, in detriment of what it really is: a useful ‘tool’ to resolve complex problems and ultimately deliver a successful design.


So what do you think?

Is parametric design a craft?

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