Designing Architecture Like we Design Software

Daniel Davis – 8 April 2014

I recently summarized my thesis in an article for ENR. The article begins by stating that:

Parametric modeling is best known as the technology empowering the nimble geometric feats of many contemporary architects. This new generation of architecture is so reliant upon parametric modeling that designers like Patrik Schumacher, the director of Zaha Hadid Architects, argues that it constitutes “the great new style after modernism.” By his reasoning, and the reasoning of others, parametric modeling is enabling an entirely new type of architecture. Despite the exuberance, the building industry has been quietly struggling with parametric modeling. In practice, the models are difficult to produce and they often break.

I argue that it is a fallacy to avoid change through front-loading a project. The alternative I put forward is that:

Change is inevitable. The solution therefore isn’t to avoid change but rather to embrace it. Make change an expected and welcome part of the design process. Make parametric models flexible enough that they can accommodate future design intentions.

The rest of the article then goes through the Dermoid project (which is probably better illustrated here). My conclusion draws directly from my thesis:

There is strong reason to believe that software engineering offers a proven pathway to overcome many of the challenges the building industry is currently facing when utilizing parametric models. It is only when we come to see the practice of architecture as being something akin to software engineering that we’ll fully realize the potential of parametric modeling.

The full article (published 2 April 2014) can be viewed on the ENR site.



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  • Evgeny Shirinyan 23 June 2014 at 8:36 pm

    Hello, Daniel,

    I think, you know what is going on in MCAD software (which is quite parametric apriori) and what type of change is happening with history-based modeling. It seems to me it’s worth to compare with arhitecture-oriented applications.

    It would be great I could read your article without subscribing to ENR (however they look interesting)

    • Daniel 27 June 2014 at 10:02 am

      Hi Evgeny, Sorry about the pay wall. I’ll find a way to get the text to you. I’m not familiar with MCAD but I’ve certainly been interested in what is happening in the industrial design world. There’s an interesting comparison to be made between software like CATIA and Grasshopper. I’m not sure why architects have taken the path they are on, perhaps it’s the architects need to specify and control everything 🙂

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