Patrik Schumacher – Parametricism

Daniel Davis – 25 September 2010

By far the biggest villain in all of parametric design is Patrik Schumacher. Normally I would not give him the time of day, but since my previous post was such a fan-boy writeup of one of the heroes of parametric design, Robert Woodbury, it seems only fair to deal to Schumacher today. It also seems important to write about Schumacher because recently I have read quite a few people – mostly students – who have earnestly quoted from Schumacher’s essay on Parametricism, while at the same time – in closed circles – I have never heard of an idea more ridiculed. The infamous essay can be found online in the Architects Journal although earlier versions were published it in AD, and a video of Schumacher explaining the essay at Intensive Fields can be found here. Everything I could want to write about Schumacher’s use of the word ‘style’ in this essay has been said far better by Adem Mayer, instead I will take issue with the term Parametricism.

Schumacher is clueless when it comes to digital technology – I wouldn’t follow his advice on how to operate a kettle, let alone parametric software. At the heart of his incompetence is Schumacher’s use of the word Parametricism. Digital architecture has a very specific vocabulary; generative, parametric, emergent, swarming, associative, digital morphogenesis, optimisation, L-Systems, cellular autonoma, and genetic algorithms all have different meanings. This is not to exclude people like Schumacher from our club, but because these words are necessary to describe all the different fields in digital architecture, fields that are distinct and not always able to be clustered together. Yet with parametricism Schumacher makes it clear that he is not talking about parametric design, but of all of digital architecture, speaking of swarming and genetic algorithms in the same breath with parametric design. Etymologically, despite Schumacher’s protests, it is hard to separate parametric and parametricism. The suffix ‘-ism’ should turn parametricism literally into the doctrine or characteristic of parametric. It is possible Schumacher has taken the word parametric design literally, as design from parameters. Such an interpretation is a truism – there is no design without parameters – besides, the architecture from Zaha Hadid Architects that Schumacher uses as his only example of parametricism is probably some of the least constrained architecture in existence; literally deployable anywhere in the world, the architecture from ZHA is free from the parameters of sites, free from the parameters of culture, free from the parameters of tectonics, free from the parameters of the environment. Aside from ZHA, for a supposedly global style, Schumacher has very few examples of parametricism. In Intensive Fields he does show student work which he credits to “some students” – an immoral and unacademic credit. In Intensive Fields Schumacher himself confuses parametricism and parametric, claiming “the only precursor of parametricism is Frei Otto.” Otto, by Schumacher’s own definition, produces parametric architecture (not parametricism), because like Fosters he neutralised the difference in his structures. I am not even going to go into Schumacher’s inexcusable exclusion of Gaudí, the Gothic, the Bauhaus and the Baroque from this history of parametric / parametricism.  So Schumacher’s use of the word Parametricism is at best confusing, to him and even more so the general audience. It derives from his lack of understanding of this field, and is highly disruptive because people such as myself who are studying parametric design now need to go back a redefine what parametric is after Schumacher defined it for us.

Otto's drawing for the German Pavilion at Expo 67 (via:

Otto’s drawing for the German Pavilion at Expo 67 (via: )

I would personally define parametric, within the context of digital architecture, as a type of geometric model whose geometry is a function of a finite set of parameters. While a parametric model is a representation tool, I think that it does privilege a certain type (style?) of building simply by making some operations easier than others; you see the same thing in other representational modes, especially in student projects, people who design in plan tend make complex plans, people who design in section make complex sections and people who design with models tend to privilege the building as an object. But this is only true if the design is generated through this representational medium. So if I was to make a Grasshopper model of Villa Savoye, it does not make Villa Savoye parametric architecture, the generator of Villa Savoye is still very much the set square. However if Le Corbusier designed Villa Savoye with Grasshopper, then he would have likely found making all those orthogonal walls annoying and that the array tool gives far more impact for less work, in turn changing the nature of the project to embody some of the characteristics of parametric architecture.

Which begs the question, is ZHA a parametric firm? In my opinion no. ZHA belongs in a group, with the likes of Gehry, who are second generation digital architects. That is to say they are using computation to radically change the economic viability of their projects, but the design process, to paraphrase Neil Leach [1], is still traditional, devoid of computers, top-down and postmodern. For ZHA, a scarily consistent signature architect, the font of Hadid was founded long before they started using computers. Whether ZHA uses a parametric model to generate the construction drawings of their signature is meaningless because the design was generated through a different medium. So Parametricism in this weird double-talk is Schumacher’s attempt to associate ZHA (and even claim the ZHA created) a movement with which they have nothing to do. Stick at what you are good at Schumacher, making money, and let the third generation show you what this revolution is really about.

Well I guess after all that I am never going to work for ZHA. If you feel like jumping under a bus you are more than welcome to try to defend Schumacher in the comments, or if you just want to get on a bus, you are welcome to do that as well in the comments.

[1] Neil Leach, Digital Morphogenesis, 2009.

5 December 2010: Patrik Schumacher responded to this criticism in the posts comments. His reply begins: “Don’t be such an ungenerous prick!”…



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  • Silvestre 26 September 2010 at 5:17 am

    Thank you. I always belive “if a important guy like Schumacher talk about Parametricism, it should mean somthing. Because he probably know what he is talking about ”

    His new term scrumble my cartography of digital architecture. Now, I can throw it away and continue my taxinomic work.

    (Shame on me to never read his text, but i’m not natural english speaker, and, I think the Third genretaion should more look the work from the first than the second generation)

  • jelle 27 September 2010 at 9:14 am

    Terrific write-up. ZHA is an effectively marketed formal grammar. Best to stick to marketing Schumacher, leave architectural theory for those who know it.

  • Daniel 27 September 2010 at 3:28 pm

    @Silvestre: I find when I read text from “important” people like Schumacher it helps to keep notes of whether I agree with the points in their argument. I find if I do not do this, it is too easy to take an uncritical position to their work.

    @jelle: I have never thought of ZHA’s work as a grammer. It would be interesting to know how the office actually works – is there a ZHA style sheet / grammer guide?

  • matei denes 28 September 2010 at 7:30 am

    I am not one to defend Schumacher, but your post suggests that there is no value or intelligent commentary in his work. This I think is an exaggeration. The work at ZHA, while based on a strict formalist credo, is parametric. While ZHA may not use the same parameters as you may chose, that is the beauty of Parametric design.

    What parametric designs allows is for the architect to chose which parameters, be they social, formal, or performative, to deploy in their work. And I think is what Patrick is talking about when he talks about “combat stylistic pluralism.” Not that he suggests all buildings should look like they came out of ZHA.

    But you are wrong to say that ZHA works in a traditional top down po-mo way. The work there is process driven from the start. While both you and I may disagree with the formal basis of the processes, it does not mean that they have no critical value.

    I do want to agree with you that “parametricism” is a ridiculous word. It is his attempt to dominate the discourse by defining the terminology. But it is up to the rest of us to push back. My preferred term is computational architecture, as opposed to digital architecture, as it excludes work by Frank Gehry who you correctly put in a class by himself, and specifies the math based operations that are present in the “vocabulary; generative, parametric, emergent, swarming, associative, digital morphogenesis, optimisation, L-Systems, cellular autonoma, and genetic algorithm” .

    But also want to take issue with the idea that what we are doing is not a style. It is, just as modernism was a style, and po-mo, or de-con. Each of these styles was an expression of a certain mode of thought and approach to architecture. What we should be worried about is that it becomes an empty style (like modernism did after Phillip Johnson). To do that we must be prepared to defend this style not deny that it is one.

    And I want to thank you for having one of the few critical blogs on computational architecture, as opposed to posting the latest trick you found. It is more likely that those are a danger to making what we work on an empty style than Patrick’s ego-festo.

  • John H 28 September 2010 at 1:26 pm

    I think the main point you highlight here is that ‘parametric’ design is not a new approach at all, it’s just that we have more computing tools widely available these days to investigate things numerically. With that in mind, defining a new paradigm and then ‘coining’ it is ridiculous (and stating that Frei Otto was the only other previous exponent is just absurd… man, I wonder what he thinks about this accolade?).

    Schumacher, does however make some decent points about how designing by sliders can have dangerous effects on design – the funny thing is though, as you yourself mention, the best examples of this are ZHA’s own projects.

  • Daniel 29 September 2010 at 2:15 am

    @ Matei

    I am not intimately familiar with the process of ZHA – I worked in a firm that collaborated with them, although I was not involved in the process. From the outside I find it inconceivable that ZHA during the concept phase is anything other than a top-down traditional firm like Gehry. Remember that Gehry too has a design process – they model with paper, which embeds the design with a tectonic logic and ensures the surfaces are all developable for when they get paneled. For ZHA I don’t know how you could be so formally consistent while using a generative (a more bottom-up) process. With a generative process you would expect the formal aspects of the project to come late in the process as the result of relationships and constraints being defined. Yet by Schumacher’s own admission, ZHA lock down the project formally very early on:

    I am prepared to say there is a stylistic consistency with much of computational architecture (a far better description than digital architecture). I think this mostly due to the design tools making certain operations very easy – panelling a surface is easier than drawing a square window in a wall. I am not sure this lends itself to a unified style though and I am not sure it matters, style will emerge.

  • Daniel 29 September 2010 at 2:15 am

    @ John,

    Totally agree with you. I remember an architecture history lecture on ‘grand narratives,’ about how cultures try to represent history as if every event in history leads to their irrevocable position. It seems Schumacher is doing something similar, rewriting the history of parametric architecture as if ZHA invented it.

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  • matei denes 29 September 2010 at 3:01 pm

    @ Daniel

    I have a few friends that work at ZHA after we all finished the Zaha factory known as DRL. I am part of the group that was not a ZHA fanboy and decided not to pad my resume. Just so you know where I am coming from.

    One thing to keep in mind with ZHA is that they are a formalist firm. That is what they are interested in, so any work they do is going to focus on the formal. For them form cannot come last, as there is no project until there is a form. But that form can remain very flexible for the duration of the design.

    When Patrick says they hone in pretty quick it refers to an approach, ie linear, volume, fluid, etc, to form. But then that gets worked over through a bunch of computational techniques that do use inputs from the site and the environment even, though sometimes it is just sliders. The form itself is produced parametrically, as opposed to Gehry where just the building is.

    While this may seem initially like top down, its about the same approach as you or I probably work. I assume that early in the process you chose an approach, be it using CA, morphogenesis, or a home made scripting technique which you feel matches the idea or site or program. And once you make this top down decision you get to work on the bottom up.

    But please let me stop defending ZHA and especially Patrick. My point was more about the style of computational architecture. ZHA and Morphosis are no more formally similar than Corbu (Rochamp) and Mies (Seagrams) or Wright (any), but both sets are within their same style. So style I would argue goes beyond just form, and actually has more to do with the formal expression of a zeitgeist.

    I would go so far as to say that the moment you deploy computational architecture techniques critically (as opposed to blindly) you fall into a certain architectural style. Of course the closer you get two points the farther apart they seem, so you can break down any style to its individual strands.

    I hope I’ve come across clear enough. Obviously these are pretty big issues to cover in a few comments. But I appreciate the opportunity to have this discussion with you, and look forward to your future post.

  • Daniel 30 September 2010 at 1:28 am

    Hi Matei,

    I was thinking about what you said today and I think projects that I would call highly parametric, such as Sagrada Família, have some similarities to ZHA. For instance with Gaudí, there are strict rules about how geometry is generated – almost all the surfaces are hyperbolic paraboloids, hyperboloids or helicoids – and this lends itself to a certain visual style. So if you want to build something like Gaudí, you do not copy the formal aspects of the project, you copy the process – I find it hard to see a hyperboloid and not think of Gaudí. So I have come around to this idea that formalism and parametrics are not muturally exclusive, and are even conjoined if your design patterns are consistant. You have done a noble thing and saved ZHA from jail, but Schumacher is beyond reprieve.

    Thank you.

  • Mentioned 30 September 2010 at 4:34 am

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  • Sivam Krish 5 October 2010 at 3:29 am

    Sadly, there is little distinction between, words and mantras (magic religious spell) in architecture.

  • Hawkeye 2 December 2010 at 3:20 am

    ‘parametricism’ == art

  • Patrik Schumacher 4 December 2010 at 6:54 am

    Hi Daniel,
    don’t be such an ungenerous prick! I guess we are all trying to advance the discipline, and most of us know that harnessing generative computational processes – ideally with an inbuilt intelligence/rationality – is the way forward. That does not mean that all of us manage to be radical and pure in our approach under all circumstances. (ALSO, I never claimed that ZHA or myself invented anything.) It aslo does not mean that we are in it for the money. There remains the difference between research and professional work although we are trying to close this gap. Show me what you are doing and achieving rather than deningrating people. I appreciate a lot of the contributions on this blog. … I am trying to reconstruct the concept of avant-garde style as “design research programme”. It goes beyond appearances although appearances are important. Architecture functions as much via its appearnces as it functions via its organisation. (Both depend on form.) Even its organisation can only fully function if it is articulated (made conspicuous and legible) through its appearance. A profound style must be defined by its functional heuristics (ways of conceiving and handling functions) as much as by its formal heuristics. I have always been fascinated by how social communication patterns are structured by spatial organisation and articulation. (Look at some of my older writings on the architecture of business organisations.) You’ll find that my writings are as agressive as yours (but hopefully only half as pompous).
    … May I ask you who you are working for at the moment?

  • Sivam Krish 4 December 2010 at 10:26 am

    Hi Patrik & Daniel it is best not to personalize this discussion. It is read with interest by a lot of people interested in generative design. Daniel has raised some important points that he has highlighted (bolded) why not respond to it ?

    We are less interested as to where you guys are working. We are more interested in what you’ll have to say. Cool down guys, and get on with the discussion – which we would like to see develop.

  • Daniel 5 December 2010 at 9:31 am

    Dear Patrik Schumacher,

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to some of my criticism, it is a ballsy move. I am sorry if my writing offended you – I think we both agree that critique is more interesting if it is strong and colourful. I also am willing to agree: that we are both trying to advance the discipline through similar means; that ZHA does some of the most important architecture of this generation; and that your achievements and career are far greater than most – in all likelihood mine will be very modest in comparison.

    However, there are some points you have skirted around.
    1. While you never claim to have invented parametricism, I do find it curious that, in the Intensive Fields lecture, you give a lot of time to the historic impetuous for a new paradigm, but you give no time to the precursors of parametricism and you give no time to your contemporaries. It is this rewriting of history – reminiscent of some of the grand narratives built into European cities – that seems to imply ZHA invented parametricism.
    2. It remains unclear what design methods are included in parametricism. For example is optimisation parametricism? And I ask this because there is a fundamental difference between digital processes that use emergence to those that use deduction.
    3. I would also be interested to hear your response to my argument that ZHA is not parametric because the design process must be top-down to maintain stylistic consistency. Based on what Matie (who was at the DRL) had said in past comments about your design process, I suspect I am wrong on this one.

    I do not think who I work for is particularly important to the discussion, but it is no secret either. So to help you understand why I have written this: I am 23 years old, I am completing a PhD at SIAL on improving the flexibility of parametric design – the thesis will include this critique of your work, albeit in a less pompous tone – I work with parametric tools every day on a project that is comparable in complexity and significance to ZHA’s work, although the project is far older (I will not name it here because my views in no way represent the people I work for).


  • Patrik Schumacher 6 December 2010 at 3:09 am

    Daniel, No offence at all – I learned that it is more productive for one’s own learning curve if one tries to understand the rationality (kernel of truth) in somebody else’s position even if lots of objections and criticisms jump to one’s mind.
    Since you acknowledge that we are working in the same direction: Your questions are legitimate, and they deserve to be answered. First of all concerning your suspicion that I would like to rewrite history by only showing ZHA work (and my student’s work) in my lectures. Well, I am stressing in my lectures and writings that what I call Parametricism is a global movement that encompasses a whole generation of young architects. I am not a full time lecturer, I am a practicing architect before I am a theorist, and I have a lot to show even before going into somebody else’s work. I am not adverse to showing other people’s work – but it takes time and effort to get the material, collate and analyse it etc. I know that there is research and design out there that is computationally more sophisticated than what we are doing. So I encourage anybody with the passion, insight and the time at hand to do this work of presenting the best work within the framework of parametricism. A PHD seems to be a perfect vehicle for this kind of work – with lectures as spin offs. Also, my texts and lectures on parametricism (first time I introduced the term as in a lecture at Smart Geometry Conference 3 years ago) do not focus on computational research although ZHA has a dedicated group “CODE” for basic research and tool development.
    Do not forget that parametricism as a style is not only defined via its design techniques but also via its ambitions and certain key features of its results, i.e. the general increase in the spatial complexity (sustaining an increase in programmatic complexity) as well as the general intensification of relations, i.e. an intensification of communication between spaces within a building and between the building and its surroundings. We need to understand what all this is good for in the end. What are the advantages of parametricism for the progress of our civilisation? (see my book: The Autopoiesis of Architecture.)
    This definition beyond mere technique has two consequences: some work which is using sophisticated computational design processes is nevertheless excluded from parametricism (e.g. Foster’s roof over the British Museum court yard) and some work that is merely modelled “top down” deserves to be included. Thus, although we all agree that computational processes – and you are right to point out that there are many different kinds that deserve to be distinguished – we should not make the mistake to become technique fetishists. Techniques are means to ends. What are our ends here?
    That’s why I define parametricism in terms of both functional and formal heuristics – irrespective of the specific tools and processes that are utilized :
    Functional heuristics:
    Negative principles:
    avoid rigid functional stereotypes
    avoid segregative functional zoning
    Positive principles:
    all functions are parametric activity/event scenarios
    all activities/events communicate with each other
    Formal heuristics
    Negative principles:
    avoid rigid forms (lack of malleability)
    avoid simple repetition (lack of variety)
    avoid collage of isolated, unrelated elements (lack of order)
    Positive principles:
    all forms must be soft (intelligent: deformation = information)
    all systems must be differentiated (gradients, tresholds)
    all systems must be interdependent (correlations)

    These principles are great tools of criticism and self-criticism. On this basis one can always find ways to further improve the project: More differentiation, more correlation! These principles are infinite in their progressive push.
    Concerning the prehistory of parametricism you might consult my “Digital Hadid”.
    Concerning the connection of top-down design and stylistic coherency Matie hit the nail on its head. The distinction top-down vs bottom up, and your distinction of emergence vs deduction are important but obviously they cannot be treated as either-or-choices in relation to a whole project. We develop a prior intuition about the kind of result we think is pertinent with respect to a given project brief and then start various design processes in parallel. In a real project you can’t be a purist when it comes to tools and techniques – although our internal culture at ZHA would like to privilege the deployment of computational intelligence (generative processes) as early in the project as possible, wherever such processes demonstrate that they can really deliver meaningful results. At the DRL we are much more rigorous and demanding. Here we are more purist, here the innovative process matters as much (or more) than the result.
    To summarize my answer to your third question: ZHA projects are always following the heuristic principles of parametricism , even if not all of them are always computationally driven. But we should also not forget that an intelligent and talented designer can – to a certain extent – articulate adaptive correlations between object and context, volume/façade and environmental parameters, between the variously differentiated subsystem within the building via mere modelling without deploying algorithms. The intelligence that is able to invent and think through such correlations is prior to its computational implementation. And, to a limited extend there can be “computation without computers”.

  • Sivam Krish 6 December 2010 at 3:50 am

    Gentlemen, we are now onto a much better discussion. Daniel, you are 23. Spring Chickens may not be aware that there are no villains in the game that we are into. There is only confusion; those who add to it and those who help remove it.

    Currently, I am deeply confused by what I read – from industry, academics and blogs. By the way Daniel, I read your blog with interest. It is certainly one of the best blogs on generative design. It opens questions and debates – that are badly needed.

    My current conclusion is that practicing architects are not clear in articulating what they are talking about. Patrik may be one of them. The academics are far worse – as they refer mostly to each other. Clarity is badly needed.

    Big firms develop interesting work processes that I am keen to learn about. They deal with a lot of data and a lot of real issues. But often, their work is not marvellous from a generative design perspective. But their claims are – bolstered often by hi ranking academics on a regular basis.

    Digital architecture that Daniel mentions (generative, parametric, emergent, swarming, associative, digital morphogenesis, optimisation, L-Systems, cellular autometa) are all technology based methods. But architecture is not about just methods. It is about the spirit and logic of design.

    I love the old European debate about “true Christian architecture”. The debate between the virtues of the Pagan Style (Greco roman) and the Gothic style, where mathematical logic, new materials (stain glass) and new faith was woven beautifully to create inspiring new architecture. Gaudi too synthesize his own philosophy of engineering and design to pull off some amazing stuff.

    It is practitioners like Patrik that need to weave these threads together, to create something coherent, logical and pleasing. Thier views need to be heard.They are not expected to do L-Systems or Autometa – that is for academics.

    Patrik, I have a slightly difficult questions. Have we not gone past parametric ? Al most all CAD packages are now based on parametric. Is not the more interesting work now coming out of what is referred to technically as procedural design – where bits of code create interesting possibilities ?

  • Patrik Schumacher 6 December 2010 at 6:02 am

    Hi Sivam, at DRL we are working with generative systems like cellular automata and agent systems a.o. that produce emergent results in the sense that the global form was not inputted in advance but emerges as the result of the complicated interaction of the simple (rule-defined) agents or cells. (The result might even be surprising our expectations.)This way of working is not only intellectually more stimulating than just putting down a form, it is potentially more effective because more (potentially relevant) information is processed. However, with respect to all uniquely architectural concerns – in distinction to engineering concers – (see my new book “The Autopoiesis of Architecture”) the results must also be subjected to our intuitive assessment in terms of their credible contribution to the organisation and articulation of desired life processes. Since these life processes depend on the active orientation of sentient beings rather than the mere channelling of bodies it matters whether the complex organisational patterns that e.g. an agent based system computes are legible. Complex ORDER is only achieved if an underlying complex organisation is articulated, i.e. made perceptually palpable and comprehensible. That’s why the architect with his sensibility (trying to imagine the user’s life processes) remains the arbiter of what counts as viable solution.
    My ambition is the build up of complex order in thus sense. The heuristics of Parametricism are geared to achieving this. Generative computational techniques are – in the long run – by far the best way to achieve this. That’s why the investment in the advancement of these techniques and investment in design experiments premised on harnessing these techniques is very important – even if they cannot yet always successfully compete with top down design processes. The intellectual fascination of working with computational processes is thus a healthy, productive fascination.

  • jelle 6 December 2010 at 6:29 am

    This is getting interesting and here the limits of the terminology is being stretched. Let me try to elaborate. Emergence and parametric design are mutually exclusive. A parameter is the X in F(X): X ** 42. A parameter simple establishes a relation. Within the context of a parametric modeling this rarely goes beyond such simple relations. Therefore speaking about emergence in the context of “parametricism” is a false statement (the design simple cannot move beyond its parametric definition). To give a more complete example; using a GA within the context of a parametric design cannot be considered a emergent design; the optimisation is within the limited within the search space of the parameters the program can optimize. Open ended design encodings (==non parametric) can lead to emergence. What bothers Daniel ( and myself ) is that in your article the -simple- notion of a parameter is stretched beyond its definition ( parameter is used where variable would have been appropriated ). The issue of a poor terminology I think leads to over generalized statements (the truism Daniel refers to), where the “novelty” comes down to a poor choice of words. The neologism “parametricism” is hollow to sum it up. I agree with Daniel in that respect. Finally, having a busy life is not an excuse for basic academic skills ( terminology, references ). Having said that, generally I prefer reading theory coming from practicing architects.

  • Patrik Schumacher 6 December 2010 at 7:14 am

    Hi Jelle,
    I was not trying to make excuses but trying to make sure that our exchanges are based on comradery rather than point scoring and vilification. Concerning academic protocol. I think it is the duty of any critic to make the honest attempt to understand an author’s stated aims and to refrain from criticising somebody for failings against aims that were not set/addressed/pursued within the article in question. My articles are operating on a broader level of abstraction than you appreciate, so the nuances you demand to be paid attention to are not relevant for the broader arguments I am trying to make – arguments about the importance to claim and reconstruct the category of style, as a vehicle to galvanize a movement and to reassert its importance (in the context of a historically myopic backlash against this work due to the current economic crisis) etc. The terms “emergence”, “parameter”, “parametric”, “variable” do not have fixed meanings. If they had our discourse would lack the required versatility. Each discourse, and within each discourse each article, is able to and indeed must sharpen and define these terms in a selective network of distinctions. This is inevitable. Therefore, you should never be categorical as you try to be with the term “emergence”. This kind of stubborn insistence on understanding certain terms will eventually disqualify you as someone obstructs the discourse by misunderstanding its need for nimble and agile terminological adaptations. For example: You make an interesting point about GA s in the context of a circumscribed optimisation problem, but you might decide to speak about bounded vs boundless emergence, or introduce the concept of relative degrees of circumscription with respect to emergence. This kind of terminological virtuosity becomes the more important the more you are trying to build up a comprehensive theory of computational design rather than just making a few isolated points. (Do not assume that god has already written this comprehensive theory and we just need to grasp it and stick o its definitions. We must remain nimble in our capacity to calibrate our terminology.)
    When I coined the term parametricism as a label for a tendency within contemporary architecture I was trying to do just that – come up with a label, a name that would capture something of the essence of this movement. The fact that you think this neologism is “hollow” only tells me that you have misguided expectations with respect to such labels. The point here is primarily to define an ism, our ism, as style (with ambitions and values) in distinction to neutral techniques. Perhaps you can try to come up with a better label, or argue why you think that any such labels are not useful. This argument was made quite a lot – and I have an answer to that: a name is an anchor for self-description, collective reflection, and a fighting slogan for outward proselytizing and media recognition. Why should we leave these advantages to others. Why should we impoverish our discourse? Whenever a philosopher wanted to castigate and eliminate concepts Wittgenstein posed the question: What do we gain by restricting our language in this way.
    Terminological clarity is important but it cannot be presumed to exists in advance for all contexts, new ideas and new levels of abstraction. Read any scientific paper and you’ll find that 50% is spent on a paper-specific re-crafting of the terms.

  • Sivam Krish 6 December 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Yes, Jelle this discussion is getting interesting. I recognize that there is an issue with terminology – that I myself am aware of and feel uncomfortable about. But as Patrik points out, most academics spend a good portion of their energies on discussing terminology – which is important for them and the progression of formalized knowledge. But while they are busy doing this, the world of practice has moved far beyond and in some cases involved in activities or greater intellectual challenge. So it would be best, to disagree about terminology (as I have done) – but continue the discussion in way we can grapple with what is happening and what is possible.

    Jelle, I disagree with you that “Emergence and parametric design are mutually exclusive” . They are different but work very well together. The skeletal systems of all mammals are parametric. We share a parametric body for with all mammals, whales frogs and giraffes ( they have 7 neck bones like we do). Out of this parametrically structured procedurally developed system there is certainly emergence. Parameters do not imply tables. If you place parameters in a build sequence the story is different. Now, this is why I have an issue which the general notion of parametric – because it is too closely linked to tables. In such cases the results look similar and poor in variational capacity. Now we all know that CAD is nothing but a program. Except AutoCAD (which has now improved) most good CAD packages have a transparent build history that allows you to place parameters into build procedures. This is exactly the same as scripting. You just don’t see the scripts – does not mean that they are not there. So pls rethink this. You define parametric too narrowly – perhaps as single stage affair. Complexity arises out of processes and parametric plays a very important role in it.

    I like you “ prefer reading theory coming from practicing architects.” Because, practicing academics have a game of their own. I like that game too. But it is a very different game. One produces paper, the other produces buildings.

  • Mentioned 19 December 2010 at 12:07 pm

    […] I have never visited, I received a message from London, from Patrik Schumacher, in response to this blog post, that began: “Hi Daniel, Don’t be such an ungenerous prick!” To be fair, a Google […]

  • Luke Clayden 4 March 2011 at 1:26 pm


    A universal direction sets out a general prerogative , Clearly understanding what demarcates an elegant contribution to 21st century Architecture, A clear idea of what that is should always be in thought for the sake of the clients needs and wishes. I fully support the ideas and values encompassed within most of his writings however maybe the name “parametricism” is wrong.
    And the work he does is important, However my own universal values which i am currently writing helps to establish my own approach to projects. You can see my notes on my website these have not matured into a full blown essay as yet.

    Fluid diverse freedom and Diversism, provides a much needed reconnection to achieving clients needs more profoundly through efficiency. Providing a universal set of values, That are deep values that connect society and provide a diverse built environment for all, avoidance of segregation chaos, and segregated ghetos. Respectful of demographic core values of the locality. avoidance of individualism in terms of where The city becomes a collection of objects which demarcate their own taste or their identity not in the means of wholeness, But at the same time in support of individualism where individuals can contribute their own identity and contribution but to a deeper core set of universal values which contribute to the universal ecology of cities as a whole with interwoven relationships.

    I cant stress enough the importance of exploring and thinking about the possible future core universal realistic ambition values and design approach for the next 89 years. It is about real change for a better starting point for the next generation of architects.

    Patrick Schumacher can only be praised, and politely constructively criticized for his ideas to my mind.

    In terms of these blobism forms alot of people i think need to remember the world of natures blobby forms. Schumachers architectural ideas, maybe blobism for no particular reason more about iconic or fashion promotion maybe, but I really do doubt that.

    But if this guy can eventually get us to a point where Fluid diversism is accepted in society then the real diverse forms that really do work like nature can flourish in our cities.
    I have a sneaking suspicion that many architects know they are not doing the right thing in the 21st century when they construct there square and rectangle buildings, I think this is because they are fully aware that buildings need to be thought of as living species for efficiency, biomimicry and biological architecture which is integral can only flourish through fluid form diversity found in nature.

    The evidence is becoming clear Biological Architecture works best when it takes on the form of nature, paramteric tools are integral to achieving these forms which create these energy efficient buildings. We know we have to master this and the values in parametricism are useful, however i think the universal integral direction is actually Diversism its the ideal future where architecture actually works,

    Nothing can come after diversism to mind at the present time. really rasing the bar for the next generation.



  • a.l. 24 March 2011 at 10:03 pm

    Hi jelle / Sivam

    I might be wrong, but isn’t the DNA the parameters of the human race? (in the biological realm) And therefore, you and me are not the emergence of it? What makes a genetic algorithm different from a set of parameters?

    A better and more intricate question on this would be if this association of architecture with biological terms are pure analogy or metaphor.

  • Silvestre 25 March 2011 at 10:05 pm

    To a.l.
    I think the understanding of genetic is bias if it’s seen as parameters. Parameters transport the idea of a set of option that are activate or not or valuated by a number. So for the parametric draw of a wall there is tall, thick and size.
    But in biology there is no parameter like this. [ blue eye : on, blond hair : hair off] Its more like a battle plan. A process itself already parametric. [If there is sun : use this parameter, else use this one] ( and so more tricky strategies we have no ideas).

    And all strategies have a deep relationship with the context. A parametric process doesn’t care about the context. Cause usually the context in the CAD is quite poor. We are the only ‘context’ to interact with.
    I think, genetic algorithm, and more generally algorithm are really different because they care about the context. The genetic algorithm is a research system who try to fit to the context. The most complex in the genetic algorithm is the validation part. The stuff which give rate to a peculiar design. This rate system is the context.
    But in nature there not only one scale/criterion to determine what fit or not. And we can’t argue that the sum of scale/criterion in nature are like a big scale/criterion. It underneath that nature is fair, and she is not. As an animal, you can have a really inappropriate genetic malformation but because you didn’t meet by ‘chance’ a nature selectior (a wolf) you succeed to get offspring.

    So i think nature is not the model for now, maybe the idea of a game or fair political system fits more to our vision of good design.
    Biology is just a metaphor which help to lead design. But on some field it have to be forgotten.
    Because we misunderstand nature, and the cruel rules of it can be harsh to us.

  • Sivam Krish 26 March 2011 at 12:00 am

    Silvestor, You are quite right about the limitations on parametric thinking. Complex design is procedural as in genetics and as in biology. They operate on build processes. Parameters operating on end design is different from parameters operating on build processes.

    I do not however agree with nature is not a good model. It is a model of great refinement evolved out of millions of years and able to produce sophisticated designs. The use of biological design techniques has now found many diverse applications in engineering. They have been demonstrated to create innovative designs. So perhaps it is a bit too late to argue about its validity or usefulness.


  • Shabnam J 29 March 2011 at 6:10 pm

    This is one of the best discussions on parametric design I’ve come across in the past few months. Out of my curiosity I have set out to define for myself exactly what it is and why it is relevant, and this blog and the subsequent comments are definitely helping to provide a bigger picture of what the term truly implies/defines. It’s refreshing to find such a riveting discussion…

  • Mentioned 5 December 2011 at 11:50 am

    […] from becoming an anachronistic cottage industry.  As with any burgeoning orthodoxy, there will be those who would pull the evangelicals back from extreme positions.  And there are certainly others – I would probably lump myself in this […]

    • G M Munro 6 February 2012 at 5:40 am

      The notion of architects being ‘in control’ of parametric values is a dormant one and certainly no paradigm shift. Behavioral psychology since the 1960s has continually showed the cultural dead-end of parametric Modernism. Wake up Schumacher et al, the world has moved on…

  • Mentioned 17 July 2012 at 4:21 pm

    […] Patrik Schumacher – Parametricism […]

  • Mentioned 5 May 2013 at 2:17 pm

    […] I have never visited, I received a message from London, from Patrik Schumacher, in response to this blog post, that began: “Hi Daniel, Don’t be such an ungenerous prick!” To be fair, a Google […]

  • bala 7 July 2013 at 4:00 pm

    what is the intent behind the evolution of this style? how could we differentiate it from the rest of architectural movements and styles which had been governed and guided by a social phiolosophy?

  • Patrik Schumacher 7 July 2013 at 10:49 pm

    the style evolved as a convergent trajectory from a discursive communication process (the autopoiesis of architecture)and as such has no state intention at its origin … obviously various contributors have formulated intentions and purposes … and I am ratoinalizing in retrospect as follows: the style utilizes the opportunities offered by computational design techniques to upgrade architecture’s versatility and capacity to respond to the new societal demands posed by post-fordist network society: increased dynamism and complexity of social processes and the need for a massively increased density and variety of communicative interacion within the urban fabric

  • bala 8 July 2013 at 2:22 pm

    then what is the real difference between parametric design and parametricism?

    • Patrik Schumacher 8 July 2013 at 8:56 pm

      The style of parametricism is a matter of principles, qualities, values and purposes. The techniques of parametric associative modeling and scripting are the pertinent means that allow us to work according to our principles and to achieve the sought after qualities, values and purposes. These techniques can also be used to implement other styles like minimalism or historicism. However, parametricism is more dependent on these computational techniques than minimalism or historicism.

  • Long Nguyen 8 October 2013 at 11:37 pm

    Hi Schumancher,

    It has been three years since you first introduced the concept of parametricism to the community. I am very sad to say that it has been causing some very unhealthy confusion and misled the students and young architects in my country Vietnam. This does not mean you are to be blamed however. Many many students nowadays just want to be Zaha Hadid and they love to design “parametricist” forms like what you are doing at ZHA and students in my country are no exception to this trend. In fact they associates this architecture with Zaha Hadid herself rather than with ZHA as a group of architects. Very very few of them actually know about you and the concept of parametricism. But most of them see public images of ZHA’s works on sites like ArchDaily and think these are cool and they try to mimic them in their works without trying to understanding the principles behind them. Nowdays when you hear students talk about “parametric” they are specifically refer to curved forms and Zaha Hadid. There is a “cool” factor associated with the term “parametric” among Vietnamese students nowadays as they think parametric = ZHA’s wowing curved geometry. They don’t understand the computational foundation of it or the principles of parametricism that you introduced in your manifesto. I am really fed up with seeing such Hadid wannabe works.

    I can say that this is spreading like a disease among Vietnamese students and young architects. They care too much about how their buildings look like ZHA’s style but do not give a damn care about how these building should work/perform and how to optimize them and make them buildable. What they produce are some cool-looking 3D models in Rhino, then render them and photoshop in some background and they thought they have made some really impressive works to show to their tutors.

    I feel I need to bring this issue to your attention since you are the person who introduced the term parametricism and help popularize it, and also because ZHA has such a strong influence on arch. students in my country. Perhaps in your next trip to Asia you should drop by Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam and give a lecture at the Architecture University here.

  • "blob" or "drop" 24 October 2013 at 6:46 pm

    …the architecture from ZHA is free from the parameters of sites, free from the parameters of culture, free from the parameters of tectonics, free from the parameters of the environment.///

    /Luke Clayden//The evidence is becoming clear Biological Architecture works best when it takes on the form of nature, paramteric tools are integral to achieving these forms which create these energy efficient buildings.///

    In the Grasshopper and other programs unavailable component “blob” or “drop”. Parametrizm not a style, it is one of the methods by style or biomorphism-blobisma.
    In Russia is dome-drop and structure of the hyperboloid-diagonal gridshell Shukhov.
    The style Blobitecture or Dropitecture of the 21st century, and it will be all built after the war.

  • Mentioned 28 October 2013 at 12:31 am

    […] out Schumacher’s propensity to get involved with conversations that are happening online. He’s commented on this blog and I’ve seen it happen elsewhere. When academics privately confide to me their dislike of […]

  • Mentioned 22 August 2014 at 1:37 am

    […] taking a quote from it. In your article “Patrik Schumacher—Parametricism,” you wrote, “In Intensive Fields Schumacher himself confuses parametricism and parametric, claiming ’the only p…’”1 Could you please elaborate on this differentiation? Ultimately, what is parametric design to […]

  • Penelope 4 December 2014 at 7:36 am

    The ultimate issue deriving from people like Patrik talking about parametricism as a new global style, beyond the discussions regarding terminology (should it be named as such?) and history (when and who used the term or method first?, the thing that hurts the most is that architecture has become more questionable today than ever before. The role of the architect and even the existence of such a role has been placed under questioning. Architecture graduates with no understanding of what spatial relationships are and as main concern the form an object may take, are the product of this era.

  • Ovye 15 July 2015 at 10:26 pm

    Parametricism or no parametricism, architecture has evolved as it’s use to. Therefore, let not just embrace it but explore and develope it. nice article.

  • Mario Di Sibio 24 April 2016 at 8:19 am

    maybe i am late in this discussion, But when you where talking about Parametricism or not Parametricism i was at my last year at high school in Italy. Now i’m making a research through paramertic architecture history as my thesis main topic. I think Patrick’s word have been misunderstood since i only read about computation, grasshopper, generative algorithms and so on in these comments. The point, in my modest opinion, is that Parametricism is necessarily a global response to a major change in our society: the computer age, just like the modern movement had been the architectural reaction to the industrial era. The Modern movement had several minor conjungations like deutscher werkbund, rationalism, de stijl (everyone with it’s own formal language), and in my opinion Parametricism is a comprehensive movement like that, since there are completely digital architects like Greg Lynn or “analog” architects like Eisenman producing extremely different architectures but with almost the same process. The computer is not needed in the parametric design since the base of the “movement” is just that the PROCESS is more important than the form, that is the variable of the equation. The biggest error is the misunderstanding of the Parametricism’s heuristics “all forms must be soft” and “avoid rigid form”: maybe i am wrong but i think a soft form is not = to free form. A soft form is just cleared from the past stereotypes and limits superimposed by rigid styles (and it does not involve deleting all angles). I am quite sure that the complexity about which Patrick was talking about is not merely geometrical complexity but the articulation and the relations between the spaces, that is what dinstinguish good architecture from bad ones.

    Sorry for my english i’ve learned it watching youtube videos 🙂

    • Daniel 26 April 2016 at 3:17 pm

      Hey Mario, it is definitely interesting to go back to something written so many years ago. I take your point that the computer necessarily changes the way we design architecture, but I strongly disagree that this necessarily manifests in a style of architecture. While it is true that technological advances in the 20th century led to things like the Modern movement, we stand today, 100 years on, and I see no reason why we should be talking about style at all. I would argue that AirBnB, a company that was only a year old when this post was originally published, embodies much of the logic of 21st century architecture – it is digital, on demand, authorless, and sold using photographs. I think that when we look back on this period we wont remember some style forced upon us by the architectural elite, we will remember how computers radically redefined what architecture could be. In that sense I still worry that parametricism has served to divert our attention from more significant changes under way in architecture and society.

      • Mario Di Sibio 26 April 2016 at 9:34 pm

        Hi Daniel! Thanks for your reply after so many years! I see you point too,and it’s not wrong after all. But i also think that a “style” could not be useful for us, but maybe, as Patrick said, just to be identified in a group of architects with the same interest in various procecces, everyone with it’s own personal style, since Parametricism is “neutral”. Patrick’s Parametricism in my opinion is just the product of a change that happened aside from theories and speculations. We have radically changed the way we produce and think of building and maybe could be useful to join all the “material” under one label, very genearal and not limitating, just for being identified. Obviously no one is forced to join an association, a group and neither a style. I see this classification more important for future generations, that probably will have minor awareness of the change of the informatic era and it will be important to have a reference point like a label to identify this precise moment. I share your worries about the changes happening but i dont necessarily think that Patrick’s aim was to divert our attention but just to point the focus on his vision of parametricism. Now, i think, the direction is another than Patrick’s own vision, but is still under the more general label of parametric architecture.

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