Parametric modelling is hard

Daniel Davis – 13 December 2011

In cracks between the evangelical facade that cocoons parametric modelling with a blanket of positive writing, you catch glimpses of dissent. These are the things you catch people talking about in private between drinks – tall tales of unexpected work, of rebuilding the model, of mistakes and incompetence. As significant as it is, I have never seen anyone write a whole paper on it (unfortunately so much of what is important goes unstated in the rules of publishing). The following six quotes are as close as I have ever got:

  • David Gerber: “When the topology of a project changes the [parametric] model generally needs to be remade…” (2007, 205)
  • Rick Smith “A designer might say I want to move and twist this wall, but you did not foresee that move and there is no parameter to accommodate the change. It then unravels your [parametric model]. Many times you will have to start all over again.” (2007, 2)
  • Jane Burry: “… to edit the relational graph or remodel completely is also commonplace.” (2007, 622)
  • Dominik Holzer et al. “… changes required by the design team were of such a disruptive nature that the parametric model schema could not cope with them.” Part of the model was rebuilt. (2007, 639)
  • Robert Aish and Robert Woodbury: Parametric modelling “may require additional effort, may increase complexity of local design decisions and increases the number of items to which attention must be paid in task completion.” (2005, 151)
  • Mark Burry: If a critical change is made “there is no solution other than to completely disassemble the model and restart at the critical decision.” (1996, 78)


Aish, Robert, and Robert Woodbury. 2005. Multi-level Interaction in Parametric Design. In Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 151-162. Berlin: Springer.

Burry, Jane. 2007. “Mindful Spaces: Computational Geometry and the Conceptual Spaces in which Designers Operate.” International Journal of Architectural Computing, 5 (4): 611-624.

Burry, Mark. 1996. “Parametric Design and the Sagrada Família.” Architectural Research Quarterly, 1 (Summer): 70-80.

Gerber, David. 2007. Parametric practices : Models for design exploration in architecture. Harvard University.

Holzer, Dominik, Richard Hough, and Mark Burry. 2007. “Parametric Design and Structural Optimisation for Early Design Exploration.” International Journal of Architectural Computing 05 (04): 625-644.

Smith, Rick. 2007. Technical Notes from experiences and studies in using Parametric and BIM architectural software. Notes.