Generative Design

The future of CAD

Post Parametric Revolution

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Much of architectural design is now about tweaking parameters. While we are yet to master the fine art of parametric design, there is much excitement about it. Perhaps too much of it. Thanks to it, most  architects are now aware of the benefits of parametric design – where modification can be easily made and (parametric) variations  easily explored.

Parametric play is now enjoying its day in the sun.

While parametric approaches to design are being formulated and built into work processes, something even more interesting is beginning to happen. Architectural geometry is now going through a post parametric revolution.

For a long time in architectural history, proportioning played a pivotal role. Proportioning is the precursor to parametric play, where the overall structure of the design is formed and fixed while its proportions are altered to find the most desirable form. It is powerful and useful. But limited in its capacity to create diverse forms in terms of topology. CAD packages could easily implement this, because they are driven by parameters anyway. But there was something else about CAD packages that remain hidden – perhaps for a bit too long. But remember, in the early days  it was difficult to get designer to use CAD, you had to give them the impression that nothing had really changed and that they can now do in a screen what they used to do with pencil and paper.

After CAD, all geometric forms were inevitably authored by programs. But these programs were hidden. CAD companies went out-of-the-way to provide a veneer that kept the designers minds in the era of paper and pen. Perhaps, they did not guess that they will grow out of it. Perhaps this guess was right, particularly in Industrial design. But it is not so in architecture.

No more shame

The new generation of cutting edge designers now seem comfortable with code. Add-ons like grasshopper have made it much more easy to author code. Code has made it easy to create complex and repetitive forms.  These forms can even compete with spaghetti in terms of geometric complexity.


Most cool designs are now authored by scripts.  We are now at the end of simple parametric play. As the programmatic nature behind the construction of the geometry is exposed, it is natural that designers will start re-arranging bits of scripts to create more interesting forms. This is beginning to happen.


In fact, this is how we were designed. Biology works this way. We are constructed with codes scripted in our genes orchestrating  a well evolved build sequence. This sequence may be conservative, as it is shared across species. But small differences in code form us differently from other species around us. As you can see, the overall template of development seem to remain the same. Here, the details of growth plays a significant role in the formulation of  form. It appears now that architectural design practice is evolving in this direction. There is magic and efficiency in this. A good example by Erick Katzenstein of how hundreds of hours can be taken off creating parking patterns  is worth looking at.

Parametric play has had its day in the sun

We are now into post parametric design.

May I try to define it :

Post-parametric design is about the  ordering of code that orders form.

The important distinction here, is that the order has changed. Parametric design was largely about ordering of  from – with code and post-parametric design is about ordering code that generates form. Some designers have now masted the art of post-parametric design. It is  primarily those who practice design outside the  more ancient Euclidian mental, aesthetics and computational frame-work. These are people who have dumped conventional CAD – for design development and exploration. conventional CAD will live on to support the mass production world married to simple Euclidian geometry. It will remain handy to order, manufacture and put them in position in an architectural world that is fast transforming mainly in overall shape, but where components that make it – are well within the reach of conventional CAD. It will also be driven my market forces in a ” we can do that too…” direction – but without spirit and vitality that is driving the changes that we are now seeing.

What does this mean for generative design ? 

It too will move beyond the simple tweaking of parameters into more exciting and more potent stuff. It may involve the shoveling of code – something practiced by nature,where changes are made in build history and not on final form. For this two more things have to happen. Genetic templates of form and objects have to evolve and they have to be shared. When that happens, Generative design will not only be about tweaking parameters but will be about

the choreography of code; acting upon shared and evolved templates of form.


Written by Sivam Krish

October 4, 2011 at 3:28 pm

One Response

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  1. this piece of analysis is great!


    October 24, 2011 at 11:47 am

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