Parametric design used in the Birds Nest - Beijing National Stadium; Parametric design used in the Birds Nest - Beijing National Stadium;

Parametric design

Using the power of computation to unlock increasingly complex design

Using the power of computation to unlock increasingly complex design

As designers work to create affordable, high-quality buildings that perform efficiently, they face a growing set of sometimes competing constraints. Sustainability criteria like energy performance, embodied carbon and design for deconstruction often compete with quality criteria like daylight, acoustic performance, solar gain and wind conditions. We use parametric design to guide clients through these dilemmas, helping them to make decisions that work for everyone.

Parametric design is a computer based design approach that treats geometric properties of the design as variables. The dimensions, angles and geometric properties remain malleable as the design progresses. ” Patrick Shumacher Zaha Hadid Architects

A framework for better design decisions

Using parametric design, we are able to explore a complete range of design options, building a unified solution that reconciles competing demands. We start by jointly agreeing the boundary conditions and key performance indicators of a project. Using these, we develop a parametric algorithm to generate options that explore the full range of possibilities. We then analyse these options, sharing insights that help our clients make better informed decisions.

For clients like municipal authorities or local government planners, this is a powerful way to balance competing demands such as environmental criteria and plot densities. For investors and developers, these tools and techniques help reveal the business potential of land acquisitions. For architects, they are a valuable means to test and develop innovative designs.

Hybrid timber tower Elements Hybrid timber tower Elements

The ‘Elements’ in Amsterdam is named after the key design elements the building had to deliver. Maximum daylight, water collection, green spaces, energy generation and sensitivity to its surroundings. Our algorithms produced hundreds of designs based on these criteria.

Fuelling more productive conversations

The effort that goes into creating successful schemes is 20% design-based and 80% focused on securing the agreement of all involved. In reality, no single design will meet all the demands of every stakeholder.

Parametric tools not only provide insight in the full range of possible solutions. They also make negotiations more productive, giving everyone involved a better understanding of the key design issues.

We use parametric tools to create a more informed framework for decisions, brokering more productive conversations between stakeholders. The thousands of options parametric models allow us to create and review frees debate from the defence of two or three alternatives. Scoring options clearly against agreed KPIs and highlighting trade-offs gives proposals a transparent logic. One that can be shared and negotiated. In that process, parametric design not helps us navigate to the option with the fewest compromises. Importantly, it also allows us to demonstrate what will not work, and why.

Smakkelaarspark: striking a balance between development and wellbeing

Municipalities redeveloping areas of their towns and cities need to strike a difficult balance. Their ambition for green spaces needs to leave room for opportunities investors and developers will also find attractive. Using parametric design for the regeneration of Utrecht’s Smakkelaarsveld district, we made the quality of a new city park the key design parameter. From this start, we were also able to integrate a residential complex as appealing to investors as the renamed ‘S(makkelaars)park’ will be to Utrecht’s residents.

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Beyond structures

The power of parametric design can be applied to more than just structural design processes. Anything that can be measured can, in theory, be integrated into a parametric model, meaning clients can inject a wider set of project criteria into the design stage, from energy efficiency performance to rentable value to occupancy levels and more. Find out how we used parametric design, energy modelling and automation to produce a sustainable and visually striking student accommodation building for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Making complexity accessible

Digital technologies are helping us visualise more than the geometries our parametric tools create. By replacing technical documentation with technically robust animations, we build intuitive, accessible visual narratives for a scheme. Narratives that clearly show the interrelationships between different KPIs and the losses and gains inherent in each option. Narratives that can be meaningfully shared with investors, lawyers, and communities, engaging those not from engineering or architectural backgrounds. They help demonstrate the logic for a scheme and provide a shared language to negotiate its final form.

Smakkelaarspark Smakkelaarspark

By combining multiple KPIs in a single animation, we can demonstrate their interrelationships and highlight where, why and how trade-offs occur.

Artificial intelligence, human creativity

Our use of artificial intelligence does not replace the designer’s creativity. As sustainability targets place new demands on designers, it is helping them respond imaginatively to these constraints. We use artificial intelligence to drive generative design and use algorithms to optimise that design. It helps us, and our creative partners, explore the full range of design possibilities available within a scheme’s defined parameters.

For the three towers of the Valley in Amsterdam, for example, we used artificial intelligence to automate design verification. Our algorithm for its complex geometries scored each apartment in each design against Dutch daylight and view codes. Using parametric tools to review the building’s highly creative shape also allowed to reduce the different angles, formworks – and overall cost – of the project.


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