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Parametricism and the Autopoiesis of Architecture

Lecture by Patrik Schumacher, SCI-Arc, Los Angeles, September 2010


Plus: post-lecture debate with Eric Owen Moss
Published in: Log 21, winter 2011

Thanks. Its great to be here. I had two great days to see whats going on here and I
think what I have to say speaks, to a certain extent, criticallyto what is going on here.
The lecture is a variation on a lecture I have been giving this year. Ive added an
element that relates to the book, The Autopoiesis of Architecture, which is an attempt
to create a comprehensive and unified theory of architecture, and which
features parametricism as the last chapter of volume two. The argument is that
parametricism continues the autopoiesis of architecture, which is the self-referentially
closed system of communications that constitutes architecture as a discourse in
contemporary society. The book is in two volumes. Volume one, a new framework for
architecture, is coming out in December, [released Dec 7, 2010] and then a new
agenda for architecture appears in volume two, probably six months later. It is difficult
to summarize, but just to raise a bit of curiosity about this, I will make an argument
for why a comprehensive unified theory is of interest.
A comprehensive unified theory of and for architecture is important if you are trying
to lead 400 architects across a multiplicity of projects, touching all aspects and
components of contemporary architecture in terms of programmatic agendas and at all
scales. With a unified theory one is better prepared to manage the different designs,
designers, and approaches that run in different directions, potentially fight each other,
contradict each other, and might stand in each others way. I am also teaching at a
number of schools, the Architectural Association Design Research Laboratory [AA
DRL] being one of them, an expanding group that is now 150 to 160 students. Here
again there the issue of trying to converge efforts so that people dont trip over each
other and get in each others way. The need for a unified theory is first of all to
eliminate contradictions within ones own efforts so one doesnt stand in ones own
way all the time. If you go around from jury to jury, from project to project, you say
one thing here, another thing there, and yet further ideas come to mind elsewhere; by
the fourth occasion you might be saying things and doing things that dont gel, dont
cohere with the first three. You might be developing ideas about architectures societal
function. You might be concerned with what is architecture, what is not architecture,
to demarcate architecture, for instance against art and engineering . You might think of

yourself to participate in something like an avant-garde and so you might try to


develop a theory of the avant-garde. Or you might reflect about your dependence on
design media, and so you try to develop a theory of architectures medium; then about
design processes, i.e. design process theory. You wonder about aesthetic values and
the notion of beauty, whether it is still relevant. Y ou try to develop a theory of beauty,
an aesthetic theory. And you might be concerned with phenomenology, with
perception: H ow do we perceive space, how do subjects orient themselves in space?
Next might be t he concept of style: Is it still relevant? Y ou try to develop a theory of
style. You try to read the history of architecture in a certain fashion, and so it goes
on and on, partial theory upon partial theory and you do all this to position yourself
with respect to contemporary architecture. D ifferent authors, different thinkers, might
undertake and spend half their careers on any of those issues. Some of us might do
two or three of these. Observing oneself and others pursuing such partial theories it
makes sense to ask whether these things can be brought into a coherent system of
ideas where they might be able to forge a kind of trajectory that has to do with guiding
practice. You can only lead a coherent practice with a coherent (deep and
comprehensive) theory.
No one has attempted a unified theory since Le Corbusier, and perhaps since the
book The International Style, or perhaps since the work of Christian Norberg-Schultz
(Intentions in Architecture). F or a long time it has been nearly taboo even to start
thinking about such an idea. I find it very interesting that the concept of style, as
promoted in The International Style, had returned after it was abandoned by most of
the early modernists . The return of the concept - as international style - became a
factor in the phenomenon of the style that dominated the transformation of the global
built environment for 50 years. It contributed to the generation of an unprecedented
level of material freedom and plenty, aligned, of course, with the growth of industrial
civilization. In the 1970s it became clear that the principles and values that had
defined modern architecture for half a century were no longer the principles and
values through which architecture could facilitate the further progress of world
civilization. Modernism experienced a massive crisis, was abandoned. Everything had
to be questioned, rethought which led to a free reigning, free-wheeling, browsing, and
brainstorming discourse. This also brought forth a new cast of characters, an
unapologetic intellectual pluralism, and a sense that all systems (grand narratives) are
bankrupt. All this made sense at this particular historical moment. But t hat doesnt
mean that all attempts to cohere a unified theory are to be dismissed forever. After a
period of questioning, brainstorming and free-wheeling experimentation new
provisional conclusions must be drawn, decisions must be made about how to move a

new, promising project forward in a clear way. The necessity of this cannot be denied.
So, to raise some curiosity about this idea, let me discuss the chapter structure of
volume one. After the introduction it all starts with a chapter on architectural theory,
which is put forward as an important, necessary component of architecture. It actually
marks the inception and origin of architecture with Alberti 500 years ago in the early
Renaissance. Thats where I say architecture starts. Everything before that was not
architecture, it was some form of traditional building. Most of this book is an attempt
to observe architecture and its communication structures, its key principles,
distinctions, methods, practices. I ts a comprehensive discourse analysis of the
discipline, and from that develops a normative agenda of selecting, or filtering out, the
pertinent tendencies, the permanent communication structures, and the variable
communication structures that have been evolving within the frame of the permanent
structures. All this is elaborated in order to forge a statement and position on how to
move forward. To make this more digestible I have extracted poignant theses from the
theory, and I will just read a few here.
Thesis one is that the phenomenon of architecture can be most adequately grasped if it
is analyzed as an autonomous network or autopoetic system of communications. So I
am not talking about architecture as simply a collection of buildings. Im not talking
about it as a profession or a practice. Im not talking about it only as an academic
discipline. Rather, I am concerned with how all of these activities are joined together
to create a system of communications.
Thesis four states there is no architecture without theory. Thesis six contains the
notion that resolute autonomy, or what Luhmann calls self-referential closure, is a
prerequisite of architectures effectiveness in an increasingly complex and dynamic
social environment. The notion of a self-enclosed autonomy of the discipline means
that we as architects and as a discourse as a whole need to define the purposes that
guide us, the conceptual structures and modes of arguments that are legitimate and
meaningful to us, what tasks to focus on and how to pursue them. The kind of network
of communications that we constitute determines this. In contemporary society there
is no other authority we can appeal to which would instruct architecture with respect
to the built environment and its evolution. Neither politics, nor clients, nor science,
nor morality. We have the burden as a collective to determine the way forward. Thats
what I mean by autonomy the autonomy to adapt to an environment and to stay
relevant in it. And that is not guaranteed.
I also discovered that only by differentiating the avant-garde as a specific subsystem
can contemporary architecture actively participate in the evolution of society. I believe

that institutions like SCI-Arc and the AA which seem to be one step removed from the
burdens of delivering state-of-the-art solutions here and now, are a necessary
condition for architecture to rethink and upgrade itself continuously.
Thesis ten suggests that in a society without a control center architecture must
regulate itself and maintain its own mechanisms of evolution in order to remain
adaptable in an ecology of evolving societal subsystems. These subsystems are
constituting society according to the notion of society underlying this discourse. There
can be no external determination imposed upon architecture, neither by political
bodies nor by paying clients, except in the negative, trivial sense of disruption. Yes,
they can stop your project. Maybe they can clamp down and deny permission, but
they obviously cannot constructively intervene. The same occurs with other so-called
subsystems of society, like the legal system, science, the arts, etc. They are all selfregulating discourses.
Thesis 16 suggests that avant-garde styles are designed research programs. If I talk
about style or use the concept of style I am not necessarily alluding to all its
connotations. I am making an effort to redefine style as a valid category of
contemporary discourse, because to just let it drop to the side would be an
impoverishment of contemporary discourse. The notion of style is one of the few
ideas that is meaningful beyond the confines of architectural discourse. For the world
at large its the primary category of understanding architecture, and we need to engage
with that. All avant-garde styles are design research programs. They begin as
progressive design research programs, and parametricism is now in that phase. They
mature to become productive dogmas, which happened with modernism. And there is
productivity in the ability to routinize insights for rapid dissemination and execution.
And obviously all styles end up as degenerate dogmas. That is their trajectory.
Thesis 17: Aesthetic values encapsulate a condensed collective experience within
useful dogmas. Their inherent inertia implies that they (values) progress via revolution
rather than evolution. Aesthetic values obviously shift with historical progress. You
need to relearn your aesthetic sensibilities to find those that are productive and viable
and that allow you to exist and be productive in contemporary life. The same goes for
moral sensibilities. I am arguing, for instance, that minimalist sensibilities have to be
fought and suppressed because they dont allow you to adapt to contemporary life.
Thesis 19: Architecture depends on its medium, enormously. Parametricism is also a
product of the development of the medium of architecture. Architectural
communication is happening primarily within the medium of the drawing, becoming
the digital model, becoming the parametric model, and the network of scripts.
Architecture depends on its medium in the same way the economy depends on money
and politics depends on power. These specialized media sustain a new plane of

communication that depends on the credibility of the respective medium that remains
inherently vulnerable to inflationary tendencies. If you overdo make-believe
renderings, if they are not backed up by reality, there is a danger of inflating and
losing credibility, but without this compelling medium you would never be able to
convince yourself, or anybody else, to project complex, large-scale projects into a
distant future, or to coalesce the enormous amount of resources and people needed to
support and believe in a coordinated effort. Architecture, of course, also needs, with
its increasing complexity of tasks and agendas, to upgrade its medium, just as money
did. Money is no longer coinage; it became paper money, became electronic money.
Administrative power is also benefiting from the microelectronic revolution in terms
of administering, controlling, connecting, and directing. Each of these social
subsystems has a specialized social medium. All these media evolve together with the
tasks they take on.
One more thesis, Thesis 23: Radical innovation presupposes newness. Newness is first
of all otherness. The new is produced by blind mechanisms rather than creative
thought. Strategic selection is required to secure communicative continuity, and
adaptive pertinence.
* * * *
Now I want to talk a little about the theoretical sources that allow me to work out a
comprehensive unified theory of architecture with confidence and conviction. To do
that, one of the key things you have to grasp is the societal function, or the raison
dtre, of architecture in the world why it came into being, why it took certain forms
and moved toward certain developments, and what the best bet is for staying relevant
and continuing to play an important role. This requires some sense of the overall
social process and its workings. For the first decade of my architectural life, beginning
in the early 1980s, I looked at Marxism and historical materialism as the kind of
overarching theoretical edifice through which to think what is going on in
architecture. When I went into architecture at the University of Stuttgart, I was joining
the late modern period. People were still convinced of modernism. There was still hitech Foster and Rogers were still the prominent going tendency. I was into it, but
one or two years into my studies, I discovered postmodernism in the writing of Robert
Venturi and Charles Jenckss The Language of Post-Modern Architecture. And so I
changed, and, in fact, the university changed. And a few years later there was a radical
shift to deconstructivism. It seemed that in the 1980s, every two or three years there
was a revolution in style, in paradigm, in outlook, and in values. I think that period
left a mark on some peoples general philosophical outlook . Soon there was a

pluralism of styles. It seems that since then the kind of monolithic, cumulative,
trajectory of modernism is a thing of a past era and that were now living in a world of
continuous flux and splintering, fragmenting trajectories and ever-changing values.
However, this is a historical illusion.
In my search for a credible theory of architecture and theory of contemporary society I
discovered Niklas Luhmanns social systems theory. Luhmanns fundamental premise
is that all social phenomena or events depend on systems of communication. He steps
back from Marxist materialism to a kind of abstraction, but one that I think is
plausible. You always have to abstract to theorize. To focus on communications is
interesting because if you think about everybodys life process where the
bottlenecks are, where the crux of your problems is, your issues you are always
coping with social systems, your ability to communicate within them, to find a
position within them. Even the physical world only gets to you through systems of
communication. For example, if youre struck by illness your main problem will be
whether you have health insurance, whether you have people you can communicate
with, whether you are imbedded in a system of communications with rights and the
ability to speak. If you want to traverse physical space your issue will be whether you
have money, an airline ticket. The bottleneck will be traffic, other peoples attempts to
travel, security controls at airports, etc. You are protected if you have the ability to
buy a hotel room, an apartment, switch on the heater, pay the bills. Communication
structures everyones interface with the physical world and our relations with each
other. T hink about architecture: we construct projects only through communications,
whether through drawings, contracts, phone calls, emails: communications, upon
communications, upon communications thats what runs this world. Everything goes
through that needles eye.
Luhmanns philosophy of history differs from both Marxs and Hegels. I insist an
architectural theorist must possess a philosophy of history, a theory of historical
development. Luhmann looks at history in terms of modes of social or societal
differentiation demarcating epochs. Today societies are organized in terms of
functional differentiation. This is what Luhmann calls functionally differentiated
societycomprised of the great function systems of society as parallel systems that coevolve with each other as autonomous discourses, i.e. as systems of communication
like politics, law, economics, science, education, health, mass media, and art. A
politician has no way of influencing scientific truth. (What is to be done with that
knowledge is perhaps a matter of political discourse). The economy is also separate
from politics and has its own autonomous domain and communication system, based

on money and exchange in the market. The reverse is also true: science can deliver
knowledge, but science cannot instruct politics. The same independence holds with
respect to art and science. The beautiful cannot be scientifically determined. The truth
might be ugly, but thruth is not a matter of aesthetics.
T his is Luhmanns picture of society, which I very, very briefly sketch here. Luhmann
has in fact written comprehensive analyses of all these social subsystems, but he did
not write about architecture. He fits architecture - anachronistically - into the art
system, but really didnt talk much about it. I have been reading Luhmann for about
15 years, and it increasingly occ urred to me that architecture could be theorized in the
same way. Architecture is one of those great function systems of contemporary
society, or functionally differentiated society. That is the primary premise/thesis of
The Autopoiesis of Architecture.
Just a few more points about what this means. Luhmann discovered a series of
important processes which determine these different systems within the era of
modernity. The emerging market-orientation of the economy, the liberalization of the
economy, is the pertinent way for the economy to become an autopoetic system. The
political system has been evolving and succeeding through democratization, and only
through democratization does it become a truly autopoetic, self-referentially closed
system. The legal system found its autonomy and forward drive through positivism
rather than natural law or god given legal discourse. Art discovered its selfprogramming in romanticism. All of these mechanisms mean that these systems
become autonomous and adaptive to each other. They become versatile, innovative,
progressive, and ever-evolving. All these processes are established somewhere
between 1800 and 1900. My thesis here is that t he concept of space, or
the spatialization of architecture, is the equivalent of the democratization of the
political system, the liberalization of the economy, etc.
As Luhmann was analyzing these different function systems he realized that despite
their differences they share parallel structure . Each in their own unique way, they
are all facing parall el, or comparative, problems: How could they demarcate
themselves? How could they cohere around an elemental operation? How could they
represent within themselves the differences between them and their environment?
Luhmann discovered that each of these systems has a binary code, and programs that
elaborate how the code values will be used in concrete cases. Each has its specific
medium, such as money for the economy, and they all have a unique societal function,
which acts as a kind of evolutionary attractor for the differentiation and
autonomization of the respective system. This unique and distinct function unfolds in
a series of tasks. Each of these systems projected itself forward through something

Luhmann called self-descriptions. This means that within each discourse there are
theoretical reflections via great treatises, written accounts of trying to think through
and argue the function, the purpose, the raison dtre of each of the function systems.
So within the political system there is political theory. The legal system developed
together with jurisprudence. Science developed together with epistemology, the
philosophy of science. And architecture has architectural theory, but only a deep and
comprehensive kind of architectural theory can serve as self-description. In volume
two I go through some of them: Albertis Ten Books on Architecture;
Durands lectures on architecture for the era of neoclassicism; Le
Corbusiers Towards a New Architecture for modernism; and The Autopoesis of
Architecture for our times, for parametricism.
We can identify in every function system a so-called lead distinction. The lead
distinction for architecture is form versus function. You find it in Alberti. You find it in
all major self-descriptions. This lead distinction is the re-entry of the systemenvironment distinction into the system. It represents the distinction of the system of
architecture against its environment that is, against the totality of society within
architecture. So with the category of form, architecture represents itself to itself as
distinct from function, which is the category representing the external world reference
of architecture. The lead distinction of the economy is the distinction of price versus
value: price is the internal reference; value is the external reference. In science it
is theory versus evidence, in the law norm versus fact etc. There are further parallels
between these function systems. To identify the respective structures in architecture
that coincide with the structures found in the other function systems has been a
creative puzzle-solving exercise, but in the end a coherent picture emerges that allows
me to take a position with respect to all of the partial theories I have been developing
over the years.
* * * *
Let me show a few pictures of MAXXI in Rome as a reminder that there is a certain
credibility in realizing projects that follow the principles Im talking about. The Rome
project is a field project. It has a very stringent formalism. At the same time it is very
capable of adapting to contexts, in terms of continuing field conditions, aligning with
an urban grid on one side and with a separate urban grid on another side,
incorporating existing architectures, and managing to create a coherent space around a
corner. I would argue that it does a lot of difficult things with ease and elegance. Some
of the strong alignments with the context go right through the building. Theres a
sense of bringing together disparate elements under a single formalism, with flow
lines irrigating the space. One of the ambitions that were realized are found in the

moments of deep visual penetration, affording the transparency and legibility of the
complex organization. In the central communication hub, ramps and staircases follow
the formal language of walls and ribs, creating something which is as coherent as it is
complex. Formal coherency is a precondition for generating an overall complexity
without creating visual chaos. Although MAXXI was designed 10 years ago, it is a
(successful, early) parametricist project. T he proliferation of lines, bundling,
converging, and departing from one another, creates a field rather than a space.

So let me define parametricism. First of all, a conceptual definition: all elements of


architecture have become parametrically malleable. Thats both fundamental and
profound. The advantage of this is the intensification of relations both internally,
within a design project, a building, and externally, with its context and surroundings.
There is a very fundamental ontological shift with respect to the base components and

primitives constituting an architecture. For the previous 2,000 years, if you like,
including modernism, architecture was working with platonic solids, with rigid,
hermetic, geometric figures, and just composing them. Compared with classical
architecture Modernism was allowed to stretch proportions, was able to give up
symmetries, and instead had a kind of dynamic equilibrium and more degrees of
freedom. These changes moved these geometric figures from edifice to space with all
the advantages of abstraction and versatility this move entails. But the base primitives
remained, nothing else. Now, if you look at the kinds of primitives we are working
with today, it is a totally different world splines, blobs, nurbs, particles, all organized
by scripts. I think it started with deconstructivism, to a certain extent, and then Greg
Lynn talking about blobs in 1994-95. When we were teaching at Columbia in 93, we
were creating dynamic, and cross-inflected textures and fields. This was also the
beginning of certain computational mechanisms. Instead of drawing with ruler and
compass, making rigid lines and rigid figures, we worked with dynamical systems.
Thats a new ontology, which cannot but leave a profound, radically transformative
mark on what we do. If we succeed, and I have no doubt, parametricism will succeed,
well change the physiognomy of this planet and its built environment, just the way
modernism did for 50 years in the 20th century. The recession over the last two years
put a bit of a damper on this, but that should not be misunderstood as a failure or
refutation of this kind of work. In fact, architecture continues to invest in digital
technology, fabrication systems, etc., and any prohibitive cost is diminishing as a
factor. An economic recession cannot stand in the way of universalizing these
principles. Parametricism is the way we do urbanism and architecture now.
****
So the thesis is clear: parametricism is the great new style after modernism. I consider
postmodernism and deconstructivism to be transitional styles, or transitional episodes.
I think that architectural innovation and history proceed by the succession of styles.
These are the great paradigms and research programs by which architecture redefines
itself. Postmodernism and deconstructivism are temporary phenomena, a decade each.
Parametricism is already 15 years down the line. Design research programs establish
the conditions for the collective design research needed to agree on the fundamentals
that add up to an overall research project. If you are fighting over fundamentals every
time you start a new project, you cannot progress. Here I draw not on Luhmann so
much as on the philosophy of science as projected by Thomas Kuhn, theorizing
paradigm shifts, and in particular I draw on Imre Lakatos theory of scientific research
programs . Science is founded, or re-founded, with certain paradigmatic categories,
principles, anticipations, and intuitions about how a science could progress, and on

that basis, after a revolutionary period of paradigm exploration , a new paradigm or


research program has to emerge and win the competitive battle, and then reconstitute
cumulative research. Like a research program, a shared style implies that you are
formulating pertinent desires, framing and posing problems to work on, and you are
strategically constraining the solution space. We are identifying problems and are
trying to solve these problems by means of parametric systems, by exploring the
power of malleability in the elements. The style imposes a formal a priori. There are
very strong analogies in science. For example, Newton set up a certain set of
principles by which every phenomenon was investigated, probed, and modeled. From
problem to problem, the same principles are held steady, otherwise there is no testing,
no research. Innovation requires this kind of steady, collective effort. It is the
condition of any progress.
We can think of the history of architecture in terms of cycles of innovation and shifts
between revolutionary periods, when the paradigm is no longer working, as happened
in the late 60s, the 70s, and early 80s. You couldnt really go on after Pruitt-Igoe
was exploded. The principles architects were relying on were exhausted. Thats also
why SCI-Arc was founded because the old university way of doing things couldnt
continue, it was bankrupt. The situation required a sense of freewheeling
brainstorming. Architecture drew on philosophers, and fundamental questions were
asked. Its interesting that today philosophy has rece ded, weve reached a different
stage. We have drawn conclusions and learned our lessons; we have internalized new
forms of thinking and argumentation, new values, new philosophies, and now we have
to forge ahead, developing a new architecture. Every new generation has to relearn the
raison dtre of what we do, but that doesnt mean that what we are doing is up for
discursive destruction or disposition every second year. At the early stages of a new
convergence you have to become accustomed to living with a lot of failures, a lot of
difficulties, a lot of implausibilities. Thats why we need the avant-garde: where there
is methodical tolerance, where there are dry runs, experiments, and manifesto
projects; and you cant expect to immediately compete with the mainstream state- ofthe- art. You have to stick to your principles and not allow pragmatic concerns to push
you to fall back on old models, old solutions, which are easy and accepted. Youve got
to go it the difficult way. Youve got to go it the consistent way. The dogmatic way.
Thats what Newton did also.
Its important to give a conceptual definition of parametricism in terms of parametric
malleability, but there is also an operational definition of parametricism. When I first
started to talk about parametricism I was talking about formal heuristics, but now I
find it necessary to also talk about functional heuristics, because a style is not just a

matter of form and formalisms. Each style also introduces a particular attitude and
way of comprehending and handling functions and program. Any serious style must
take a position on these issues, and I think we have a different attitude and position
with respect to function than the modernists. We need both functional heuristics and
formal heuristics. This is not something I am dogmatically imposing. Im just
observing that I, my friends, my students, naturally adhere to these principles without
fail. Their hands would fall off rather than draw straight lines. Is anybody here
drawing a triangle, a square, or a circle? Ever again? No!
Postmodernism and deconstructivism celebrated collage, interpenetration, and
layering in an unmediated way, but this notion of pure difference and collage, which is
in fact the default condition of spontaneous urban development after the collapse of
modernism, is invested only in just the proliferation of pure difference, of piling up
unrelated elements against unrelated elements, etc. But within the discourse of
parametricism that is taboo. Modernism, seriality, repetition are out of the question.
Instead e verybodys is putting down their own shape, form, material all
uncoordinated. So, if the modernist recipes as well as their spontaneous antitheses are
rejected, where are we going?
We are trying to create a second nature, complex variegated order , at Zaha Hadid
Architects and at the different schools where we teach. I am trying to formulate the
positive principles that determine the new physiognomy , that define a new way of
working with parametrically malleable, soft forms. Soft forms are able to incorporate
a degree of adaptive intelligence. They are no longer just forms, but may have gravity
or structural constraints, material constraints, performative logics inbuilt that make
them intelligent.
The second positive principle, or dogma, which all of you here always demand of
yourselves and which your teachers will demand of you as students, is differentiation.
If you are building differentiated systems with some kind of law of differentiation,
whether you work only with smooth gradients, or whether you work with thresholds,
or singularities, you will always work with laws, rule-based systems of differentiation.
These can be applied meaningfully in, for instance, the environmental adaptation of
facades to create an intelligent differentiation of elements. You can do this by taking
data sets like sun exposure maps and make them drive an intelligent differentiation of
brise-soleil elements, which are scripted off the data set. But you can also apply this
kind of technique to urbanism. Were talking about urban fields, about the lawful
differentiation of an urban fabric according to relevant data sets.
Once you have a series of these internally differentiated systems, you can think about
establishing correlations between them, where one system drives the other. These are
all co-present systems, which become representations of each other. They might be

ontologically rather different, radically other. There will be multiple systems, each
differentiated. T hen you can establish correlations. Here just a simple example of a
tower (ZHA towers for a New York Olympic Village) that interfaces with the ground
and creates a kind of resonance with it.

Here is another tower, from the Hadid Masterclass (Peter Mitterer, Matthias Moroder,
Peter Pichler): the way the facade is correlated with the horizontal section of a tower
has to do with the programmatic shift from an office area to a residential area. And of
course you can try to mechanize these correlations in terms of associative logics.
What is important here for me is that we are moving from single-system projects,
which are a kind of first stage too abstract to really grip in reality to the interarticulation of multiple subsystems, to multi-system correlations.
The principles of parametricism, in terms of its heuristics or operational definition,
provide failsafe tools for criticism and self-criticism of project development and
project enhancement. You can always identify where the rigid forms still persist,
where there is still too much simple repetition, where there are still unrelated
elements. You can always ask for further softening, further differentiation, and further
correlation of everything with everything else. Theres always more to script and to
correlate in order to further intensify the internal consistency and crossconnectedness, the resonance within a project and within a context. Its a never-ending
trajectory of a projects progression.
The intensification of relations in architecture reflects the intensification of
communication among all of us, everyday and with everything. A building can no
longer be a silo out in the greenfield; it needs to be connected in an urban texture,
needs to be accessible, have internal differentiation, yet have a sense of continuity in
the field it participates within.
Functional heuristics: There are some taboos in terms of handling functions. We avoid
thinking in terms of essences. We avoid stereotypes and strict typologies. We also
avoid designating functions to strict and separated and discrete zones. These are
taboos for all of us. Instead, we think in terms of gradient fields of activity, about
variable social scenarios calibrated by various event parameters. We think in terms of
actor-artifact networks. Thats the way we break down a program, a task. And that
makes sense within contemporary society. The formal and functional heuristics of
parametricism coalesce, they make sense together. To translate these functions into
form you need the formal heuristics I discussed earlier.
Clearly, parametric systems or techniques could be used as technologies of design by
modernists like Norman Foster; they could also be used by neoclassicists. The point is
that the tools themselves have great potential, but we need to drive these potentials
and draw decisive conclusions and give value and direction to the utilization of these
tools. That is the difference between a set of techniques and a style, which depends on
these techniques, albeit not exclusively, but drives them to a new destiny. Fosters
British Museum dome could only have been done with parametric tools. Every joint is
different, every panel is different. The use of parametrics made this possible, but the

spirit of this application is the spirit of modernism with the aim of neutralizing the
differences, making them inconspicuous. Here all elements are different but they want
to appear the same. Against that I put forward a new kind of artistic project, the
project of driving the conspicuous amplification of differences. (See example from the
Hadid Masterclass (Maren Klasing & Martin Krcha) below). So a difference in
curvature is transcoded into radically different conditions of ribbing, of gridding, of
dense networking, perhaps engendering a phase change at a certain threshold. This is
much more prone to the development of versatile conditions and different
atmospheres, which bleed into each other instead of establishing disparate zones. I
think our work forms a much more pertinent image and vehicle of contemporary life
forces and patterns of social communication than that big Foster dome.

This emphasis on differentiation, the amplification of deviations, rather than


neutralization and compensation, is also related to the difference between exploratory
design research and problem solving. Problem solving is the engineering side, the side
of parametric technique. In contrast, when we are talking about parametricism as
style, were talking about teasing out the as yet unknown potentials of these

techniques but with the general direction clearly set by the parametricist heuristic
principles. This has been going on for quite a while now. I believe that we are on the
cusp of moving from an avant-garde condition into claiming the mainstream. Most of
our projects, even most of our built works are hypotheses, manifestos, but I think
some of our projects go beyond that and are becoming compelling success stories in
the real world.

The projects now coming out of the office show the richness of our formal vocabulary
and the richness of types of structures we are addressing. Theres a kind of unity
within difference, or difference within unity, moving across various scales: Endless
forms. But these endless forms are there to organize and articulate life. So: form
powers function. Thats the new thesis. Spatial organization sustains social
organization. Can we demonstrate, control, and predict this? To a certain extent, I
would argue, we can.
If we look at the history of parametricism, in fact its the history of the whole
evolution of architecture. The fundamental thesis is that social order requires spatial
order, that society doesnt exist without a structured environment, and that society can
only evolve if it is able to enhance and intricately structure its built environment as
well. Architecture provides the necessary substrate of cultural evolution.