Between Mission Statement and Parametric Model

A crisis in architectural education is brewing.

Parametric model created with Catia software: Helios House. All images courtesy of Office dA.

A crisis in architectural education is brewing. I refer to the increasingly contentious divide between that cadre of junior faculty who espouse the gee-whiz form-making made possible by speculative parametric modeling and an Inconvenient Truth-influenced student body demanding design studios that prioritize social relevance and environmental stewardship. 1 The inherent tension between these cultural positions has not yet been fully registered by design faculties nor acted upon with specific curricular reform — yet it’s hard to miss.

On the one hand, the situation is generating strange, hybridized manifestations in design studios — notably the ubiquitous son-of-the-Yokohama Port Terminal proposal: an undulating green roofscape blanketing habitable space below. 2 On the other hand, many schools and departments are busy reforming their programs to better integrate sustainability criteria into studio exercises, often at the expense of other aspects of design thinking. But in this swing from decontextualized digital experimentation to heightened social responsibility, design education is being compromised. A generation of young architects is graduating into professional practice with scant ability to construe and elaborate an architectural agenda that begins with a set of a priori social and cultural intentions and ends with a constructed environment. Only by examining both the causes of this situation and current pedagogical tendencies can a better approach to design education emerge.

As William Menking editorialized in the May 20, 2009 edition of The Architect’s Newspaper, the focus on the formal possibilities of computer modeling is now ubiquitous in design schools. “The obsession with which many young faculty and their students now pursue digital research to the exclusion of all contextual and real-world issues (materiality, for example) is astonishing,” he says. “In some schools, the end-of-the-year exhibits feature project after project resembling nothing so much as extruded dinosaur vertebrae, often hung from the ceiling or set on a barren plinth, appearing as isolated — and irrelevant — as objects in a natural history museum.” As an expert witness of the influence of parametric modeling on certain East Coast architecture programs, I can confirm the truth of this observation. 3

Since the late 1990s the generative capabilities of parametric modeling, or digital scripting, programs have come to dominate design discourse at schools like Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia, largely due to the increasing influence and leadership of mid-career professors and practitioners such as Greg Lynn, Preston Scott Cohen and Monica Ponce de Leon. This focus is being reinforced by the newest generation of assistant professors, who themselves learned design through the lens of scripting logics and who find methodologies for form-making mostly within the rationales of computer programming. 4 Despite the productive example of some practitioners — notably Office dA, the firm of Ponce de Leon and Nader Tehrani — it’s too often the case that the process of creating forms by inputting and manipulating data does not require that the designer develop a nuanced and comprehensive design strategy; and the process itself can produce a spurious and easy complexity that masks the absence of that more expansive approach. In some projects, for instance, specific cultural, social and physical contexts are deployed mainly as tactics for autonomous form making. In others the project brief itself — the client’s list of programs, project areas, functional adjacencies and so on — becomes the primary impetus for generating form; the Seattle Public Library, by Rem Koolhaas and OMA, is only the most notable and didactic example of this self-referential strategy.

At the opposite end of the ideological spectrum are those comprehensive studios that eschew formal experimentation (usually out of a kind of disciplinary guilt, or fear of fashion) and instead favor a metric-based emphasis on social and/or ecological relevance. Part of this phenomenon (and the attendant guilt) can be attributed to broader disciplinary hand-wringing about the architect’s proper cultural role in the international debate on global warming. Recently, for example, the American Institute of Architects has added “sustainable design” to the list of required topics for its continuing education credits, with a specific emphasis on the energy consumption of buildings. Reporter Robin Pogrebin noted this in a New York Times article of August 20, 2009, quoting from the AIA website: “The issue of climate change and the impact of buildings on carbon emissions [are creating] new expectation among clients and the public to look to the expertise of architects for solutions that can help them leave a greener footprint.” As a result architects are being challenged to become familiar with the kinds of building design metrics that have traditionally been the purview of sub-consultants such as lighting designers and mechanical and electrical engineers.

What makes the contradictions especially complicated is that both tendencies often operate at the same time in the same place. Certainly this schizophrenia was on display at this year’s spring thesis reviews at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, where both agendas were often combined in a single project. In most cases, the sustainability agenda was framed in a slickly produced slide presentation, the product of a research-based course in thesis preparation. The presentations were well researched and the narratives galloped along at a pace and with a conviction that would have made Al Gore proud. Yet too often the mix of earnest advocacy and formal ambition resulted in strange misadventures of execution. This was the case in a proposal for a hybrid urban farm/high-rise condominium adjacent to the newly opened High Line in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. The project pitch consisted of a compelling narrative of global food shortages and the high costs of food distribution; sophisticated information graphics were used to argue for the benefits of vertical farming. As in professional projects by the Copenhagen-based BIG or the Rotterdam-based MVRDV, the build-up of data points and facts was meant to give the still-undisclosed proposal the authority of retroactive inevitability. Perhaps it was not surprising that after a 20-minute lecture that might have served to launch a mission-driven NGO, the architectural proposal itself was implausible — whether considered technically, socially or environmentally. The reason? Early in the design process the student had been waylaid by a computer-generated formal strategy based on lifting and rotating the floor plates in order to twist the building away from the street grid to an orientation partly rationalized by solar angles. The idea didn’t really work, yet the design was force-marched by a scripting program that turned the project into a twisting taffy of form.

One of the least sensible consequences of the proposal was the gigantic air-conditioned atrium that was necessary to post-justify the deep floor plates — and the sheer volume of the building that resulted — of the outside-in-conceived form. The project also didn’t much consider the crews of low-wage farm workers that would be needed to plant and harvest the crops of the ambitious vertical farm; presumably these crews would share elevators and stairwells with the residents of the market-rate condos above. Clearly this was not a version of the earnest community garden that has cropped up in so many smaller-scale student projects, but an enormous collective farm, presented with perspective renderings that had more than a whiff of soviet-style social realism. Was that an upscale retiree keeping busy in his active-leisure development by picking strawberries? Or a migrant farmer who had taken the No. 1 train down from the Bronx?

The contradictions of contemporary education were also evident this spring at the Yale School of Architecture. Known for the diversity of its studio options since the 1980s, when James Stirling, Aldo Rossi and Robert Venturi all taught there, Yale has become yet more pluralistic under the deanship of Robert Stern, with a dizzying range of approaches to practice and theory. Visiting professor Demetri Porphyios asked his students to design a luxury spa in Morocco by starting with an analysis of classical Roman and Mediterranean public baths. Another visiting professor, William Sharples, of SHoP, had his studio design a spaceport for commercial space travel. The studio led by Liza Fior and Katherine Clarke, from Muf, in London, focused on the future reuse of the London 2012 Olympics site; that of faculty member Keith Krumweide designed sustainable multifamily housing in Houston. And Greg Lynn, progenitor of “blob architecture,” and also visiting at Yale last spring, was back to test the limits of advanced digital modeling, this time with a studio problem for the “missing” third arm of Bernini’s arcade at the Piazza San Pietro in Rome. Given this constellation of critics, it’s not surprising that some students used parametric modeling to create sexy, shapely designs — again, fantastic roof structures or elaborate topographies were much in evidence — while others deployed more rearguard (read: orthogonal) design languages that no doubt owe to the ongoing influence of Dutch design (by way of Mies and Le Corbusier) and Spanish architecture (by way of Louis Kahn and Giuseppe Terragni). 5

Questions about the cultural relevance and political correctness of complicated forms enabled by digital modeling have become especially pointed lately, as recession has taken hold. In a review published in October 2008, the New York Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff sharply criticized Zaha Hadid’s temporary pavilion for Chanel in Central Park, more for political than formal reasons. Ouroussoff questioned the wisdom of constructing, as the economy was crashing, a molded fiberglass folly intended to celebrate luxury couture within the proudly democratic spaces of Central Park. Yet dissatisfaction with formal fetishization was being voiced even before the crash. An important manifestation of a growing campaign to promote public-interest design in the academy is Structures for Inclusion, a nationwide series of symposia started in 2000 by the non-profit Design Corps. I caught up with SFI when it made a stop at Harvard in spring 2008. Participants included Public Architecture, a non-profit design collective based in San Francisco; Teddy Cruz, a San Diego architect and leading standard-bearer for social responsibility; and the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, renowned for cardboard-tube columns used in the construction of refugee shelter. Now in its ninth year — this year’s conference was held in Dallas — SFI is raising necessary questions about the need for more socially relevant models of design practice; through its viral influence, it has been the single most influential catalyst for the soft student activism now influencing curricula across the country.

Yet just as unsatisfying as unbridled formal experimentation is an overemphasis on research-based outcomes that can reduce design to an easy illustration of good intentions, and in the process neglect the equally meaningful goals of creating pleasurable and compelling physical environments. A case in point was suggested by a public lecture this past spring at Yale by Cameron Sinclair, cofounder and chief spokesperson of Architecture for Humanity. Sinclair will need little introduction to Places’ readers. In the past few years he’s become ubiquitous on the conference circuit — one of those figures whose name practically self-populates the field for “socially responsible practitioner.” That night in New Haven, Sinclair gave a version of his pitch for humanitarian design. Yet he never substantiated the talking points with any well-worked-out disciplinary agenda or even with much information about the actual projects and their presumably measurable impacts. The young faculty and students who crowded the hall wanting to hear the details about how architecture can work to catalyze social improvement heard instead about the exponential expansion of AFH’s globe-trotting organization, with its Amway-like network of franchises. Sinclair’s presentation left me, and many of the students I talked with afterward, unsatisfied, convinced that admirable intentions in themselves aren’t enough to rescue architectural discourse and progressive practice from the increasingly empty gestures of parametric modeling.

So where are we? What do we need to do to synthesize the powerful formal possibilities of parametric modeling with the need to realign disciplinary priorities? This is a large question, which I’ll explore in future articles. For now I’ll suggest that one approach is to better understand the complexities and pressures of mainstream practice. How do existing professional power structures, working with real clients and regulatory frameworks, encourage certain kinds of design production and inhibit others? Why does the DNA of almost every office building in North America — maybe the world — consist of the same center-core diagram with the same ungainly and clumsily dimensioned floor plan, no matter how sophisticated the skin? Why are the majority of new public school buildings soulless and isolated object-buildings surrounded by acres of parking lots and sports fields? Why do super-sized arterial roads, and the retail big boxes that line them, continue to be developed when the landscapes that result are so banal, and widely reviled as such? My hunch is that if design pedagogy began to engage these everyday conditions, whether in the market-driven economy or through the mechanism of public funding (or a combination of the two), then a new design-focused pedagogy would emerge, one that would gain intellectual weight through the relevance of the problems. Such a context might inspire designers to use sophisticated professional tools — including parametric modeling — to produce truly new and meaningful paradigms.

Editors' Note

See also Paper Architecture, Emerging Urbanism, by Tim Love, and The Future That Is Now, by Stan Allen.

  1. Parametric modeling is a design technique that uses smart, three-dimensional modeling software to help guide and track the design of complex projects. Modeling software — such as Catia, Revit, ArchiCad and Digital Project — is eclipsing conventional CAD software in most commercial architecture firms, largely due to its ability to manage and coordinate information throughout design and construction. In design studios, parametric modeling is used to create patterns, spaces and forms through the input of specific criteria and operational parameters. The resulting contours of patterns, spaces and forms are not designed by the gesture of a hand on paper, but rather controlled indirectly by the design of software that controls inputted information. The emerging ideological divide I refer to is reminiscent of the division between back-to-nature environmentalists and postmodern formalists in the late 1970s and early ’80s. With a crucial difference: Postmodern formalism was a reaction to what were perceived to be deterministic design methodologies focused on social or environmental science. Today the situation is reversed: Both sustainable design and mission-driven design practices are reactions to the perceived formal autonomy of projects designed with the aid of parametric modeling. We may be seeing the conclusion of an historical arc that began in the early ’70s and that has been bracketed by global energy crises.
  2. The Yokohama Port Terminal, designed by Foreign Office Architects, was completed in 2002.
  3. I taught in the architecture department of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design from 1997 until 2003, when I accepted a position at Northeastern University in Boston. Since then I have been a regular guest critic at MIT, Yale and Columbia, in addition to the GSD. In spring 2009 I taught a studio at Yale as visiting associate professor.
  4. Some background: early on, two approaches to parametric modeling were especially influential. One approach, centered in the studios at Columbia, mixed a tendency to the metaphorical filtered through quasi-scientific analyses: for instance, the movement patterns of flocks of birds, schools of fish, and the like might be mapped as inspiration for complex forms. A second approach, initiated by Monica Ponce de Leon and Nader Tehrani at the Harvard GSD, focused on the complex repetitions of cladding patterns. Ponce de Leon and Tehrani’s interest in the full capabilities of parametric modeling, from form generation through fabrication, profoundly influenced the trajectory of their firm, Office dA, and more recently it has influenced the reform of MIT’s foundation design program under Tehrani’s leadership. Through their work and teaching, and in collaboration with students and colleagues, Ponce de Leon and Tehrani discovered a strategic platform that allowed them to test and maximize the performative aspects of their architectural designs. Even an early work such as Casa La Roc (1995), which forecasts the formal obsessions enabled by future software advances, explores the changing function as much as the elegant pattern of the house’s masonry walls.
  5. One benefit of Stern’s inclusive approach is to reduce the likelihood that there will develop a small number of competing factions, thus empowering students to make highly personal decisions about their priorities and preoccupations. Which raises a real and somewhat ironic possibility: that what might be described as the radically ecumenical approach of Stern the educator — as distinct from Stern the traditionalist practitioner — might encourage meaningful approaches as students negotiate the divides between dominant ideologies.
Tim Love, “Between Mission Statement and Parametric Model,” Places Journal, September 2009. Accessed 04 Oct 2023.

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Past Discussions View
  • Gong Szeto

    11.05.2009 at 12:08

    both parametrically-driven formmaking and sustainability concerns are "meta-programs", ie the frameworks of priority that an architect employs to design a building, any building. but preceding wither of those, is "the program", usually given to the architect after a long "waiting for godot" period. that's the model.

    i would argue that to fill the void, close the loop, reset the arc, so to speak, concerted effort in the art and science of designing the "program" is in order. everything from the politics embedded in, the economics surrounding, and the site circumstances beneath...all shape the program. developers do this naturally. institutions do this naturally. bond-issuers do this naturally. even private families do this naturally.

    if you want to disrupt the status quo, you have to know what the status quo is, and in my opinion, architectural academy's primary concern, no matter which why they are reacting (apropos footnote #1), is the preservation of insularity, preservation of the "meta-program".

    drive the program. does this mean disrupting the academy? no, it just means taking more electives: public policy, macro-micro economics, political science, environmental engineering, enterpreneurship, etc. everything that goes into the baking of the program that the lucky architect receives all comes from these places. all baked before any parametric modelling program is ever launched.

    the everyday conditions that you mention are all part of the design of the "program". architects just aren't at those tables, so time to change that. you think maybe we'd have fewer big-boxes had architects bothered?

    the real work is not in the "meta-program". the story is in the "program". if the water is cloudy upstream, it will be cloudy downstream.

  • faslanyc

    11.05.2009 at 14:19

    Excellent article that brings up several interesting points. I'm glad this will be explored further. Some captions on the pictures would be nice.

    One thing I immediately wonder about is the role of mathematics and mathematical education in this situation. Parametrics are algorithms fed to us through a useful and friendly interface which we get to play around with. However, algorithms were created/observed as a way of understanding chaotic/emergent systems and help to partially explain certain natural, esp ecological phenomena. It seems that if architectural education could include a more profound understanding of the math behind parametrics, some of those smart young 'uns in the ivy schools might be able to better reconcile the two issues. There are some common strands there to tease out.

    i agree completely that at harvard and especially upenn in the landscape departments the students have totally jumped the shark with regard to both parametric design and 'eco' intervention. And school is a good place to try and reconcile those themes. But they do it in a way that is sexy and flashy and largely lacking in substance (unlike Ponce de Leon, who's awesome usually).

  • Kenny Isidoro

    11.06.2009 at 14:03

    Very insightful article, Tim.

    You alluded to a schizophrenia of theory in particular schools... I think these schools need to come to a level of agreement on a design approach, so that faculty may still pursue their own pedagogy on students, but that still fits within the framework of the university. A more rigorous use of parametric modeling needs to happen, and it needs to be connected to contextual and programmatic choices.

    I disagree with Gong on his concept of metaprograms. While parametric modeling is a method of producing forms driven by specific mathematical values, other drivers of design do not produce specific forms. Context, program, sustainability are not form-makers, but rather are justifications of the forms we, as designers, produce.

    Looking forward to more of your thoughts on this topic and how/if specific schools are addressing the issue.

  • Fred Scharmen

    11.06.2009 at 14:13

    Isn't this just, in one sense, the same old confrontation of form and function? Reconciliations, syntheses, and third ways will look ungainly for now, that's not necessarily a bad thing, it's the taste of the truly new and interesting.

    I'm more interested in ungainly than in some amnesiac rush to the other side of a debate that was boring in the first place. We need better models for shifting meta-programs than a simple pendulum swing.

  • check out

    11.09.2009 at 13:28

    check out

  • Richard Anderson

    11.09.2009 at 16:43

    Bravo Tim. I can see why Mr. Thrush thinks so highly of you. Cheers.

  • Amy de Wit

    11.09.2009 at 17:26

    Those footnotes are really difficult to read.

  • Dorian Keibler

    11.09.2009 at 23:48

    Louis Kahn espoused social responsibility and environmental stewardship - I've heard he did some pretty good work.

    In fact, these latter values you've mentioned have been the core of many midwestern and southern programs for decades - it's only now that "paper architecture" has finally released it's grip from the east coast schools that they are finally left without any clear agenda.

    Mr. Love, you aren't going to find what you are looking for in the ivies (especially Northeastern, which has so much contempt towards their own students that they don't even trust them to develop their own thesis projects!) get off the coasts and take a look at what is happening in the middle of the country - you'll be pleasantly surprised.

  • Student in Architecture

    11.11.2009 at 03:36

    i think you should came back to school........for everything but in particoular for study History of Architecture!

    "....and Spanish architecture (by way of Louis Kahn and Giuseppe Terragni). "

    a Student in Architecture!

  • esullivanwhite

    11.11.2009 at 10:21

    I've been mulling many of these issues in regards to how I shape my goals as an architectural grad student at NCSU. I've thought for awhile that the parametric thinking ones uses in the creation and evaluation of parametric models could be better spent on non-formal and inter-disciplinary problems, in the hopes of pushing a powerful technology and thought approach beyond its formal seduction. In such an approach I wonder if there is a way to bridge this mission-model gap.

    I was interested to hear (outside this thread) that Tim Love has been exploring the use of Revit for, for example, building massing/master plan/financial analyses - has anyone else found ways to incorporate parametric modeling into non-formal problems? Social, urban, building performance?

  • Ries

    11.11.2009 at 15:41

    Seems like the invisible elephant in the room is the oldest one of all- MONEY.
    No mention here of the fact that the parametric modeled structures are all incredibly expensive to build, and thus are the follies and advertising images of the superrich and the corporate overlords.

    Gehry's EMP, in Seattle, for example, cost $100 million for a tin shed with sprayed on insulation on the inside. After that, a conventional building had to be built inside.

    Meanwhile, a nice, small, sustainable, Pattern Language inspired wood and concrete house can be built for a hundred grand in many places.

    The middle ground, of interesting, yet conventional enough to be affordable and buildable, environmentally sensitive structures that people actually use- this is what most architects actually get paid to try for. But its no fun, compared to Hadid and Eisenman or Morphosis.

  • cynical one

    11.11.2009 at 21:10

    The true lesson being taught on noodling away at ultimately capricious form-making is that any truly useful parametric software geared for architects is best pursued by non-architects.

    So, in ten years there will still be architecture grad students cranking out the latest electronic form based on some arbitrary numerical algorithm ("i've based this on the array of bits formed when i ripped up my phone bill and dropped it at the periphery of a halal cart") while software engineers perfect a program (revit on steriods) that generates reasonable, market-based forms and architectural solutions.

    The form-pig porno clients might still demand the guru willing to twist the logic of construction to conform with some half-baked idea of form, but increasingly we'll see the machine solve these problems for clients and leave the architects further out in the cold.

  • jobless

    11.12.2009 at 23:19

    hey tim. nice article. i agree with the comments by dorian keibler above. you won't find it mulling around harvard or yale. try the south, perhaps especially your old alma mater. "both-and," rather than "either-or." am i right?

  • unconvinced

    11.15.2009 at 23:29

    Hmmm...something about this article seems very dated. Very 2002/2003. If Mr Love presented this point of view at an ACSA conference I think he'd get a lot of push back. Not because it's a provocative argument but because it's so out of step. And he didn't mention visualization or representation even once. Now, that's where the core of any good polemic is; the production of the architectural image.

    Parametric modeling is a strawman. Yes, it's a small but significant part of the curriculum at MIT, UPenn and Columbia, among others, but it seems odd that one would make a case that young faculty and students are at odds with the curriculum. If I didn't know better, it sounds like Mr. Love doesn't like these young upstarts and all that digital formalism (or maybe just formalism in general).

    Also, you write about creating pleasurable and meaningful environments, but you don't care to detail an example of a more conventional design methodology taught in any number of architecture schools. That market-driven economy stuff must really be working over at NEU.

  • faslanyc

    11.16.2009 at 13:28

    good points unconvinced. I don't totally agree but the argument above certainly has some areas not fully explored. But, i guess he'll be posting a series of these, maybe addressing the points you bring up and his own ideas in a more profound manner. hmm...

    it is my experience, though, that most students at the aformentioned ivies treat the topic of parametic modeling in a superficial way. and students might only take one or two classes on it, but it's early on and proliferates through all other design work.

  • unconvinced

    11.17.2009 at 12:37

    Certainly I agree with this criticism of students taking potential design tools or design methodologies and pursuing them in a superficial way faslanyc. But I think this can be said of almost any means of producing or generating form. The real issue, I think, is the ability of the student to think critically and synthesize ideas laterally. Ultimatley, this problem of superficiality is bound to students (and faculty writing about design) considering only a very small number of design parameters.

    I'm old school in my design sensibilities, but not a luddite. Mr. Love's critique was not just aimed at students and young faculty being sloppy thinkers, it was also aimed at the very idea of using computers to help generate form and facilitate design thinking. It's essentially the same argument I used to hear back in the early 90's when we started using computers in the design studio. And having some knowledge of the NEU program, I have never thought that they made any serious attempt to integrate the computer into the design studio. I guess that's why this article leaves me unconvinced.

  • trevor.patt

    11.24.2009 at 17:06

    I'm with uncovinced, ay article that starts by painting parametric modelling as "gee-whiz form-making" is making pretty limiting characterizations. How could it be anything but a straw man after that.

    The idea that parametric modelling/algorithmic process are inherently formal is a confusing argument that I've never understood. It seems more accurate to say that they are essential organizational and relational strategies. Sure, plenty of students are using their software packages to organize formal relationships, but ultimately an algorithm runs on data. Put different data in get different data out. My own research has focused lately on noniconic parametric design and computational approaches to the urban generic.

    The supposed 'crisis' seems to be fueled by a particular stereotype of overly exuberant "unbuildable" digital design which ignores the fact that parametric design methods in practice which are overwhelmingly employed to facilitate construction, reduce costs, increase environmental, ecological, and structural performance, and especially to make feasible designs conceived by "traditional" design methods.

  • steven brittan

    12.02.2009 at 10:43

    Right on the money. What amazes me is how these students are being indoctrinated to believe that what they are learning is valid, relevant, and important, when it couldn't be more the opposite. Faculty entrench their importance by perpetuating this false reality and secure their tenure. Equally disturbing to this inferior pedagogy is how the profession is also so out of touch with the economic, environmental, and social realities. It is time to radically rethink the whole profession of Architecture.

    Thank you for raising the awareness and getting the discussion going.

  • Theodore Thomas

    05.04.2010 at 10:02

    I don't see the 'crisis'. Schools are currently afforded cool, new toys in the form of software at the same time that they are confronted with the fact that their products account for half of the carbon emissions on the planet. Sounds like a good setting in which to solve problems. Unless you are training CAD monkeys or treehuggers and not designers.

  • pete baston

    02.01.2011 at 19:53

    Bravo Tim - Loved this comment "Why are the majority of new public school buildings soulless and isolated object-buildings surrounded by acres of parking lots and sports fields? " Our input and idea thoughts are here ( : ( : pete

  • Matthew Allen

    03.01.2011 at 23:32

    I think you've nailed the symptom - empty parametricism and unfulfilled sustainability desires in the work of architecture students - but I would like to argue that the underlying disease comes not from either of the two "camps," but simply from a failure to demand that students present coherent syntheses. Parmetrics (a tired old word if there ever was one) is little more than an analytical way of thinking. It is architecture's equivalent of variables in mathematics. Nothing special really, but fun to play with nowadays with all of our new visualization tools. Sustainability, the latest understanding of architecture's social context, is a similarly basic condition of architecture, neither good nor bad.

    The problem comes in only when students become too focused on parametric form or a sustainability alibi, and don't do the work of synthesizing a social and a formal argument, of making both really work and work together. Young professors are surely partly to blame for this, but so too are all levels of a school that finds itself with this problem, from the invited critics (for not being vocal enough) up to the directors and deans (for not cultivating strong critical thinking skills within the curriculum).

    My suspicion, however, is that this problem is as old as architecture schools. Was the nineteenth century free of Prix de Rome projects that were both formally fantastic (and preposterous) and socially utopian (and delusional)? Hardly.

    All that said, your hint of misplaced reproach for parametrics and social boosterism is made up for in your final paragraph. I couldn't agree more that our time - as teachers and students - would be best spent finding captivating projects from from built environments that we care about, projects that are likely to naturally allow students to be formally adventurous without drifting mindlessly to decontextualized abstraction and socially engaged without resorting to implausibly grand schemes.

  • 03.13.2012 at 12:04

    That is a very interesting article, i will agree with every point of it!

    I think that problem is mainly in universities with a Bachelor/Master of Arts program. Because I study BSc Architecture here in Germany and we dont have such problems. Our program is much more practice-oriented, there is a strong connection to reality, they teach us how to use materials, to deal with costs and laws.

    You mentioned that there are offices that "favor a metric-based emphasis on social and/or ecological relevance."
    I would be glad to find a university with a master program that goes in the same direction and I would appreciate you if you could give me some suggestions!

  • 07.14.2013 at 07:18

    The article handles technological developments in an unprogressive manner. The author reasons on a basis of lacking social responsibility connected with the shift of technologies which can be traced back into the 90s. In response to this lack, the author favors thoughts and teachings found more relevant to the existing framework over practical enablement of students in a design curriculum. Does this mean we should all get back to mere sketching and theorizing and leave the rest to spezialists? And what would this move mean to communication when we don't know the workings of this special framework? I find this a sad argument since the particularization of a curriculum is in itself the root for communicative specializations. The doubt about relevance is driving the argument while its exclusion will create less controlable dependencies for architects since they neither can reproduce nor talk about these seriously.
    I agree that students should learn about the influences driving the development of programs at the front-end of the business by means of city planning. This will put things into perspective. I don't agree with a one-eyed philosophy.