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Schumacher: ‘Parametricism the only movement for the digital age’

Is Parametricism the defining architectural style of the digital age, or just one of many design movements?

This was the topic discussed by Zaha Hadid director Patrik Schumacher and Brett Steele, director at the Architectural Association, who went head to head at the AJ100 Breakfast Briefing at the Saint-Gobain Innovation Centre yesterday (23 October).

Steele claimed the globalisation of culture had not led to convergence on architectural thinking but instead to a diverse number of ‘tribes’ within culture, saying: ‘The unexpected consequences of the sudden globalisation of architectural knowledge and culture have been the opposite of what we pictured in the 1990s. Rather than converge architectural thinking and ideas into one monolithic form, what we have seen is the tribalisation of culture of all kinds.’

He added: ‘One of the things that happened in the 1990s [was] the return of a experimental culture in architecture which displaced what, for the previous 20 years, was always referred to as a kind of critical project; the deeply historical architecture of 1980s Post-Modernism.’

Steele likened architects to musician Jimi Hendrix ‘fumbling around with a newly electrified guitar’ whose art was not simply playing his instrument, but ‘realising that there is a different type of music to be created with a different set of tools’.

He added: ‘One of the really interesting and unexpected consequences of digital architecture is the absolute flourishing of sub species doing all kinds of different work.’

Schumacher disagreed with Steele’s analysis of different ‘tribes’ within architecture and argued that a convergence of styles was still taking place in favour of Parametricism.

‘Over the last five years there may have been a slowdown in that sense of convergence [but] my interpretation is that it could be due to the financial crisis and the slowdown in the economy. After the crisis, some of the work we were pushing and the euphoria of architecture leading up to 2008 was associated with unsustainable trends.’

Schumacher added: ‘Parametricism is a fundamental rethinking of the primary constituting elements of architecture… It is not just one of many tribes, even empirically. It is the largest of the movements and directions [within architecture] and the only truly innovative one in terms of offering design solutions and in terms of making an impact on the built environment.’

Linking Parametricism with digital design, he said: ‘You can also use digital tools in traditional architecture. But Parametricism is the only clear direction which can fully utilise the new opportunities of computational tools whereas other movements such as Minimalism, Neo-Classicism and High-Tech Modernism do not.’

The debate also touched on the problems of digital design, including design piracy.

Steele said: ‘The illegal copying of ideas is one of the things that has dramatically increased in architecture in the last ten years.’

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