If you’re in the mood for a strong brew of architectural hucksterism–a marketing effort disguised as deep theory–read this hilarious piece by Patrik Schumacher, partner of Uber-starchitect Zaha Hadid. In it, he heralds the advent of a new architectural style, important enough to succeed Gothic, Baroque, and neo-Classical. He calls it: Parametricism. What is Parametricism? Apparently little more than the blobs that one can produce with minimal effort on the computer.
The piece is swollen with near meaningless prose such as the following:
Parametricism is able to deliver all the components for a high-performance contemporary life process.
If anyone has any idea what that is supposed to mean, please contact me, as if I am missing any components for a high-performance contemporary life process, I would like to know.
Parametricism is supposedly the great unifier, bringing together all the strands of our culture’s tapestry, frayed by a century of Modernist movements and sub-movements. Schumacher brags that the Nordpark Cable Railway stations in Innsbruck accomplish this great feat:
No other style could have achieved this coincidence of adaptive variation to the different site conditions with genotypical coherence across those phenotypical variants.
At least, that’s what I can just make out in the foggy verbiage. I think anyone who hasn’t taken leave of his common sense can see at a glance, however, that the claim is totally false. The Nordpark railway stations represent yet another architectural fad, with no roots whatsoever in the culture. There is no content to read, other than the vapid reference to computer modeling introduced to us by Disney thirty years ago in the movie Tron.
Oddly, Schumacher states that Parametricism can only bring together those divergent strands with its powerful rhetoric if no one else is allowed to interrupt:
Parametricism’s crucial ability to set up continuities and correspondences across diverse and distant elements relies on its principles holding uninterrupted sway. The admixture of a post-modernist, deconstructivist or minimalist design can only disrupt the penetrating and far-reaching parametricist continuity.
So is Parametricism an irresistible force for unity or not? Or is this just a wildly over-the-top marketing ploy to corner the market?
The reverse does not hold, because there is no equivalent degree of continuity in post-modernist, deconstructivist or minimalist urbanism. In fact, parametricism can take up vernacular, classical, modernist, post-modernist, deconstructivist and minimalist urban conditions, and forge a new network of affiliations and continuities between and beyond any number of urban fragments and conditions.
I beg to differ. Only the classical and the vernacular, which are coherent with man’s nature, can restore a sense order. They’ve been doing so for thousands of years. And I use those terms not in the sense of style, but in the sense of principles which undergird the whole history of styles.
But there is more to the Parametricist “one style to rule them all” heresy:
It aims to establish a complex variegated spatial order, using scripting to differentiate and correlate all elements and subsystems of a design. [emphasis mine]
In other words, the job of the architect is not to apply his intelligence, his cultivation, and the lessons of his forebears to design an elegant, legible, and beautiful solution to a particular problem, but rather it is to formulate an algorithm which is universally applicable. The computer then crunches the numbers and out pops the design. Now if that is not reductivism at its most extreme, I don’t know what is. How can 2500 years of architectural tradition, the subtle demands of the artistic eye, and the limitless range of formal expression, be reduced to a few lines of code?
The answer is, it cannot. Schumacher’s advocacy of formulaic solutions to life’s problems is a dead end, and a sad testament to the state of architectural education today. Computers are wonderful things, there is no doubt about it, but they have their place. Technology is supposed to serve man, not the other way around. For the architect, there are no cheap substitutes for training, study, and practice.