Digital Form Finding: Reactive Parametric Surfaces

ARH art01

Ionuț Anton, Dimitrie Ștefănescu
”Arhitectura” no. 3

Article published in the ”Arhitectura” no. 3 /2011 magazine.

Link to the article: http://arhitectura-1906.ro/2011/08/cautare-formala-digitala-suprafete-parametrice-reactive/.

A statement as “form follows function” [1] would be a nonsense today. Currently we cannot say that form is a resultant of function, nor the opposite, instead form and function are both interdependent, joining a series of concepts in a parametric diagram of an architectural object [2].

Architectural form today is a negotiation between generating concepts, just like a complex system in which local rules governed by concepts give birth to an emergent form. Such an architectural form is more than the sum of its parts, a result of all the involved concepts, but not governed by any one of them. Just as in biology, where we witness the formation of organisms based on self-organization, there is no central generating element, a mother cell, so to speak, and so the architectural form is the result of the interaction between integrated architectural concepts. Relations like “form follows function” are no longer necessary, but rather, form is generated by the dynamical and interdependent logical rules established between a variety of factors (agents) including function, performance and stability.

Such an approach opens the way for a parametric architecture that responds to its context transformed into a data stream, in which the handling of each component is influenced by control mechanisms (parameters) that enable the management of variation through a finite number of variables. Thus we are witnessing the genesis of forms found through computation, rather than forged.

Architects of the last decade adopted form-finding as a method in which both natural and digital processes of self-organization of forms are instrumentalized under the influence of extrinsic forces. Antoni Gaudi and Frei Otto are among the first architects to use material physical form-finding to determine optimal structures that act under the action of gravity. Thus Gaudi’s hanging structures [3] and Frei Otto’s mathematics of soap bubbles determine surprising architectural forms, by performing an elegant balance of invisible forces.

Form-finding has been embraced by the digital avant-garde in the last two decades as a design tool that can negotiate between various contextual forces that shape an architectural complexity as never before. Through form-finding, shape and forces are linked by rules, resulting in a state of relative balance of the forces acting on the form.

Following projects present different experiments for digital form-finding, as they have been developed in the workshop for “Parametric Reactive Surfaces” held at “Ion Mincu” University for Architecture and Urbanism, and tutored by Ionuț Anton and Dimitrie Ştefănescu. The workshop goal was to present a group of students with the theoretical framework for parametric design and the acquisition of technical skills for parametric design software (Rhino [5] + Grasshopper [6]). This technical and theoretical knowledge was tested in the development of surfaces parametrically modeled to meet certain context criteria

[1] form follows function is a concept introduced by Louis Sullivan. Louis H. Sullivan, „The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered”, 1896.

[2] Patrik Schumacher, The Autopoiesis of Architecture: A New Framework for Architecture : John Wiley and Sons, 2011.

[3] Mark Burry, „Digitally Sponsored Convergence of Design Education, Research and Practice”, in Computer Aided Architectural Design Futures 2005: Springer Netherlands,  2005.

[4] Frei Otto et al., Finding Form: Axel Menges, 1995.

[5] Rhinocerous  3d is a generic modelling software that has the possibility to implement gometric algorithm through scripting. www.rhino3d.com

[6] Grasshopper is a plug-in for Rhinocerous that allows for a visual editing of a geometric algorithm. www.grasshopper3d.com