Parametrically designed façades: Technique, Plug-ins, Fundamentals, Methods & Application

Parametrically designed façades: Technique, Plug-ins, Fundamentals, Methods & Application

The digitization has led way to the development of increasingly sophisticated tools that have a direct impact on the contemporary practice of architecture and urbanism. Parametric Design is one such tool and it has provided great possibilities for innovation in terms of design, optimization of resources and processes, and improvement in performance for facades.

(L to R) China Zun Z15, Beijing; Sagrada Familia, Barcelona; and Al Bahar Towers, Abu Dhabi.
(L to R) China Zun Z15, Beijing; Sagrada Familia, Barcelona; and Al Bahar Towers, Abu Dhabi.

Parametric Design is accomplished by application of multiple programmes and strategies during the design process where the designers can by mathematic algorithm based approach arrive at decisions. The approach is primarily remains focused on the relationship between geometries by re-defining the variables to arrive at the end result. It is relatively easy to create iterations in algorithms faster than the traditional method of designing. 

Author: JatinShah, National Director, Colliers India

One may think that parametric designing is a relatively new approach; however, this approach was adopted in1940’s wherein an Italian architect, Luigi Moretti demonstrated the design of a stadium the form of stadium was derived by manipulating 19 parameters including viewing angles and the economic cost of concrete.

Much earlier, Antonio Gaudi adopted this approach in Sagrada Familia project by building an upside down model as a design process where the input parameters used were length of the string, birdshot weight and anchor points.  Vertex location on the string was the outcome of the model based on function of gravity.

Parametric tools are synchronised with the simulation software (plug-ins) to define and redefine the parameters.  The accessibility to various data like environmental related plugins, traffic related data, structural analysis related plugins help in optimization of design solutions.

These tools easily integrate with traditional software like Autodesk CAD, Revit etc., and solve the need to create multiple copies in all the software used. All data is linked and interoperable.

How does these plugin help in Sustainable approach?

a) Environmental Plugin
Most of the plugins like Ladybug, Honeybee, Geco, and Heliotrope- Solar etc. can be used in parametric software like Rhino and or Grasshopper. These plugins in turn connects to software like EnergyPlus, Radiance, Daysim and Openstudio for data related to building energy consumption, daylight simulation and dynamic position of the sun. These plugins mostly have interactive graphics to conduct the environmental studies. Simulation and analysis from the plugins sends feedback to Grasshopper or Rhinos which thereby enhances the design.  One such plugin which simulates climatic conditions is Ecotect. Many of these plugins does not require programming skills to work with it.

Author: Arthi Chinnadurai, manager - Project Management, Colliers India

Heliotrope-Solar is vector physics based plugin which can calculate the accurate position of the sun at a specific location on a specific date and time of the day. This plugin is used in projects to create shading devices, solar specific designs and adaptive facades. Parametric software combined with the plugins can help in designing an appropriate structure; calculate the percentage of openings, optimize the size of the opening and understand the suitable orientation and design shading devices. Few building examples where this technology has been used to create dynamic facade are Al Bahar Towers and Arab world institute, Paris.

b) Material optimization
Even though the facade material or the modules may vary in size as per design, algorithm offers accurate data for fabrication of these modules / shading devices thus reducing the production time and project cost. This offers flexibility and tested using prototypes. While exploring the parametric designed façade with cast in situ brick façade for a residential project, software provided flexibility can help to even create the façade texture in situ without mortar and by punching the bricks. A system of coding will help the builders to execute the work easily. Amount of day light, sun direction and level of visual privacy can be easily achieved.

In addition, any change in the façade / overall form of the building automatically generates options for floor plans. Further these exercises are extended to generate bill of materials, help in integrating timelines and clash test etc.

c) Structural Plugin for sustainable approach
Structural analysis plugins can be used in early stages of designing. These plugins help in form creation, loading calculation, optimisation and analysis of structural components and constraints introspection. Similar to environment related plugins, many of these plugins are mostly interactive and don’t require any previous knowledge in programming.  Plugins like Hummingbird, allows bi-directional workflow between Autodesk Revit to Rhino 3D.  A recent example for demonstrating the structural capability of the parameter tool is China Zun Z15, Beijing. Parametric tools have reduced the time between concept stage and structural analysis from weeks to just days. Many efficient options can be discussed within a relatively short time before concluding on the design.

Indian Scenario and what is next?
This algorithmic approach has seen an increasingly acceptance in India, as India is a blooming market. Factors like influence of internationally renowned architects practicing in India, technological updates, and ease in availability of information will lead to adopting this approach more and more. Many architectural firms have widely adopted this approach. Parametric design is also being taught in architectural schools. Workshops, online training programmes are being conducted widely for students and professionals.

Designers at Wallgren Arkitekter and BOX Bygg created Finch — Automatic floor plan generator. Finch will be launched in 2020 as a plug-in to visual programming tool Grasshopper within 3D computer graphics software Rhino.

Is all so smooth with this approach?
Collection of extensive data, setting relations between spaces, strong knowledge in mathematics and Computer science, huge initial investment in various prototyping and manufacturing machines are few of the constraints for design labs intending to adopt this approach. Also, market acceptance and availability of skilled labour with training to work on the end product of this sophisticated tool is another major constraint.

The fear of AI taking over an entire industry is premature. However, there’s no doubt that it is increasingly more common in architecture. It’s up to the architects to embrace the new technologies and adapt to modern times. In a way, parametric technology allows them to focus on the things that do matter. If they utilize all available tools, they will have a platform with which to further evolve. Whatever the future brings, it’s going to be exciting to be a part of.

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