Undisciplinary is the personal wiki of Martin Zemlicka.

Critical Subjects – Parametricism style or substance?

15.07.2014 – Zaha Hadid Architects, London

Part of the Critical Subjects summer school series of debates, lectures and panel discussions.

Patrik’s talk was one of the best all week, as it was extremely clear and articulate about his thoughts on architecture, quite surprisingly so considering the way the books are written and some of the other talks of his I’ve heard. One sensed a genuine interest and openness from Patrik, who obviously enjoyed himself.


  1. (the previous session was about AI, but the speakers were quite bad and presented only one side of an argument so I won’t write up the notes)
  2. Patrik is suspicious of people saying that computation is just a tool. These new tools accelerate what can be done and have a generative and empowering aspect.
  3. Computers eliminate lots of jobs, this is good. Eliminating repetitiveness allows for more creativity.
  4. Not sure why we would be sceptical about computers.
  5. Not sure why there is such a defence of the pure human.
  6. With parametricism, Patrik wanted to revive the notion of style, in line with epochs such as gothic, baroque, etc, to give parametricism weight and importance. For people to understand parametricism as a style of the 21st century, giving it power.
  7. What is the core competency of architecture within the built environment? Architecture designs the appearances.
  8. As such, we should understand what is important about appearances, as this is what architecture does these days.
  9. “The built environment is not just about physical shelter.”
  10. “The built environment is an ordering system.”
  11. Thought experiment: imagine a totally rigid and ambiguous like surface over the city of London. It would be unlivable due to a lack of order.
  12. Architects, for centuries, have been in charge of construction.
  13. These days architects are in charge of the ordering and framing of social interactions and through making them visible and transparent we are able to navigate.
  14. “Having order allows us to gauge and identify ourselves.“
  15. “Appearances matter.”
  16. Why do we need a new aesthetic style?
    1. we can look at the history of the human condition and how architecture relates to this.
    2. eg: in the renaissance, and opening up of society occurs, new styles emerge; industrial revolution, same thing.
    3. “New styles articulate new social order̦.”
    4. Now we need to understand, what is the difference between modern and contemporary? Modernism is about standardisation, everything is modulated and harmonised.
    5. The contemporary era is about customisation, flexible specialisations, everything more and more diverse.
    6. This means we have to work different.
    7. This is the post-fordist society.
    8. What does this look like?
  17. Deconstruction employed the technique of collage, parametricism follows from that. Parametricism, instead of collaging, allows the complex, layered and networked contemporary condition to come together and be legible.
  18. Parametricism allows to move quickly by making legible the contemporary complexity.
  19. To see the scope of change that has undergone in society, we must compare ourselves to the 50s (logic being that modernism lasted from 20s to the 70s, the contemporary situation started in the 80s, so we look 30 years into the situation (ie: comparing 2010 to 1950)). The change is huge.
  20. Corporate organisation has drastically changed. The are the ones that Patrik is designing for, a dynamic workforce. It is the reality, and to thrive we need to love the complex reality.
  21. “Architecture is an interface of communications.“
  22. “Design communicates, it has a language which says something. For example, the way you dress says something about you. Buildings can say things about mood and expectations.“
  23. Open buildings say openness.
  24. “Architecture is not a critical discipline.”
  25. “If I wanted to change society I would have to take off my architect hat and put on my politician hat.”
  26. “Even modernists were surfing the wave”. They had client that wanted to change society, it was not the architects that changed society.
  27. Question time notes:
    1. Prefers curved surfaces as they allow for continuity, more articulation of complexity while remaining legible.
    2. Patrik believes that their buildings are more clear that orthogonal buildings.
    3. Parametricism gives clarity.
    4. Patrik is very excited about new methods of ordering, for example, gradient, slope, etc.
    5. “If all is the same, how do you have order?“
  28. Final comment, said light-heartedly: “Buy my books, I am frustrated that my readership is so small.”


The question I didn’t get to ask, due to time:

The whole session was about how Parametricism is design for the contemporary situation, yet Patrik acknowledges that society is changing very fast (see, for example, the comments about how 50 years ago things were very different). So if society is changing so fast, why design for the present? Why be hyper specific about the now? The very monotony that Patrik criticises has turned out to be extremely future-proof system, the New York Grid.

The trade off with specificity is that things change. This is the advantage of thinking of architecture/urbanism as a platform for things to happen, not as a method of recording what is happening.