FORM FOLLOWS COMPUTATION
Parametric modeling with PARAMA
by Stefan Hechenberger
+ Associative Relationships
+ How to Deliver an Idea
+ Personal Fabrication
+ Programming Languages
+ Design by Software
+ Linguistic Considerations
+ Difference to Semiotics/Structuralism
+ Traditional Art and Design
"Form follows computation" captures a present
phenomenon: Methodical overspill of programming is giving rise to a
distinct aesthetic sensibility. The way we understand shape and
space by computational means represents a paradigmatic shift in
many design-related fields. "Computational means," implies
an action medium that departs from mere graphical and physical
representations. It allows us to freely express adaptive models of
a design that are unusually pliable and polyvalent--one
expression of the design can represent multiple avenues to the
design objectives. In such generalized or parameterized designs the
terms by which adaptation can take place become part of the design
expression. The ability to express these latent adaptations is
fundamentally aligned with languages that are comprehendible by
both humans and computers. Many programming languages achieve such
a quality and some are especially apt to describing the ideas behind a design.
Not their precise and deterministic applications but
"...poorly understood and sloppily-formulated ideas"
[Minsky] is their key objective.
They facilitate the development of mental
concepts rather than the concepts' mere implementation.
The computer's role in the design process has notoriously
been one of efficiency. The common sales pitch praises
tool x to accelerate work by y times increasing profit margins by
z percent. This is close to missing the point because it
neglects the importance of a conceptional approach. The ability to make
conceptual leaps that are not directly prescribed or anticipated by the
production environment is typical for good design.
The way computers are used in the design process should facilitate
paradigm shifts. Solely increasing efficiency is hardly a matter of
conception but one of optimization. Optimizing poor design strategies seems
fundamentally wrong and happens far too often. In that sense I believe
that it is only marginally interesting to talk about the use of computers
for mere optimization. On the other hand, when we use computational approaches
to describe the design and then also to describe how these
descriptions are made we fundamentally change our aesthetic sense.
"Form follows computation" epitomizes the emergence of
an open field. It is not the conclusion but the initial word. It
assumes programming as a way of thinking what has been
unthinkable--not because humans should adapt to the
rigidity of computation but because computation allows
a new level of vagueness. This is contrary to common notions
of computation. My conviction is that the
"programming of form" in unprecedented poetic, abstract,
self-contradicting, poorly defined, open ended, lyrical ways, is a
matter of approach. Once the medium is mastered, its reputation will
dramatically shift to a point where it will be known for its
expressive charisma rather than for its mechanistic quality.
PARAMA is a language-based parametric modeler for describing and developing
shape and form from vague and poorly defined ideas. It is directly applicable
in architecture, industrial design, spatial arts, and other
PARAMA is based on the assumption that sketching out ideas by programming is
possible and, within the right programming environment, can also be done
in an effective manner. In part this requires an environment that is
conducive to a quick and spontaneous working pace, and in part this
environment has to make ideas that are not fully understood describable.
Paper and pencil is a great design tools because of these
two qualities. Pencil sketches are quick, and little understood areas of the
design can be drawn as overlaying approximations of varying instances.
As the design becomes more complex, the
quick working pace is likely to diminish.
Redrawing a complex three-dimensional object because the last incarnation
got too convoluted is often a laborious process. Rhapsodic expressions of
ideas become repetitive drawing exercises that interrupt or even inhibit
the train of thought. Rather than sketching a
graphical representation of the idea (either by pencil or drafting software)
one might instead use a special language to describe the conceptual
underpinnings. If such a description is expressed in a language that is
also understood by computers than the creation of a physical representation
(concretion) is effectively freed from any laborious, repetitive
activity. More importantly, a codified idea introduces new ways of
tweaking and adaptation to the design process. Not only can one postulate how a
design adapts under certain conditions, but reformulations of the idea are
Design ideas expressed with PARAMA do not have to be explicit but
may include undefined design aspects. Such gray zones are only
defined by their boundaries, not by their specifics. Two
intersecting cuboids may have explicit dimensions but their
intersection may only be defined by boundary values. A typical gray
zone definition may postulate that the overlap has to be between
zero and seventy percent along both x-axis and z-axis (and locked to
fifty percent overlap along the y-axis). Any subsequent
tweaking of the design will not transgress these boundaries.
Based on this notion of two overlapping cuboids, PARAMA can then be asked
to sample specific manifestations (concretions). The
resolution by which PARAMA permutes over the design domain determines
a finite number of concretions--in this case graphical representations:
A design description with gray zone definitions may also be called a
"parameterized design." The variability of the design is represented
by a set of parameters. In the process of generating a concretion each
parameter is mapped to a specific value resulting in a value set. These
particular values are then used to concretize the "vaguely defined"
aspects of the design idea.
Incorporating multiple interdependent parameters unleashes the
true potential of parametric modeling. From a practical point of view
this allows fundamental changes in the design to be propagated throughout
subsequent design decisions. In "FAB" [Gershenfeld, 127],
Neil Gershenfeld exemplifies this concept with parametrically defined bolts.
If larger bolts are needed to hold an object together the value that
represents the diameter can simply be increased. In such cases, an
associative relationship can be used to "automatically" adapt
the holes around the bolts. Elaborating
on the cuboid example, an additional third cuboid may assume its
dimensions from the overlapping percentage of the other cubes.
Whenever the overlap changes, the third cuboid changes its width accordingly.
The terms under which the width is deduced from the overlap can be based on
any kind of mapping and does not have to be a direct transcription (e.g. it
can be inversely mapped or divided by two).
Complex hierarchical and circular relationships can be built that go beyond
the sole reduction of repetitive work. More often than not, associative
relationships lead to unanticipated results. Adhering to the fundamentals
of complex systems the specific outcome is unpredictable but the general
trajectory can be controlled (predicted). This phenomenon is
congruent with the complex patterns generated by the simple rules
of cellular automata (a fundamental concept in the complexity sciences).
Controlling complexity and assuring that the trajectory falls within
the design objectives by adjusting associative
relationships is one of the characteristics in parametric
modeling and in PARAMA. Because of the difficulty of assessing
causal effects from the established relationships, this activity
can have a strong emphasis on intuitive decisions rather than
deliberate rule expression.
A more general way of describing the concept of associative relationships
is by the terms of simulation. By establishing associative relationships
one creates rules that describe how to construct the object in question.
From this vantage point, the simulation setting is the description of
the design idea and the values that are applied to the design are
the initial condition of the simulation. Just as the simulation of an
Icelandic glacier might be the source of new knowledge in the area of
geophysics, the simulation of spatial design might
lead to a new understanding of architectural form.
[Simulation as a Source of New Knowledge,
In the development of PARAMA I used pseudo-architectonic objects to fathom
language (API) requirements that allow a high latitude of parametric
expression. Of particular interest was the idea in which an interrelated set of
angles is used throughout the design. Changing one angle affects all others
in ways that still comply with the original design intension:
In addition to these harmonized angles, this design idea incorporates
another "parameterized features," namely a variable center pathway.
Permuting over these two parameters (as two
parameters can conveniently be presented in a 2D medium) supplies
some insight into the design domain as it is projected by
the underlying codified idea:
The vertical axis represents the spectrum from minimal to maximal center
pathway width. The horizontal axis represents the transition from minimum to
maximum angle degree. Top left and bottom right concretions represent the
minimum and maximum of both parameters while the concretions in between
represent transitional combinations of them.
From a practical point of view, PARAMA is a language for postulating design
domains and a graphical interface that communicates derived
concretions to its users. Technically, this is accomplished by
complementing a general purpose programming language (Python) with a language
extension (API) that is specific to describing and presenting parametric
form. Such a "metalinguistic abstraction"
[Abelson, Sussman, ch.4] is
fundamentally a proposed way of thinking about parametric form. Key
concepts such as ParamSet, ValueSet, Idea, and
Concretions are helpful in terms of natural language as well as in
programmatic language. In PARAMA's code, these concepts are represented by
class definition and can be used to the fullest extent of object
oriented programming strategies:
How to deliver an Idea
"Most people have been indoctrinated by the orthogonal hegemony
[...] they think space is being constructed by Diophantine coordinates.
[...] the structure of space has very little to do with right angles."
[Bram Cohen, creator of BitTorrent]
For the most part, ideas do not comply with our physical (Cartesian) space
and manifesting them there is not trivial. In part this is
difficult because we need to find appropriate terms of expression
in the target medium and in part such translations almost always
require a change of dimensionality. Mental conceptions tend to have a
polyvalent quality that prevents them from being directly mapped to
the two to three dimensions of most of our media. The simple act of
thinking about a three dimensional object hardly produces one
specific result, but brings to mind a multitude of objects that are
associated with the mental condition that represents the idea.
A mapping to Cartesian space requires at the very least some sort of
selection process to occur and more likely a kind of iterative spiraling
and continuous interaction with the target medium.
The profound efforts that go into describing ideas by code
are only justifiable by the indifference of programming to
"dimensional requirements." This indifference provides grounds for a
similar kind of
polyvalence as in the mental origin. The terms by which the idea is
expressed is still reliant on significant translation but the
multi-dimensionality of mental ideas can better be preserved.
Mathematically, parameters are fundamentally the same as Cartesian
dimensions. Adding an additional parameter adds a new dimension.
The intended way of delivering an idea with PARAMA is via a
custom graphical user interface (GUI). The designer describes the
idea, packages it as an application, and sends it to whoever is
interested. This is necessary because
parameterized or multi-dimensional designs cannot be depicted on a
two-dimensional or three-dimensional display per se. The obvious
trick is to spread out the remaining dimensions over time. Just as
three-dimensional models can be conveyed on a two-dimensional display
by changing the vantage point over time, any additional parameter can
be "depicted" over time. One notable side effect of this strategy is
that the time required to fully "depict" a multi-dimensional model
increases exponentially with the number of parameters. The more parameters
a model has, the more it loses the characteristics of a concrete design and
acquires the characteristics of a design domain. This term implies
that parametric deviations can be "seen" by navigating through an open field,
which is what PARAMA's graphical interface facilitates.
PARAMA grew out of a conceptional framework that fosters
transvergent production models. In this model, a theory can be a
product [C5], product design can be art,
and design is a given. Creating the artifact is a process of embedding
the product in a cultural context. Questions of functionality or necessity
are often subordinate to questions of how distant cultural aspects are
set in relation and how meaning is created from these new
correlations. While PARAMA has a clear functional
goal and a practical relevance, it also demarcates an intricate position
at the intersection of product fabrication, architecture,
industrial design, linguistics and art. In an eclectic fashion,
the following sections lay out points of contact within these areas.
As we are finding a consensus on the antipathy of Ford's
production model of the assembly line and we are seeing personal
fabricators on the horizon, we are also departing from a strictly
repetitive mass production model. The subsequent alternative is a
production model that accounts for personalization and adaptation.
The idea that uncountable numbers of the
same products are globally appropriate for all of us
is only viable as long as adapted solutions have a significant
economic disadvantage. At the current state of affairs, personal
fabrication is unnecessarily dormant.
"The biggest impediment to personal fabrication
is not technical; it's already possible to effectively do it."
Gershenfeld further indicates that increasing affordability will eventually
foster public initiative for broad adaptation.
For design-oriented disciplines that rely on
mass produced items this pegs the question how art production and
product design will change with the shift to personal fab
Most current design approaches are geared towards a final product.
An artifact that has to account for adaptation requires a different
design methodology than one that has a concrete output. It requires the
designer to complement the design with conditional readiness that
unfolds under certain eventualities or requirements. Adding adaptability
to the design expression requires appropriate means for describing
these latent adaptations. These also might not manifest as simple
add-ons, but are more likely to induce a different
approach. The general idea of parametric modeling addresses the
need of variable design but still leaves one unclear about how
adaptive design expressions are made. Standard graphical user
interfaces are successful to some degree but tend to impose rigid
structures on the design process which can be problematic if the
process is not yet fully understood. On the other hand, programming
allows for a high latitude of expression and is know to be
especially well suited for controlling complexity. Two reasons that
make designing by programming attractive.
An understanding of the nature of computation seems to be
critical for "programming form." A common pitfall is to
evaluate the act of programming by what is most commonly produced
with it. Main stream computing is characterized by controlling
software--flight traffic control, bank transaction, internet
communications, product tracking and the like. While being sophisticated
constructs in their own respect they do not sufficiently represent
their conceptional foundation. The stereotypical image they propagate
is that of mechanistic rigidity. Systems that are engineered by
armies of formula-adoring computer scientists--each of them trained to
design precise infrastructures that do what the program prescribes.
This is an accepted image within the field. Total precision
is seen as something practically attainable once a finite number of bugs
have been fixed.
This view gets effectively stirred up when seminal figures
within the discipline note that "Computer Science is no more
about computers than astronomy is about telescopes."
[Dijkstra] or "...the programmer begins to
lose track of internal details and can no longer predict what will
Both of these statements suggest a
different nature of computation. The latter is from a paper that
lays out how programming can be used to express poorly understood
ideas. Profoundly, it lays the groundwork
for an understanding of computation as a medium for human thought.
Minsky explains the emphasis on rigid use of computing by pointing out that
it takes tremendous "technical, intellectual and aesthetic" skill for
flexible use of computing. Non-formulaic programming is a matter of
expertise "just as a writer [of natural languages] will need some
skill to express just a certain degree of ambiguity."
The field of computer science has roughly produced a total of
2500 languages [Kinnersley].
In consideration of this fact it is hard to despise the linguistic
orientation of computing technologies. For PARAMA it is this language-centric
quality of computational systems that is of relevance. The computer revolution
is to a large extent a language revolution that is allowing us to
think in new ways. Disregarded by common notion, computing languages are
primarily developed for humans. "Programs must be written for
people to read, and only incidentally for machines to
execute." [Abelson, Sussman, preface]
This is an important consideration for any further discourse
on the nature of computational means. Once we accept
that language design and language usage in computer science
has very little to do with circuit board engineering or technical
concerns in general, we can gain a better understanding of computation.
The conviction that the "most fundamental idea in programming" is the
usage and creation of new languages
[Abelson, Sussman] also represents
the fundamental understanding for PARAMA. From this point of view,
popular dualities like art/science, emotional/rational, rigid/flexible, are
irrelevant for programming, or, to appropriate a quote by Edsger Dijkstra,
are "as relevant as the question of whether Submarines Can Swim"
[Dijkstra]. Language is empirically tied
to human thought and the fact that it might also be executed by a computer
is additional capacity, not conceptual reorientation.
For creative expression, programming languages are
generally avoided and substituted for graphical user interfaces (GUIs).
This strategy is based on usability and acceptability concerns
associated with most programming languages. But counter to a common assumption,
point-and-click interfaces do not necessarily make tasks simpler for
users that are fluent in the underlying programming interface.
This is especially true for highly complex systems. Systems that consist of
ten million lines of code upwards such as mainstream operating systems
have all been developed by writing text rather than by clicking graphical
objects. In fact, software itself is hardly ever created with GUIs.
For the same reason, embarking on point-and-click for expressing
ideas in the field of philosophy sounds absurd. The latitude of
expression associated with discipline-specific lingo seems absolutely essential.
My suspicion for programming languages' unmatched ability to control complexity
results from the following reasons:
As with natural languages, programming languages allow for the
aggregation of knowledge under symbolic abstractions. Both have
powerful mechanisms for adjusting the level of abstraction, and both are
highly optimized to control the generality versus specificity of propositions.
But unlike in natural languages these symbolic abstractions
can be made on the fly while programming. Symbolic proxies are fully
functional from the time they are expressed, while in the context of natural
language they need to be agreed on before they can effectively be used.
The act of programming is usage and creation of language at practically the
Design by Software
Computer-based design manifests in uncountable and diverse ways.
Software mediates between the hardware
and the abstraction layer that was chosen as the terms by which to
express the design. For this abstraction layer, one of the most
classifying factors is the knowledge it can hold.
From low level to high level, this suggests a spectrum by
which most design software can be characterized. Can it
only hold specifics on how lines and surface patches are positioned, or
can it be "aware" of how geometric primitives connect and intersect? Does
it only "know" how doors and walls relate, or does it know how to apply
viable proportions of a specific architectural style? The spectrum extremes
could be termed "drafting" (low level) and "synthesizing" (high level).
The former implies transferring very little knowledge that goes beyond explicit
representation. The latter implies omitting specifics and describing what has
to be known to generate representations (concretions).
In most cases this also implies added parametric variability that is capable
of generating multiple results. A design description that results in only
one physical or graphical representation is effectually a drafted one.
In "Architecture's New Media," [Kalay, 70],
Yehuda Kalay uses a similar classification scheme. For him the decisive factor
is whether the design software handles "objects" or solely
"shapes." He attributes doors, windows, columns, and
stairs to "objects" while polygons, solids, NURBS, and blobs to
"shapes." Relevant to his classification is whether the
software has an understanding of what is being drawn. If the
software knows that a certain shape is a roof, it might be able
to assist designers in its usage and alert them when
turned vertical (analysis). The software might also be able to modify the
roof within the constraints of a generalized roof design (synthesis).
When the software is simply confronted with shapes,
no analytic or synthetic assistance can occur and from the
software's point of view, the expression is a matter of
positioning geometric primitives.
In terms of chronological succession, Kalay makes the
important observation that design software can be divided into three
generations. Surprisingly, first and third generation software coincide
with the "smart" approach while the second generation is
primarily conceived as drafting tools. Early pioneers of
the field have been aware of the synthetic/parametric potential, were
overrun by the easy applicability of drafting software, and presently
have their vision of a computationally rich approach rediscovered and further
3D Studio Max (Autodesk)
GenerativeComponents (Bentley Systems)
Delmia (Gehry Technologies)
Like computer-based design in general, strategies for establishing parametric variability in the design are manifold. "Avant-grade Techniques in
contemporary Design" [De Luca, Nardini, 18]
names the algorithmic parametric, the variational, and the
Artificial Intelligence (AI) approach as fundamental categories.
The former two are widely congruent with PARAMA's central ideas.
Language-based parametric modelers are by the nature of most programming
languages algorithmic. When they, like PARAMA, also include mechanisms
for spelling out constraints, objectives, and permutation resolutions,
they also comply with the variational approach.
AI is possible in a framework like PARAMA but is not specifically
endorsed. The main reason for eschewing this approach is its dependency
on computer-based evaluation of concretions. Functionally this is
feasible, but stylistically this is highly problematic. Implementing AI
that is capable of assessing the cultural contexts from which the design
acquires meaning proves extremely difficult.
Kalay uses a different categorization scheme and also embarks on a different
term to address the whole topic: "synthetic" instead of "parametric."
Depending on the vantage point, one term seems to become a subcategory of
the other. Independent of this hierarchic relationship, they embody
the same core ideas of computational design. Kalay categorizes computational
design approaches by whether they use "procedural," "heuristic," or
"evolutionary" methods. The latter two overlap with De Luca's and
Nardini's AI category as they require an evaluative instance.
For the aforementioned difficulty of teaching computers cultural
correlations, neither are considered in PARAMA. Unfortunately, Kalay's
remaining category (procedural) falls short of capturing the expressive
flexibility of PARAMAesque frameworks, as he does not distance formulaic
rigidity from programmatic design.
When media theoretician Friedrich Kittler was confronted with the
popularly assumed crisis of literature, he objected the claim by
suggesting a different weighting: "I can show you infinite amounts of
text ... it makes 'nice' images and sounds ... I generate with
literature the opposite [rich media]" [Kittler].
This captures Kittler's assumption that the act of writing computer code
assumes a similar cultural locus as writing novels or research papers.
From this viewpoint, literature is far from crisis and unequivocally
blossoming. Demonstrated by open source software communities, millions
of people collaborate in hundreds of thousands of projects to express
ideas in written text [Sourceforge]. In
most of these projects, a programming language assumes the dominant
means of conveying ideas.
Inferring from the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, adapting to a different language
fundamentally impacts the human condition. "We see and hear and otherwise
experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community
predispose certain choices of interpretation" [Sapir, 69].
Associated with this hypothesis are the principles of
linguistic relativity and linguistic determinism. The former
addresses the influence of language on our perception of the world,
and the latter, language's direct influence on human thought. According to
these two concepts, switching from one language to another has immediate
consequences on the trajectory of thought and how the world is
In its most extreme interpretation, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis would
predict a fundamentally different way of thinking for communities that use
a certain programming language as their primary means of exchanging ideas.
With these different thought processes, they would interpret
their cultural landscape along these computational means.
In stark contrast to the above intellectual doctrine is the idea of
Linguists like Noam Chomsky or Steven Pinker cultivate a profound body of
theory in support of an innate language ability that, in the form of
4,000 to 6,000 natural languages, surfaces in different variations
[Pinker, 232]. The line of argument is split
into two parts. Firstly, natural languages are not fundamentally different
from each other. All studied natural languages, coexisting and isolated,
exhibit structural similarities. This premise emerged from comparative
linguistics through the identification of universally applicable grammatical
features. "[...] literally hundreds of universal patterns have been
documented. Some hold absolutely" [Pinker, 234].
Secondly, this observed universalism is little acculturated, but a genetic
feature that was brought forward by the adaptations of human evolution.
"The crux of the argument is that complex language is universal because
children actually reinvent it, generation after generation"
[Pinker, 20]. To prove genetic predisposition,
Pinker presents different situations in which "people create complex
languages from scratch" which are suspiciously similar to existing ones.
Historically, this can be reconstructed when people with different
languages become isolated as a group. In these communities they always
developed a "makeshift jargon called pidgin." Pidgin is a simple language
void of most grammatical resources (no consistent word order, no prefixes
or suffixes, no tense or other temporal and logic markers, no structure
more complex than a simple clause). From this simple jargon, the
first generation of children spontaneously develops a grammatically rich
language (creole) that is comparable to culturally established languages. This
impressive reinvention of language can also be observed when deaf children
that were never exposed to complex language create their own grammatically
rich sign language. If universal features can be observed, and these
features are developed without acculturation, then, so the argument goes,
a language predisposition or universal language must be inborn.
Kittler's recommendation for consolidating the conceptual
frameworks of natural and computational languages expose
programming to the aforementioned conflicting theories.
As the conceptual terrain becomes increasingly saturated by these two
antithetical positions I will impromptu-engage the issue on a different level.
Grammar might not be inborn but a facet of our environment. Analog
to the complex path of an ant that is predominantly induced by the landscape
rather than the ant's brain [Simon, 51],
the phenomenon of a universal grammar might primarily be a reflection
of our environment. The genetic predisposition might function on a more
elementary level. Evolution might only have provided us with a simple but
highly attuned urge to recognize and communicate patterns. This, combined
with our brain's neurological capability, might in fact lead to similar
patterns in our language, mostly unaffected from where we are on the planet
and independently from how we acquire it. Programming languages, or for the
sake of broadening the argument any kind of artistic expression, supply an
indication for the validity of this premise. The millions of people who use
computational languages have acquired a language skill with, depending on the
particular language, arbitrary grammatical features. In discordance with the
notion of an innate universal grammar, the human urge might only long for
the ability to control complexity by combining "primitive elements to form
compound objects" and "abstract compound objects to form higher-level
building blocks." [Abelson, Sussman, ch.4].
If a medium of expression provides such qualities it is pursued.
"[We] can't help it." [Pinker, 20]
The only remaining difference between natural language and general
artistic expression is that we are not born with a
brush, pencil, chisel, or notebook, but with a vocal organ.
Difference to Semiotics/Structuralism
PARAMA's approach of programmatic design uses language to describe
design ideas. In a seemingly similar way, postmodern practice has an
affinity for describing "designs" as "linguistic systems."
Central to postmodernity is the concept that "everything, from fashion
to visual art, could be interpreted as a wordless language"
Interpretation of artifacts is done by linguistic means.
Syntagmatic and paradigmatic structures are the subject
of analysis. Grammars define
styles and every identifiable building block or sign is thought to
reference another aspect of our culture. Signs signify, and
the signified is inseparable from the signifier. Along
with literal meaning (denotation) comes involuntary meaning
(connotation) that any signifier acquires as it is being used to communicate. Meaning shifts as connotations change over time and reading
becomes an act of writing if the connotations are purposefully
reformulated. Accordingly, deducing meaning from the author's intention is
an intentional fallacy [Wimsatt, Beardsley]. Followed to the extreme,
context is everything. [Chandler]
In architecture, as in most other design fields, this led to a
profound transition. The modernist
indifference to location was abandoned for an architecture of allusion.
"Allusion--especially to context--was one of the most frequently used means
of legitimizing architecture" [Ibelings, 18].
Seminal figures like Charles Jencks and François Loytard made
the above school of thought a school of style.
The computational design approach, as it is the topic for this text, and
the semiotic school of thought of postmodern design do relate but are
dissimilar activities. The former is synthetic while the latter is
analytic. Artifacts that have a computational production agenda are
subject to semiotic criticism independently of how they were realized.
Correlation between the semiotic interpretation and the language-based
construction might exist but are not obvious to me at the moment of
writing this text. One possible suspicion is that the "constructive
grammar" bleeds through and becomes a grammar that is
also significant in a cultural context. Mark Goulthorpe's Paramorph
[dECOi], in which he maps urban activity to architectural form, is an
indication for the validity of this hypothesis.
Traditional Art and Design
Attributing computational artifacts with a fundamentally new
approach is problematic. Any cultural progression is characterized
by a repurposing of previous styles and schools of thought.
In the case of computational design in general, and PARAMA
in specific, this holds true just as it holds true that Surrealism
was influenced by Dada. Jean Arp's concept of the
"concretion" is especially applicable to how ideas are
cultivated with PARAMA. Arp thought about his sculptures as
derivatives from mental models. He understood mental models as
intimate organic constructs that grow like "a child in its
mother's womb." Making concretions manifest in the
physical world is a "process of crystallization." In
PARAMA, ideas are crystallized in a similar fashion. One noticeable
difference is an additional step. The "child" is first
born in the activity of expressing the codified idea and is
crystallized by running the program. With this difference, the
creative involvement also shifts to this additional step and the
process of manifesting the idea in Cartesian space assumes a
On a different scale, the International Typographic Style has
been exploring issues that are pertinent to computational design.
Anton Stankowski, Rudolph deHarak, Dietmar Winkler and other
practitioners of the former worked with a relatively rigid
"syntax" to express ideas. Supposedly, it is this
similarity that leads to a recognizable
resemblance of the International Style in many computationally
expressed designs. For both, this rigid syntax suggests a formulaic
rule system by which the design is projected. This exposed the
International Style to extensive criticism--criticism that is in
tandem to the rational/intuitional polarization. For
computational design this criticism is less problematic because it
can easily be demonstrated that rules may be layered in ways to
create complexities which deemphasize
the underlying algorithmic nature.
In the field of architecture
"habitual design rule systems are as old as Vitruvius's
De architectura (28 BC), Alberti's De re aedificatoria
(printed 1485), Vignola's Regola delli cinque ordini d'architettura
(1562), and Palladio's I quattro libri dell'architettura (1570)"
[Kalay, 267]. They all state rules
in natural language (Latin or Italian) and architects can offhandedly
apply them in the architectural design process. The rules postulated with
PARAMAesque systems could theoretically be applied in this manual fashion
but are generally not subject to further human interpretation. Their acute
machine interpretation and the ability to sample arbitrary numbers
of concretions shift the creative involvement away
from interpreting the rules to manipulating them directly.
Aforementioned natural language rule systems
have been deduced from existing desirable architecture to supply
guidelines for architecture to come. Vitruvius, for instance, extensively
based his guidelines on classical orders. Doric, Ionic, Corinthian,
and Tuscan orders have all been widely used before De Architectura
[Vitruvius] was written.
This is a "conservative" approach,
conserving proven style for future endeavors. PARAMA's parametric modeling has
an emphasis on exploration. Codified ideas are iteratively reformulated
until the projected design domains represent the designer's
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